Friday, August 18, 2006

Hadouken!

For those of you unaware (probably most of you), an online version of Street Fighter II hit XBox Live a couple of weeks ago. I downloaded the demo to give it a try, because, well, it's Street Fighter II, and was confronted with a disheartening truth: I suck at fighting games. Now, this shouldn't necessarily come as a surprise, given that I've always sucked at fighting games. However, it's been years since I played a real one (Super Smash Bros. definitely does NOT count), since I find 3D fighting games ugly and boring, and I had used that time to convince myself that I simply wasn't skilled enough to fully appreciate them as a child. But, no, I just suck, period.

Before I continue, I should probably back up and explain just what Street Fighter II is, for those poor unfortunate few of you that aren't familiar with one of the most successful franchises in video game history. The Street Fighter legacy began with a whimper, as the original 1987 Street Fighter was a forgettable bare-bones arcade fighting game (for anyone furthermore not familiar with that term, a "fighting game" is a game in which two players battle each other using punches, kicks, and special moves that require complex button combinations) with poor controls, in which you competed in a world-wide fighting tournament as a young Japanese martial artist named Ryu. The only reason that anyone even remembers it is because of the sequel that followed it in 1991: Street Fighter II.

Street Fighter II re-visited that same tournament, but featured a roster of eight ethnically diverse (although comically stereotypical) playable characters, plus four unplayable (in the original Street Fighter II, at least) bosses. From the beefy close-quarters Russian wrestler, Zangief, to the wiry fire-breather from India with the extendable limbs, Dhalsim, each fighter had a unique move-set and style of play (well, except Ryu and Ken, the original game's protagonist and his functionally identical American counter-part) that gave them distinct strengths and weaknesses against each other. It essentially defined the modern fighting game, refining existing combat mechanics like attacking, blocking, and using special moves, and introducing entirely new mechanics like combos (a un-interruptible attack sequence) and canceling (interrupting an attack in order to flow seamlessly into another one). And it didn't hurt that it looked pretty and sounded great.

Between its many sequels and spin-offs, and the many platforms they have been ported to, Street Fighter II has literally spawned almost 100 video games, making it almost certainly the most famous and successful fighting game ever created. Its specific history made for some unique naming conventions for all of those games, which can be quite confusing to the uninitiated. As mentioned above, the first game in the series was called Street Fighter, but the next 40 or so games that followed it were all called Street Fighter II, with different subtitles. You see, Capcom very much wanted to cash in on Street Fighter II's success, making all kinds of games with only token differences, and furthermore wanted to make sure that future games were not associated with the original Street Fighter, so they steadfastly refused to call any of the sequels Street Fighter III (until they finally broke down and did just that in 1997), as any normal person would do, which resulted in asinine names like "Street Fighter II' Turbo - Hyper Fighting" (the apostrophe is supposed to be read as "Dash", despite the fact that it is clearly an apostrophe and that there is a real dash elsewhere in the title), which is, incidentally, generally agreed to be the best version of Street Fighter II, and thus the specific version now available over Xbox Live.

Which brings me back to my current problem: my complete inability to reproduce the complex button combinations required to execute the game's special moves. The button combination for Ken and Ryu's Hadouken (a blue fireball created by projecting "ki" energy from their palms) is almost required knowledge to consider yourself a gamer at this point-- it's part of the collective gamer consciousness. Even though I hadn't played a Street Fighter game in well over a decade, I was still able to recall it instantly when I played the demo: roll the directional pad (or, in this case, analog stick) from down to forward and end it with a punch. That button combination's representation is iconic, as seen at the bottom-right of the shirt design seen below. However, the same problem that I had all of those years ago still remains-- I can't perform it consistently despite knowing exactly how to do it.

The demo has only two playable characters: Guile (an ass-kicking American GI) and Ryu. I spent over an hour playing before I was able to win a single match against the PC with either one of them, and even that one felt kind of flukey, since I made liberal use of Ryu's arguably cheap low weak kicks, and the PC-controlled Guile simply chose not to use the proper counter several times in a row. I take some solace in the fact that apparently the default difficulty setting is agreed to be rather punishing (just as it was in the original). In fact, no matter what it's set at, the computer player reads your buttons inputs and reacts accordingly before the animation even begins, giving it super-human reflexes. It can also use special moves instantly without the delay that human players need to input the button combinations (charge moves like Guile's Sonic Boom or complex moves like Zangief's Spinning Piledriver can't be done without some delay). So, I was pleased to win, and if I never hear "Sonic Boom!" (Guile's signature move) again it'll be too soon.

Given that I suck, I feel like it would be a huge waste of money to buy the full version (~$10 in proprietary Microsoft credits, BTW), and yet... it's Street Fighter II. I have to pay for it. Even though I was never very good at it, I still remember it quite fondly, like most every other gamer my age. I need it. I mean, it's only $10 to unlock a classic. And I might have an easier time of it once I have access to the broken characters (I love Chun-Li's low fierce kick-- once she sweeps you off your feet you aren't ever getting back up). Also, I'll have something to play with a second person on my 360 besides Gauntlet when I have company over. And besides-- even though I may only be able to execute it properly one out of every ten tries, every time that I hear Ryu yell "Hadouken!" it instantly transports me back to when I was 10 years old, hearing that same sound while hammering randomly at buttons and loving every minute of it.


