How Street Fighter 2 Shaped the Console Wars

In the controversial console war between Nintendo and Sega’s 16-bit systems, most of the focus has been on the elements that directly controlled the two warring factions: the hardware and first-party games, and especially the dueling mascots, Mario and Sonic. But third-party support varied greatly during that time, with entire series like Final Fantasy promising loyalty to just one of its two main competitors. And hardly any game has made a bigger impact than Street Fighter 2. Today marks 30 years since the first Street Fighter 2 home release was released on the Super NES – a move that would shape console competition and the industry. for the coming years.

It’s hard to overstate how huge a hit Street Fighter 2 was when it first hit arcades. In 1991, coin-operated arcades began to dim, falling short of the golden age of arcades in the 1980s. The arrival of Street Fighter 2 heralded a revitalization of the arcade industry, bringing foot traffic to arcades and attracting countless imitators. It quickly created a burgeoning competitive scene, with each arcade community knowing its own top players and others placing their quarters on the edge of the box to challenge the champions. It also, unsurprisingly, dominated the money flowing into the arcade business. David Snook, editor of the arcade trade magazine Coin Slot, estimated that Street Fighter 2 accounted for about 60% of the total coin market in a 1993 edition of British magazine Mega. Street Fighter 2 was one of the greatest games ever made in a genre with few rivals.

At the time, an arcade-style gate looked like a castle in the air. Players had become accustomed to arcade machines that far surpassed the power of home consoles. Homes of arcade games on the Nintendo Entertainment System were often somewhat compromised or even rebuilt from scratch to meet system specifications. The Super NES had been released close to The World Warriors in 1991 with relatively impressive specs, but nothing on the system resembled Street Fighter’s full-screen sprite artwork. The occasional console game that matched its arcade counterparts was the exception, not the rule. Fans at the time had every reason to believe that every Street Fighter 2 port would be compromised at best.

Against that background, the July 1992 release of Street Fighter 2: The World Warriors on Super NES was nothing short of stunning. It was arcade-perfect and only lacked a few visual details, such as the opening cutscene of the arcade version. With the Super NES version, and with the advent of home arcade sticks that came shortly after to capitalize on its success, players were able to master their fighting skills at home with a faithful reproduction of the arcade experience, and then to enter the arcade to beat opponents .

At the time, game prices varied wildly depending on everything from the size of the cartridge to the demand for the game. The standard retail price for a console game was generally $50 USD, while some significantly larger games like Final Fantasy 3 (aka FF6) can run as high as $80. Street Fighter 2 was relatively expensive at $75 – about $158 in 2022 dollars. But fans happily paid the price and quickly bought millions of copies when Street Fighter 2 became the best-selling game on the Super NES. That demand was partly fueled by the exclusivity of the platform. No version of the Sega Genesis was released in 1992. If you wanted to play one of the most popular games in the world for months, you had two options: buy a Super Nintendo or go to the arcade and spend an endless number. of quarters. On the console battlefields of the schoolyard and the parents’ basements, this was a huge win for Nintendo.

Capcom took advantage of Street Fighter’s huge popularity by planning a few more versions and updates, but in pre-Internet days those updates had to be released in new physical carts. All-new arcade cabinets and all-new home cartridges were planned. Street Fighter 2: Champion Edition came in the summer of 1993 and added the ability to play as the four bosses – Balrog, Vega, Sagat and M. Bison – as well as mirror matches and some other balance adjustments. This version would serve as the basis for the Sega Genesis port. Meanwhile, Capcom was planning a “Turbo Edition” for Super NES that would add speed options and new special moves. At this point, the two came together, with the Genesis version reportedly being pushed from its summer release to fall so that Capcom could add the Turbo improvements to it. Sega fans were waiting again.

