Street Fighter II: The World Warrior was nothing short of a phenomenon. If you're old enough to remember when the game hit the Super Nintendo two decades ago then you may recall it as all you ever thought of or spoke about for weeks on end. The gaming world seemed to gravitate around Capcom's seminal one-on-one brawler, which had conquered the arcades and was a massive exclusive for Nintendo's 16-bit home system. Imported Japanese versions of the game changed hands for insane amounts of money and all manner of merchandise appeared — including a laughable Hollywood adaptation starring Jean-Claude Van Damme and Aussie pop star Kylie Minogue. Street Fighter II was one of those games which captured the imagination of players all over the world, and the fact that Capcom is still profiting from its popularity all these years later is testament to how massive it was at launch.
Of course, Capcom is also famous for wringing every last drop of profit out of successful concepts, and in the years that followed the release of Street Fighter II we were graced with several incremental sequels which added in new elements piece by piece. As a result, the SNES original was already outdated a year or so after it hit store shelves, and twenty years on it feels even more dated. To hammer this point home, Capcom and Nintendo have launched Street Fighter II on the Wii U Virtual Console alongside sequels Street Fighter II Turbo: Hyper Fighting and Super Street Fighter II: The New Challengers. It doesn't take a genius to realise that the oldest of the trio is going to be the weakest, and while Street Fighter II still manages to entertain, captivate and enthral, it's impossible to ignore the fact that better options are on the table.
Eight combatants are included in the game — which seems like a laughably small selection by modern standards — as well as four boss characters which cannot be used by the player (Street Fighter II Turbo: Hyper Fighting would remedy that situation). Despite the small roster, each character represents a totally different fighting style which lends the game incredible depth. Only Ryu and Ken are similar, and we rather suspect this was done because Capcom hadn't considered the possibility of allowing players to select the same fighter in multiplayer (another addition which would appear in the sequel).
Mastering each world warrior is a meaty task, as is getting to grips with the basic control scheme. Six buttons are used in battle - three for punch and three for kick, with each one mapped to a different strength. It's this depth which made the game such a hit back in the early '90s — previous fighting games didn't allow you to select the power of your blows. Weaker attacks are fast and less likely to leave you exposed to counter-attacks, while stronger hits will knock more off your opponent's stamina gauge but take longer to execute, leaving you open. It's possible to block incoming attacks by pushing away from your foe, a feature which leads to incredibly tactical battles when you've got two skilled players involved.
Street Fighter II's other notable revelation was the inclusion of "special" moves, activated by button and pad movement combinations. Ryu and Ken's iconic fireball motion — quarter-circle and punch — has become part of video gaming lexicon, while other moves require charging sequences, such as Guile's Flash Kick and Blanka's rolling charge. For even more variety, characters such as Chun Li and E. Honda can deliver multiple blows in quick succession by tapping the appropriate attack button rapidly, and Zangief's unblockable Spinning Piledriver requires a full 360-degree motion on the D-pad but is the most powerful move in the entire game.
Memorising all of those moves is no mean achievement, but seasoned Street Fighter II players will no doubt have them etched into their brains by now. However, despite the depth of gameplay on offer, there's no escaping the fact that this title feels decidedly lacking when compared to what came afterwards. While the lack of pace is just about tolerable — in fact, the slower nature of the game allows you to be more methodical in your approach — the lack of fighting game creature comforts such as devastating super combos, evasive rolls, guard gauges and mid-air blocking makes the whole experience feel overly simplistic at times.
The longer you spend with Street Fighter II the easier it is to accept what's missing and enjoy the game in its purist form. When the improvements added by Capcom since the launch of the game are stripped away, what you're left with is a surprisingly tight and focused offering. What's most surprising is how challenging the game is even after all these years; on its default difficulty setting Street Fighter II is a tough cookie, even for seasoned players who have honed their tactics over the past two decades. It goes without saying that the two-player mode is where you'll want to spend the majority of your time, however — it's just as addictive and compelling now as it was at the time of release, and after a few rounds you'll be talking trash to your rival just like the good old days.
Street Fighter II was a landmark moment in the history of video gaming. Capcom essentially created a genre with this game; while one-on-one fighters existed prior to its release (the original Street Fighter being one example), the game pioneered many concepts which are now commonplace. However, playing Street Fighter II today is a tricky proposition, purely because the core idea has been expanded and improved upon relentlessly by the likes of Capcom, SNK, Arc System Works and countless other companies which jumped on the bandwagon following the game's success.
Street Fighter II remains a solid game, and if you vividly recall its impact on your life back in 1992 then chances are this Wii U Virtual Console release will bring back some very happy memories. Pure nostalgia might not be enough for some players though, and when you consider that the two direct SNES sequels are also available — and at the same price, too — then recommending the original becomes incredibly hard. If you're one of the few people who preferred the pure nature of the game before Capcom started tweaking and adding new fighters then by all means invest in this version — but for everyone else, you really should consider Street Fighter II Turbo and Super Street Fighter II before downloading.