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I wrote the post above two weeks ago (aside from a bit of editing today), and decided to keep it in reserve for when I didn't have anything else to write about. I didn't feel like re-writing it, so I'm adding this bit at the bottom. In the two weeks since I wrote it, I've purchased the full version of the game, and I don't regret my purchase one bit. I've killed a couple of evenings with it (it took me a whole night to beat the single-player game on the lowest of 7 difficulty settings, and that's with infinite continues), and played a few matches with friends, and even if I don't ever touch it again (which won't be the case if I ever choose to renew my XBox Live Gold membership, which would allow me to play it online), I'd call that ten dollars well spent. Still, it does raise a concern or two about how well I'll be able to financially handle the next generation of gaming.

The free demos frequently available on the XBox Live Marketplace (a place that I find myself liking more and more with each passing week) are insidious, as they prompt me to seriously consider purchases that I'd not give a moment's thought to otherwise. Every time I see a new demo available, I grab it and give it a try. And, invariably, I love it, and convince myself that I should buy it. Fortunately, this is the dry season, so I haven't actually set foot in an EB in months, and each time the urge to buy usually fades in a week's time. The most recent culprit is Dead Rising-- it has a very fun demo in which you're able to kill hordes of zombies in various humourous and satisfying ways (you've not really lived until you've cut off a zombie's arm, shoved it in his mouth, taken a picture, and then run him over with a shopping cart), and as little as a few days ago I was convinced that, this time, I was going to buy the full version and not change my mind. Now, I'm not so sure.

So, provided that this trend continues, I should be alright, but if full modern games are ever digitally distributed via the service, I'm doomed. Not that it matters, since, between the XBox Live Arcade and the upcoming Wii Virtual Console service, I'll be destitute in short order anyway as I re-buy all of the games that I played in my youth, buy any more that I wish that I had played, and buy pretty much anything else that looks interesting. Forget the prohibitively expensive Sony Playstation 3-- Microsoft and Nintendo are going to nickel and dime me to death, and I'll be smiling the whole time.

4 Comments:

Anonymous nos said...

Yeah, I wouldn't pay 10 dollars for SF2. I might pay 40 dollars for like, SF2 ultimate edition with all the scads of characters and arenas and such that have trickled out throughout the numerous revisions over the years. Probably not, but I'd at least consider it.

Friday, August 18, 2006 1:44:00 PM  
Anonymous Mike said...

Street Fighter is my all-time favorite game. I played probably a good number of those Street Fighter II's. Super was my favorite, I liked that Lei Fang guy. That was his name right? And Cammy was badass. I remember the first time I played SFIII in the arcade and the disney-level animation FPS nearly brought tears to my eyes.

I poured probably $100 worth of quarters into Street Fighter vs X-men machine at the arcade in the Fredericton mall when we were highschool. We used to get crowds to watch us play.

My favorite instance of street fighter thus far is Street Fighter Alpha III for the PSone. However, I will concede a few things about street fighter that have dimished over the last decade or so in many ways.

1 - Those new capcom vs SNK or capcom vs marvel games are lazy lazy lazy. Somtimes the sprites for the characters look like they were taken out of old Genesis versions of SFII - Tournament edition.

2 - I found the online play to consist of me fighting people who did nothing but throw fireballs the entire time.

3 - It is almost impossible to play any good fighting game on the xbox controller (or the cube for that matter). For good SFing you need either a decent cross shaped d-pad (if you don't mind working up a thumb callous) or one of those arcade-style thumbsticks. I've never tried the thumbstick because in the arcade I was fairly rough on them and I always figured it wouldn't feel right to be using it but be so far away from the screen.

That said, the only controller currently on the market that I would play a street fighter game with COMFORTABLE is the PS controller, though I admit that it would be a painful process. Thumbsticks I find to be too imprecise. Or TOO precise. One or the other. Oh, and the xbox d-pad is also too wobbly, if it wasn't attached between the actual points this would be better.

Anyways, those are my two-cents. I would TOTALLY pay $10 for that game and I would play the shit out of it. I used to play it on medium-hard difficulty all the time and fall into the zone. It was like a puzzle game.

Oh, and remember Pocket Fighters? That game was awesome! One punch button, one kick button, one super button... gems, hilarious animations, darkstalkers characters (I never did play a real version of ANY darkstalkers game but I always wanted to) and FANSERVICE APLENTY.

Friday, August 18, 2006 1:51:00 PM  
Blogger Jordan said...

Yeah, neither the D-pad nor the analog stick on the 360 controller feel quite right, but I've been using the analog stick, which feels just a little too precise. That being said, there's supposed to be a 360 arcade stick controller available soon.

Oh, and remember Pocket Fighters?
Remember it? I can do you one better than that-- I own it. Ricmond gave the PS version of Pocket Fighter to me as a (birthday?) present back in high school.

Friday, August 18, 2006 3:02:00 PM  
Anonymous Mike said...

I'll never forget that time I saw Ricmond walking down the street on the weather network trying to "act natural."

Friday, August 18, 2006 5:30:00 PM  

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