It's taken five and a half years for an online Street Fighter game to reach Wii. In that time, Xbox 360 and PS3 owners have had five different SF online titles — six, if you count Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition. Heck, even 3DS has Super Street Fighter IV: 3D Edition. Wii owners, for their sins, get an online-enabled Mega Drive game. Life can be cruel sometimes.
The game in question is Super Street Fighter II. In its day one of the most eagerly awaited releases ever, it added four new characters to its cast of world warriors, plus a new combo system, updated stages and retooled special moves. Released head to head against Super Street Fighter II on SNES, the Mega Drive version came on a 40 Megabit cartridge but still suffered some compromises. Sound is noticeably tinnier, particularly voices and stage sound effects — Dhalsim's elephants sound more like surprised infants — and the graphics take on a slightly garish hue.
But beneath its presentation slights, it's still a tightly honed and often riveting fighter. Being the last SF before Capcom introduced super moves in Super Street Fighter II Turbo — which never got a 16-bit release, so won't make it to VC — means there's no meter-building, so the start of each round is a true reset to a level playing field. The Street Fighter staples of zoning, mix-ups and wake-up games are all here, and all as engaging as ever, particularly with a second player. Take on the included tournament mode and, even nearly 20 years after release, it still captivates a crowd.
SEGA's version includes the same feature set as its Super Nintendo counterpart with the addition of an extra speed setting, which barely makes a dent in the usual 50Hz presentation. Staying true to its heritage, large borders surround the game screen, though you soon learn to compensate for the slower speed.
So far, so similar to the SNES release, but the real unique selling point here is the online play, a first for any Virtual Console game outside Japan (the arcade version of Puyo Puyo was the first online VC game, but was Japan-only.) Getting online is easy — a pop-up menu before the title screen gives you the option — and you can choose to battle a stranger or a friend, as long as you swap those Friend Codes of course.
It's all very basic, with no communication or names displayed; unless playing a friend you never know who you're playing against, and that takes some of the magic away from the experience. You can play the same opponent immediately after a fight, but there's no way to add them to a rivals list or even thank them for a good game. Connect, fight, disconnect; it's all rather soulless. Thankfully the online play is mostly smooth, though we did hit a few rough patches. Sadly as this is 50Hz that pretty much rules out cross-continent online play, so you won't be able to settle transatlantic grudges when the game hits North America.
Having taken so long to get here, the first online Street Fighter for Wii is a mixed bag. The core game is as enjoyable and finely tuned as ever, and it's got all the features of the SNES version but with the addition of online play. The internet component is truly barebones though, with only single matches against anonymous opponents to keep your interest. Five years ago we could have said the online play was a good starting point for future titles, but after all this time it feels more like justification for Capcom's choice not to bring an online Street Fighter to Wii sooner.