Street Fighter may have been surpassed by the likes of Resident Evil and Monster Hunter in Capcom's enviable stable of IP, but for gamers of a certain age, the merest mention of the name itself is enough to make the hairs on the back of your neck stand to attention. In the early '90s, Street Fighter was everywhere; at a time before the internet and social media came along, the awareness of this seminal franchise spread like wildfire around amusement arcades and school playgrounds, offices and bars; it inspired merchandise, movies, cartoons and comics, and turned Capcom into a globally famous company.

Street Fighter's fortunes were very much tied to the one-on-one beat 'em up genre it did so much to nurture and popularise, and when 3D visuals started to take over at the end of the decade it slowly but surely slid out of the spotlight, only to be resurrected in 2008 with the sublime Street Fighter IV. We've had another numbered sequel since then as well as numerous collections, remasters and updates – the most recent of which being Ultra Street Fighter II: The Final Challengers on Switch – and in 2018, the brand is very much alive and well. So much so that Capcom has produced Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection to celebrate 30 (31 if you want to be truly accurate, but what's a few months between friends?) years since the release of the original arcade game.

What we have here is every single mainline Street Fighter title prior to the fourth entry, and that includes all of the various updates and semi-sequels that Capcom released on a yearly basis when the brand was at its zenith. 1987's Street Fighter kicks off proceedings, and is perhaps the least appealing game in this compendium. That's not just because it's the oldest game and the passage of time hasn't been as kind to it – the controls are awkward, the jumping mechanics feel off and there's a general lack of refinement to the whole thing. It's fascinating as a piece of history, but you won't be spending much time actually playing it.

The series really hit its stride with 1991's Street Fighter II, and there are five (count 'em) iterations of that game included in this pack. The original Street Fighter II is a tricky one to assess properly in 2018; it's undeniably a seminal release, but the lack of content, absence of embellishments (such as air-blocking, Super Combos and the ability for both players to select the same fighter) and sluggish speed mean that like the original game, it's only really worth booting up to see how far the franchise has come. 1992's Street Fighter II' (or Street Fighter II 'Dash', if you prefer) introduced the ability to play as the four boss characters as well permitting players to select the same combatant in two-player matches, but it was Street Fighter II': Hyper Fighting which really took things up a notch, adding in new moves and that all-important speed setting. After experiencing this title, the previous versions feel like playing in zero-gravity.

The following year saw the release of Super Street Fighter II, perhaps the most significant update up to that point. Entirely new characters were added to the roster for the first time as well as new moves and backgrounds for the returning cast; the shift to the more powerful CPS-2 arcade hardware allowed for much improved visuals and audio, too. Newcomers to the series may well wish to start their journey here, as the 'Super' iterations of Street Fighter II are the most feature-rich and polished. True to form, Capcom then tweaked this title in 1994 with Super Street Fighter II Turbo, bringing the game up to roughly the same speed as Hyper Fighting and adding Super Combo moves – powerful specials which can only be unleashed when your Super Combo Gauge has reached a certain level – and fan-favourite Akuma (known as Gouki in Japan).

1995's Street Fighter Alpha (Street Fighter Zero in Japan) was an attempt by Capcom to take the franchise in a slightly different direction; a prequel set between the events of the 1987 original and Street Fighter II, it features younger versions of several main characters and a more cartoon-like visual style. Improvements introduced in the 'Super' sub-series were carried over with further refinements – the Super Combo gauge is now divided into three sections – and the all-important Alpha Counter was introduced. Air-blocking also made its debut, but playing the game today, it feels half-finished. Background art is sparse and often reused with different colour palettes, and the lack of characters dents its long-term appeal.

As you might imagine, Capcom quickly remedied all of this with a sequel which some fans regard as the best in the Alpha sub-series. With 19 fighters to choose from – each with their own stage – and the return of several fan-favourite fighters, such as Zangief and Dhalsim – Street Fighter Alpha 2 was a smash hit back in 1996 and is wonderfully enjoyable today; Alpha Counters were refined and expanded and the 'Custom Combo' feature gave even more depth to the fighting system. Alpha 2 is such an amazing title that Alpha 3 – released in 1998, a year after Street Fighter III hit arcades – feels more like an expansion than a significant update. The notion of different 'fighting styles' allows you to tweak each fighter's performance, and the roster of 28 different characters is impressive, but it's hard to choose between the two games; a great many fans prefer the 1996 outing. Irrespective of your viewpoint, these are two of the best 2D fighters in existence.

While Capcom was expanding the Alpha series, it also released the long-awaited 'proper' sequel to Street Fighter II, Street Fighter III: New Generation. The company's new CPS-3 hardware allowed for smoother animation, more impressive music and more colourful visuals, but the game was perhaps most notable for updating the cast dramatically. Only Ryu and Ken survived from the original series – every other fighter was entirely new. Twinned with the 'Super Art' system – which only allows you to pick one Super Combo for use – and the groundbreaking 'parry' mechanic – a counter which is activated by pushing forwards just before your opponent hits you – made this a technically demanding game even by Street Fighter standards. In the same year Capcom released Street Fighter III: 2nd Impact - Giant Attack, which made only minor refinements over the original. The most beloved iteration wouldn't arrive until 1999; Street Fighter III: Third Strike - Fight for the Future remains, for some people, the absolute pinnacle of the series. It's tempting to suggest that Third Strike is worth the cost of admission alone; it's one of the best one-on-one fighting games ever made.

