The significance of 1991’s Street Fighter II: The World Warrior has never been more apparent than it is with the release of the Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection, which collects the five major iterations of Street Fighter II, along with the original Street Fighter, the three Street Fighter Alpha games, and the three versions of Street Fighter III. This collection reveals the series’s evolution in aesthetics and mechanics from its inception through to 1999, as well as makes clear that Street Fighter II established a formula of fluid controls and larger-than-life characters that would influence every sequel moving forward. What’s more, this compilation offers a stark reminder that few fighting games, if any, have matched Street Fighter II‘s unforgettable sense of geography and violence—the feeling that you’re a national icon leaving reminders of your dominance on the faces of your opponents.
One reason that Street Fighter II stands out in this collection is that it easily surpasses its predecessor on every front. Street Fighter only has two playable characters, the famous duo of Ryu and Ken, to its sequel’s eight. The 1987 original also features an unflattering mix of muffled voice acting, bland colors, choppy animation, and unresponsive button input. Even performing something as fundamental as a jump kick can feel like a miracle in Street Fighter, as your character’s leg doesn’t fling out as you press the kick button, but rather a moment afterward, and jumping itself feels awkwardly weightless.
Imagine, then, how revelatory it felt to put a quarter into a Street Fighter II arcade machine in 1991 and choose from one of eight diverse combatants who executed their moves right as you pressed the buttons. This collection allows you to refamiliarize yourself with these classic brawlers, from Dhalsim, an Indian yoga master whose limb-stretching ability makes him an ideal ranged fighter, to Zangief, a Soviet wrestler who counterbalances his slowness with a devastating inside game, including his infamous spinning piledriver. These characters are often stereotypical—the spoiled American Ken, the Brazilian jungle beast Blanka—but their instantly recognizable appearances, stages, moves, musical themes, and catchphrases render them as powerful icons. No female video-game character symbolizes raw strength like Chinese Interpol agent Chun-Li, and the essence of U.S. military might and machismo is unmistakable in Air Force bro Guile, especially when he rhetorically asks his defeated opponent, “Are you man enough to fight with me?”
Every version of Street Fighter II effectively underscores the effects of combat among the ethnically distinct warriors. In addition to eye-catching but scarce squirts of blood, a character, when hit hard, will sometimes puke, an unusual graphical marker intended to elicit disgust; compare that approach to how fighting games like Mortal Kombat attempt to satisfy players’ bloodlust through pornographic gore. Every time a fighter connects with certain attacks, such as a fireball, the action slows down to produce an illusion of recoil. What’s more, the portrait of a fighter will appear battered, bruised, or bloodied after defeat as the victor talks trash. As you fly from country to country and dismantle the various martial artists of the world, the losers’ respective icons on the character-select screen lose all color—their unique glory converted to grayness. All of these visual elements contribute to a blunt yet restrained method of expressing the consequences of violence.
As this collection demonstrates, the Street Fighter Alpha and Street Fighter III games are no slouches. The Street Figher Alpha titles are thrillingly fueled by an aesthetic characterized by a buoyant anime art style, hyperactive use of on-screen text, and an emphasis on chain/custom combinations. And you’d be hard-pressed to find a more brilliant strategic fighting game than Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike, with its precision-requiring parries, selectable super moves, bizarre cast of misfits, and match rounds that can seemingly take ages.
Still, these worthwhile entries fall short of Street Fighter II. Street Fighter Alpha 3‘s stages, as well drawn as they are, often lack the animations, destructible objects, and human spectators that brought the nation-based locations in Street Fighter II to life. Street Fighter III attempts to showcase the ramifications of violence in its post-fight portraits, but these images are roughly sketched and awkward at best, as exemplified by Kenya native Elena’s absurd doggy-style pose, which conforms to the Jezebel stereotype. And as interesting as the newer mechanics of the series can be, the relative simplicity of Street Fighter II explains why it ignited the worldwide popularity of fighting games. Everything in Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection is worth exploring (despite the lagginess of the Switch’s online modes), but the various forms of Street Fighter II are indisputably the main historical attraction because of their extremely high bar of innovation, execution, and accessibility.