Our Blog

How Street Fighter Reinvented Beat em Ups

Posted on 25 Mar 13:11
By Jack England

No other fighting game has left as big a dent on the genre as Street Fighter. The original 1987 release breathed new life to a relatively stagnant field of boxing and karate games. The sequel--Street Fighter 2--changed the very DNA of fighting games and became one of the most popular games of all time, spawning a franchise that exists to this day.

The title’s influence can still be felt in all fighting games, from massively popular Tekken and Mortal Kombat to technical indie masterpiece Skullgirls.

Let’s explore the impact of a game hailed as “the most important fighting game” to ever be released.

The Makings of an Icon: Rich lore

Before Street Fighter, fighting games would usually be lumped under the beat ‘em up category that saw the player versus a horde of bad guys instead of a one on one player versus player setup. Characters were limited: you were either a boxer or a kung-fu or karate martial artist going against opponents clad in the same judo-gi or boxing shorts.

Street Fighter opened the gates to a host of colourful characters. Opponents weren’t just reskins of the main hero, and had as much personality and backstory as Ryu or Ken. This would stage the foundation for the immense universe of Street Fighter, which now includes numerous movies, graphic novels, books, and spin-offs.

how-street-fighter-reinvented-beat-em-ups-02-90s-movieLike any respectable 90s movie, the first Street Fighter movie starred Jean Claude Van Damme
Source: The Guardian

From the Dojo to the World: Stage Designs

The arenas of the first fighting games were small. Matches were held in the same dojo or stadium or against the backdrop of an unchanging, stoic pixel mountain or forest.

Street Fighter is arguably the first fighting game to introduce detailed pixel art backgrounds. The stages were colourful and were as part of the story as the opponents you fought against. The original 1987 SF let you choose which country to fight in first, and the backgrounds changed accordingly. Subsequent titles would introduce even more quirkiness and detail to their backdrops, from pot-bellied onlookers in India to the glitz of the Vegas strip. These details made each fight feel more visceral and real, and embedded the universe of Street Fighter deeper into our psyches as the fighting game.

how-street-fighter-reinvented-beat-em-ups-03-sagat-stage
Sagat’s stage in Street Fighter II, modelled directly from Thailand’s Reclining Buddha in Ayutthaya
Source: Source

Hadouken! Special Moves and Controls

Previous fighting games had fairly simple move sets: A to punch, and the joystick to move around. Winning often came down to who mashed the buttons the hardest. Street Fighter was the first game that introduced special moves that required players to execute specific button combinations. And like neat Easter eggs players had to discover these combos on their own--the moves weren’t printed on any cheat sheet or manual.

Players could also attack and dodge in a number of ways. Ryu or Ken could dodge down, block, and perform different attacks depending on if he’s standing, crouching, or jumping. With such a broad array of moves, the game inspired development of new types of controller hardware.

Street Fighter’s deluxe game cabinet that had only two large button pads. Ryu’s moves depended on how hard players would hit the pads.

how-street-fighter-reinvented-beat-em-ups-04-redditSource: Reddit

Then there’s the iconic Hadouken. Before Street Fighter, it was all about punches and kicks in close range. Ken and Ryu’s Hadouken projectile move, along with a number of long range attacks from other characters, gave players a new way to control space. Projectiles weren’t just for causing damage, but for forcing players into a jump or roll, which can give opponents the opportunity to dive behind your guard. The ranged attack also increased the intensity and pace of play--there’s not much room to breathe and strategise when you can still be hit from half a screen away. This simple mechanic changed the rulebook and created a whole new dimension to fighting games.

Down to the wire: Timing and strategy

The controls for the ‘87 Street Fighter were extremely tight. You either performed the button presses perfectly or the move didn’t execute at all. Many players also struggled to beat the computer-controlled opponents, with some calling it unfair. However, the difficulty was pretty standard for arcade machine games whose goal was to get as many quarters out of players as possible.

Subsequent titles would become more balanced. Players could better counter and time attacks to slip past an enemy’s defenses. This system would allow players to set-up attacks, and string combos that kept opponents in the air, unable to attack. The move would become known as “juggling”, and is a common tactic in modern fighting games like Tekken.

Precision continues to be an enduring theme in Street Fighter, with sequels giving players even more tools to fine tune their trigger fingers. Street Fighter V, which was released just three years ago, is the first title to officially introduce a frame data display, which basically tells you which actions can be executed without eating your opponent’s fist.

how-street-fighter-reinvented-beat-em-ups-05-gridded-trainingGridded training rooms help players nail distance and combo spacing
Source: Slug Mag

Here comes a New Challenger: Competitive Play in Arcades

Head-to-head play is a staple of fighting games, but it wasn’t always that way. Early 80s fighting titles like Karate Champ pit players against the computer in increasingly difficult levels.

Street Fighter amped up the heat and turned the players’ fists against each other. “The concept of going to an arcade and playing against somebody else, and that guy beating you in 2 minutes and you just spent your 25 cents and walked away, it was completely foreign,” says popular SF commentator James Chen in a documentary celebrating the 30th anniversary of the game.

how-street-fighter-reinvented-beat-em-ups-06-test 
A test of dexterity--and friendship
Source: Old Games

Choose your Fighter: Mains and the Metagame

Up until Street Fighter II, having a favourite character based on their power in battle wasn’t really a thing--even Ryu and Ken, in the first SF, had the exact same moveset. SFII introduced six new weird and wacky characters, all with their own distinct movesets.

The colourful roster of new meat introduced a new nuance to competitive play. You could study how each character worked and devise strategies for countering and getting around them. Today, fighters are divided into tiers, scored on factors like power and what finger gymnastics you have to do to pull off their special attacks.

how-street-fighter-reinvented-beat-em-ups-07-112-fightersStreet Fighter is home to 112 fighters, including a half-red, half-blue wackjob who thinks he’s a god, and a massive Turkish oil wrestler.
Source: Geek

Street Fighter may be fighting’s oldest game, but it’s never been afraid of the new. Although it’s safe to assume the core mechanics of the game are now set in stone, the franchise is constantly coming up with ways to stay fresh. Street Fighter V introduced V-Trigger I and II. Activation of the first unlocked power ups or skills, while the second bestowed the character with entirely new moves.

There’s no announcement for Street Fighter VI yet. Many predict it will be debuted alongside next gen consoles for the Playstation and Xbox. But whatever form it comes in, Street Fighter has proved time and time again that it can think of new gimmicks--from hidden special moves to V-Triggers--to keep even the first wave of players to line up at arcades excited about any new release.

Our 1300 in 1 arcade machines come with 28 different versions of Streetfighter, including the classic Street Fighter II Championship Edition.

YOU MAY ALSO LIKE