This year, Street Fighter turns 35 years old. Yeah, it’s been so long since the first game hit the arcades, revolutionizing the concept of fighting games with, er… two playable characters and huge pressure-sensitive buttons that crush your clenched fist into minced meat, since you had to hammer them ridiculously hard to take heavy attacks. Yes. That’s not what the series is remembered for at all.
The series is really remembered for street fighter 2, of course. In fact, it’s easy to imagine a world where that first game never had a sequel, and what a worse world that is: no Street Fighter, no Mortal Kombat, no King of Fighters, no Killer Instinct… it’s not worth it. thinking of.
The difference between Street Fighter and its sequel brings up what I think is an interesting pattern in the series; an ebb and flow that matches the numbered state of the game. I would put it like this: the odd Street Fighter games are full of great ideas, but for one reason or another they are flawed or struggle to gain the full appreciation of a wide audience. And even games blow the damn doors off.
On the plus side, we have Street Fighters 2 and 4, possibly credited with bringing the fighting game genre back to mainstream popularity on the occasion of their two releases. Street Fighter 2 ushered in a golden age of arcade fighting around the world during the 1990s. In the late 2000s, Street Fighter 4 was at the forefront of a new generation of fighting games, where connectivity in line acted as a gateway drug to explosive growth in the competitive scene. Street Fighter 4, in many ways, took EVO from hotel ballrooms to Mandalay Bay.
On the weird side, we have Street Fighter (a wonderful mess that was entirely necessary to make it to the second game), the seriously misunderstood third game (which arguably miscalculated grossly in getting rid of one of the most recognizable and beloved video game casts of all the time almost entirely), and Street Fighter 5… which is, now, a pretty good game that will always be dogged by netcode issues and lack of quality and content at launch.
As Street Fighter turns 35, it’s imperative that Capcom make sure Street Fighter 6 follows suit. By which I mean: it’s absolutely key that this is a rock-solid game that has a cultural impact that ripples across the genre.
It’s not just about delivering quality gameplay, it’s about preserving the status of Street Fighter. Anyone with a brain would agree, regardless of what you think of gaming, that Street Fighter is the beating heart of the fighting game world. It is the originator. Mortal Kombat sells more, and maybe KOF has a more dedicated fanbase, but Street Fighter is the one. Street Fighter’s status as the ‘leading’ game in EVO, for example, has always felt pretty much taken for granted. But that might not be the case for much longer.
As Connor recently wrote, a major player is coming for a piece of fighting games. Riot Games has ‘Project L’, a curious looking fighter set in the League of Legends universe. The game clearly wants to shake up fighting games, and it has the Cannon brothers, the founders of Evo and creators of the best-in-class GGPO netcode, attached.
Back in the ’90s, there was a battle for the fighting game crown, and King of Fighters was never really in contention, despite the name. Arguably, there wasn’t really a winner. Instead, Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat took divergent paths, with the former becoming the heart of the genre and the latter becoming the far-reaching populist sales behemoth (as evidenced by the performance of SF4/5 and MK 9 to 11). . Riot’s Project L wants to be both. He wants the crown.
In that sense, Street Fighter 6 might be the biggest sequel this series has ever seen, since the second one, anyway. Once again, it is imperative that Capcom does it well. And another even-numbered banger would be the perfect way to celebrate 35, anyway.
How can they do that? Well, the network code has to be perfect. Street Fighter finally has to figure out what it wants to do for a single-player mode (My prediction? Some kind of Krypt-style overworld with quests and stuff to match fights and unlock gear). And Capcom finally has to find a monetization model it’s happy with, where it can present Street Fighter as a ‘service game’ without fans wanting to kick them in the face. It also needs to look good, and a transition to the RE Engine is the ideal time to redefine the look of Ryu and the team. Just look at what that same transition has done for the Monster Hunter series.
As someone who really likes Street Fighter 5, and as the kind of crazy nerd who actually has an original Street Fighter 4 Japanese Vewlix arcade cabinet sitting right here in his office, I’m obviously very excited for Street Fighter 35. But I’m also very aware that this could be a dangerous time for the series. We hope that Capcom makes the right decisions.