The mother of all one-on-one beat-’em-ups debuted 35 years ago today. Innovation abound, Street Fighter at 35 years old is just as important as it was back in 1987. While many may never have encountered the original title, with sequel Street Fighter II proving immeasurably more popular, the legacy that the original created cannot be understated.

“Prior to Street Fighter, there were shooters and driving games where enemies or objects would appear, and the player would shoot them down or avoid running into them. And I wanted to add depth with a story. It just happened to be a fighting game, but I wanted there to be a story so it would feel like a movie. We even conceptualized details for the characters that we didn’t put in the game itself; what the characters might like to eat, do they have sisters, other family members, etc. Street Fighter was different from prior games in the amount of depth we gave the characters.”

Takashi Nishiyama, creator of Street Fighter,

The first Street Fighter, mainly developed by Takashi Nishiyama and Hiroshi Matsumoto, was inspired by Bruce Lee’s Game of Death, amongst other media from the era. The videogame landscape of the 1980s began on a high. Late ’70s success stories such as Space InvadersGalaxian and Asteroids paved the way for record breaking sales and profit. However, this was a party that wouldn’t last. The market quickly became oversaturated with low quality games. This, coupled with home computers becoming more popular, saw sales drop almost as rapidly as the grew. Some reports claim that videogame sales decreased by almost 97%, with the industry’s revenue dropping from $3.2 billion in 1983 to $100 million in 1985. Of course, 1985’s Super Mario Bros. famously helped to revitalise the industry. In truth however, it would be years before the industry recovered. 

Software developers in the industry initiated a variety of differing strategies in an attempt to survive the sudden downturn. Some invested in new arcade properties, while others moved solely into the home. Capcom made efforts to attract both audiences, offering home conversions of their popular arcade titles. Some games however, were designed solely with the intention of dominating the arcade scene.

Street Fighter screenshot

Enter the Street Fighter

Street Fighter arrived in arcades in Japan and Europe on 12th August, 1987. A North American launch followed a few months later. The game originally came in two cabinet designs. The first featured just two buttons. These buttons were pressure sensitive, and the duration of a player’s press would determine the strength of an attack. This edition was designed to innovate in the arcade, and attract consumers due to it’s uniqueness. However, it fell short of expectations. Significantly. According to reports, only around 1,000 units were sold. The second edition of the cabinet however, featuring six buttons for attacks, was more successful. This edition sold in the tens of thousands, with estimates ranging from between 10,000 and 50,000 units sold.

And therein modern control systems for fighting games can still be attributed to Street Fighter at 35 years-old. The vast majority of the genre still borrows heavily from Street Fighter‘s split of multiple punches and kicks across several buttons, even if it may not be over six.

Street Fighter II keyart

Street Fighter II be or Not to Be

Street Fighter’s success inspired Capcom to create a sequel. The first attempt at this saw the game going in a very different direction. Inspired by the success of Double Dragon II: The Revenge, the then titled Street Fighter ’89 was an entirely different style of fighting. According to the developers, it was originally planned that have Ryu and Ken Masters from the Street Fighter would be the main protagonists. However, but that idea was scrapped for a new plot and new settings, when the game became retooled as the classic Final Fight.

It wasn’t until 1991 that a sequel eventually emerged. And there are few sequels that are as consequential as Street Fighter II.

The 1990’s Changed Everything

Street Fighter laid the groundwork for the robust move set that future installments would have. While the original game didn’t offer quite as much in terms of variety, nor reliable input detection, it did act as home to some of gaming’s most widely known moves. Psycho Fire aka “Hadouken!”, Dragon Punch, and the Hurricane Kick are now infamous. What’s more, these were the first examples of a fighting game offering special moves. Specifically, these moves were not accessible by simply pushing a button. Players had to learn specific button and joystick combinations in order to use them. The importance of this cannot be overstated.

Every single fighting game since has incorporated special moves in one form or another. In fact, with Street Fighter at 35 years-old we can now see this inspiration across all sorts of games; platformers, racing games, puzzle games, RPGs and more. Street Fighter presented a complexity as-yet-unseen in video games. Street Fighter II took this eight steps further.

The original Street Fighter featured only one playable character: Ryu. Ken was offered to a second player when going head-to-head, but at the time Mr. Masters was simply a palette swap of Ryu. Street Fighter II however, offered eight playable characters. Not only was this a huge increase, but also every character had their own unique special move arsenal.

One character in particular changed the industry forever.

Street Fighter II keyart

Chun-Li: The First Lady of Videogames

The Street Fighter franchise has established some of gaming’s most famous personalities. Not only has this allowed for greater complexity in the gameplay, but it has contributed to the presence of women and other minorities in gaming. Chun-Li was not the first woman in a videogame, but she has impacted popular culture in a way few other female characters ever have.

Discussions of diversity and inclusion are commonplace in the modern industry. This has led to rightful increase in the representations of minorities and women in media. However, that’s easy to see with Street Fighter at 35 years old. Given how little concern there was to representation in the media in the early ’90s, the fact that Chun-Li stood as more than a damsel in distress was remarkable in itself. Adding to that the fact that she was every bit as capable as any male fighter was nothing short of game changing.

Street Fighter 5 screenshot

The Legacy of Street Fighter at 35 Years-Old

‘Imitation in the sincerest form of flattery’ goes the old adage. This is never truer than in the vidoegames industry, where imitation is the sincerest sign of success. Street Fighter was a commercial and critical success, as such dozens of games were developed to chase the same profits. While there were many contenders – including Fatal Fury: King of Fighters from Street Fighter‘s own creator – many fell by the wayside. Following the even greater success of Street Fighter II, franchises such as Mortal Kombat, Tekken, Samurai Shodown and Killer Instinct were established. 

And yet, Street Fighter’s importance is more than its impact on gaming. Street Fighter has been adapted into movies, cartoons, comic books, action figures and other media. The franchise has been referenced in a multitude of different series and movies, including Family Guy, Disney’s Wreck-It Ralph and Jackie Chan movie City Hunter. There’s an almost endless lists of references to the series across movies, television, music and more, defining Street Fighter at 35 as a pop culture icon.

Each new Street Fighter game is met with huge anticipation. Street Fighter 6‘s recent announcement has been no different. However, it’s unlikely that any future title would have the same impact as Street Fighter and that first sequel. Despite this, it will continue to evolve alongside the videogame industry and impact pop culture in a variety of ways, until the point where Street Fighter at 35 years-old seems young to us all.

Categories: Culture Games