Once the Sega Genesis version arrived, in September 1993, it was as successful as you’d expect, selling millions of copies. But Nintendo fans still had a justified sense of superiority, as the Genesis version was somewhat tarnished with noticeable changes in elements such as the color palette and sound channels. These weren’t a deal breaker for most fighting fans – the game still worked extremely well and scratched the itch that Genesis owners had had for over a year. But it was still a difference; Nintendo fans could boast of a superior port.

Another important distinction was between the Super NES and Genesis versions: the controller. In the arcade, Street Fighter 2 used a six-button control scheme: jab (weak), strong (center), and fierce (heavy) for the punch and kick commands. Those would also determine the power, speed and range of your special attacks. Triggering Guile’s Flash Kick with a fierce command would yield a noticeably larger area of ​​effect than with a jab command. The standard Super NES controller had six buttons, consisting of the four face buttons and the two shoulder buttons. Capcom mapped these commands onto the Super NES controller with relative ease – the four face buttons were used for jab and powerful attacks, while the shoulder buttons were used as the two fierce commands. It wasn’t an arcade stick, but it made the game perfectly playable without buying additional accessories.

In comparison, the Genesis controller had only three buttons by default. More than any issues with the software itself, this made for an extremely clunky compromise, forcing players to press a separate button to switch between punches and kicks. The switch was assigned to the Start button, which had the odd side effect of removing the ability to pause when playing with a 3-button controller. Needless to say this was not ideal. Sega anticipated this problem and released its six-button controller. This took the clumsiness out of Street Fighter and was even closer to a traditional arcade stick in that it didn’t have shoulder buttons. It also served as the controller of choice for players of other games such as Mortal Kombat and Streets of Rage. But it also represented another purchase of accessories to get the full experience. And if you wanted to beat up your younger sibling – in-game, of course – you’d have to buy two.

As the years passed, the Street Fighter 2 phenomenon faded away, but Capcom had another trick up its sleeve. Another definitive version of Street Fighter 2, released in 1994. Super Street Fighter 2: The New Challengers would be the definitive version of the game. It featured four all-new fighters: T. Hawk, Dee Jay, Cammy, and Fei Long. The classic fighters got new moves that would eventually become iconic character traits, such as Ryu’s Flaming Hadouken and Ken’s Flaming Shoryuken. Stages and portraits got a facelift and it introduced a scoring system to track elements like combos and recovery. All fighters had a much wider variety of color schemes and it brought back Turbo’s speed options. It also eventually featured a detailed animated opening like the arcade original – although instead of two unnamed men beating each other up, it was Ryu who fired a hadouken right at the screen.

This time, Genesis did not lag behind. Capcom developed and released the two versions simultaneously and even produced its own six-button controller for consistency across all platforms. While fans say the audio quality on Genesis was lacking compared to its SNES counterpart, the two were about equal.

Sega still fared very well for itself in the 16-bit generation, especially in North America (which accounted for almost half of its total lifetime sales), no doubt thanks to Genesis’ image as the “cool” system with attitude. . It gained a respectable market share against Nintendo compared to their competition in the 8-bit console wars. But by 1994, when Super Street Fighter 2 came out, Sega had lost significant ground thanks to a steady stream of critically acclaimed releases on SNES, including but not limited to Street Fighter. Sega has arguably broken its market with add-ons like the Sega CD and 32X, while Nintendo just continued to release first-party software backed by third-party support. By the end of the generation, Nintendo had sold 49 million Super NES systems worldwide to Sega’s 29 million Genesis units.

It’s impossible to say what would have happened if the Sega Genesis version of Street Fighter 2 hadn’t come more than a year after the Super NES version, and without significant compromises to the graphics and control scheme. But it’s safe to say that this disparity has contributed to Sega’s problems. Without Street Fighter 2’s much stronger showing on Super NES, Sega might have been a better match for Nintendo’s sales, if not surpassed. It may have made other decisions in the intervening years. It may even still be a console manufacturer. In the bitter rivalry between Nintendo and Sega in the mid-1990s, it may have been Capcom that dealt the fiercest blow.

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