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1991: Everybody Was Street Fightin’

All this week, takes a look at our picks for the five most influential Japanese videogames ever released. These titles not only shaped us as players—and had dramatic, long-lasting impacts on the entire industry—but also transcended videogaming to become cultural icons.

The Game: In 1987, Capcom released Street Fighter—a relatively obscure game in which you guided a gi-wearing Japanese martial artist named Ryu through either a series of 1-on-1 street fights with computer-controlled opponents or against another human player who took up the fight as a gi-wearing blond American fighter named Ken. The game was probably most notable for two things: a cabinet variation that saw its six main attack buttons replaced by two large, pressure-sensitive analog buttons, and the fact that its TurboGrafx-16 port released under the bizarre alternate title of Fighting Street. Four years later, Capcom revised the formula, creating eight user-selectable characters and focusing on player-versus-player competition. Street Fighter II was born—and the rest, as they say, is history.

The Effect It Had: It’s hard to think of a world before fighting games—and every bit of credit goes to Street Fighter II. Though titles such as Karate Champ and Yie-Ar Kung Fu had come before it, their existences were mere blips on the radar compared to the explosion Capcom’s second attempt at the genre caused when it hit. Street Fighter II wasn’t just a game—it was a phenomenon.

While arcade hits up to that point had been mostly focused on presenting simple concepts and gameplay, Street Fighter II had an unprecedented level of depth, as well as a never-before-seen requirement of skill. Players weren’t inserting an endless amount of quarters because the game was difficult, but because they wanted to continue practicing fireballs and uppercuts until they got them just right. Street Fighter II also instantly popularized a concept still in its early stages: the idea of direct, tournament-level competition between two players. Previously, determining who was best at a game often came down to who could get the highest score on the game’s rankings screen. Now, with Street Fighter II, players challenged each other to see, face-to-face, where the question of who was the strongest would be answered as soon as the final match was won.

As popular as Street Fighter II was as an arcade release, it was just as anticipated in terms of a home port. When Street Fighter II finally came to the 16-bit Super Nintendo, it was a major event that boosted Nintendo’s console and became a long-lasting system-seller for the platform. As of late last year, the initial edition of Street Fighter II still stood as Capcom’s best-selling home release ever—having sold more than 6.3 million units worldwide.

Its Lasting Influence: Street Fighter II’s main—and most prominent—influence is easy: the creation of the fighting-game genre as we know it. A stream of clones soon flooded arcades and home consoles in the hopes of cashing in on some of the game’s popularity, but so, too, came games influenced by Street Fighter II while also trying to make their own mark on the genre. Had Ryu and Ken not enamored so many players around the globe, we might never have seen releases like Mortal Kombat, Killer Instinct, Virtua Fighter, or Tekken. Or consider SNK, a company whose legacy as one of the kings of the fighting genre started with Fatal Fury—a game SNK released in late 1991 as an attempt to jump onto the trend Street Fighter II had started.

There’s another major influence that Street Fighter II had on gaming that many don’t always consider: the idea of revisions. Though they may not have been the very first company to do so, Capcom was still a pioneer in terms of upgrading and expanding a game instead of simply releasing a sequel. In an era of patches, DLC characters, and free map packs, it’s hard to imagine a world without such things—but for Capcom and their Street Fighter II series, it was a move that felt downright revolutionary.

What do you think of Street Fighter II being one of our top choices? How do you feel it’s influenced the world of videogames—and do you have any special memories or experiences with the game? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

EGMNOW’s Five Most Influential Japanese Games

Day 1: Space Invaders

Day 2: Pac-Man

Day 3: Super Mario Bros.

Day 4: Street Fighter II

Day 5: Game #5 (Coming Friday)


About Eric Patterson

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Eric got his start via self-publishing game-related fanzines in junior high, and now has one goal in life: making sure EGM has as much coverage of niche Japanese games as he can convince them to fit in. Eric’s also active in the gaming community on a personal level, being an outspoken voice on topics such as equality in gaming and consumer rights.