All of these games are emulated perfectly, with the experts at Digital Eclipse making every possible effort to replicate the original arcade releases as closely as possible. Everything moves, looks and sounds just as it should, ensuring a truly authentic experience. On top of this, at any point during any game you can stab the '+' button and enter a universal menu system, from which you can tweak the look of the game. The screen size can be toggled between 'Original' (which plays inside a bordered view), 'Full' (which zooms in a little and only uses borders on the left and right sides) and 'Wide' (which clumsily stretches the image to fill a 16:9 display). It's also possible to apply a CRT scanline filter to the image, or an 'Arcade' filter which adds a 'crosshatch' look to the visuals. Neither of these really works all that well, so we found that turning it off completely is much preferable. You can also completely disable the border, but we don't know why you'd ever want to, as the artwork (which is specific to the game you're currently playing) is lovely.

You can, at any time, edit the control configuration as well. From this menu you can re-assign buttons to match your personal preference; like the visual settings, these changes are carried over to all of the games on the pack, because every single Street Fighter game uses the same iconic six-button control layout. As well as these collection-wide settings, it's also possible to access options on a game-by-game basis. For example, there's a context-sensitive 'Special Moves' section which shows all of the commands for the character you're currently playing as. You can also use save states to retain your progress, which is handy for those times when you're playing on the bus and need to take a pause.

In terms of game modes, there are quite a few options to select from. 'Offline' is basically the old-school way of playing; you can dive into any one of the games in free play mode, challenge a friend using the same Switch console or hone your skills in the training option. The latter two options are unique in that you don't have to load up a game to access them; training, for example, allows you to select an title (limited to Street Fighter 2' Hyper Fighting, Super Street Fighter II Turbo, Street Fighter Alpha 3 and Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike – basically the most up-to-date versions of each iteration) and pick a stage from the collection's main menu, rather than doing all of that within the game itself. It might seem like a little thing, but this kind of streamlining – combined with the fact that loading times are virtually non-existent, even when switching from game to game – makes things a lot more enjoyable.

'Local Play' allows you to connect to another Switch console for head-to-head challenges, one of which is totally exclusive to the Switch version of Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection. Back in the day, Capcom released a special version of Super Street Fighter II which linked together four cabinets for a special eight-player tournament option. Using four Nintendo Switch consoles and eight Joy-Con controllers, you can replicate this mythical arcade setup to test your skills against your friends – a really neat inclusion.

'Online Play' is similar in scope to local play, but (you've guessed it) harnesses the reach of the web to offer a never-ending stream of willing opponents. Like local mode, you can create lobbies, but when playing online you can also choose between ranked or casual matches and view global leaderboards. It's worth noting that when playing in local or online modes, you can only select from Street Fighter 2' Hyper Fighting, Super Street Fighter II Turbo, Street Fighter Alpha 3 and Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike, just like in the training mode. One of the most appealing online modes is 'Online Arcade', which aims to replicate the feel of the original coin-op version, where it was possible to begin a game as normal against the computer and then be challenged by other players. You can choose how often your game is interrupted by online rivals if it becomes too regular and annoying.

Finally, we have the 'Museum' section, which gives a reasonably complete history of the entire franchise, right up to the present day. You can read detailed biographies for every single character in the series, listen to all of the music contained within each game and even view concept art and design documents for key games (rough artwork from the abandoned late '80s Street Fighter II concept was certainly new to us, and incredibly interesting). There's a surprising amount of information to digest here, and even if some of it is only going to be worth a single look, it's a welcome addition – not just for newcomers who wish to get up to speed on the lore of the Street Fighter world, but also for battle-hardened veterans who love sifting through the trivia for more knowledge.

Conclusion

While some of the games included in this compendium are rendered somewhat superfluous by the fact that far superior sequels and updates exist alongside them, Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection remains an utterly essential purchase for any self-respecting fighting game fan. Because of Street Fighter's importance to the genre, this is like a history lesson in how the one-on-one fighter has evolved over time; from its rather bumbled inception with the original Street Fighter to its break-out moment with the sequel and its slow and steady refinement with the Super, Alpha and Street Fighter III sub-series. Granted, you'll end up wanting more – it would have been nice to see some of the spin-off titles like X-Men Vs. Street Fighter make the cut, if only as bonus items – but it's not the fault of the game that we're inherently greedy by nature. The only other point to make is that the experience really benefits from using the right controller; while the Joy-Con are perfectly acceptable when you're hosting impromptu local multiplayer challenges and the Pro Controller's D-Pad is passable, we found the 8bitdo SN30 and SN30 Pro pads to be much better options, and if you have an arcade stick that's compatible with Switch, now is the ideal time to dig it out – this is fighting game nirvana, pure and simple.