“Sorry, guys, I can’t chip in for the limo,” Rob said, head held low.
This was a huge disappointment. Rob, Adam, Aaron and I had all agreed that we were going to split the cost of hiring a limousine for junior prom. We all had minimum wage, part-time mall jobs, so pulling together $350 between the four of us had taken a lot of sacrifice.
“Just ask your mom for the money,” Adam suggested.
“I already got money from my parents for the ride. That’s the cash I accidentally spent last weekend,” explained Rob.
“On what?” asked Adam.
“I put down a pre-order on Street Fighter II for Super Nintendo. Electronics Boutique needed a full payment to guarantee a copy,” Rob answered.
It was a tough situation, but at least his reasoning for not ponying up for the limo made sense to us. After all, Rob was terrible at Street Fighter II. The rest of us had been practicing at the arcade for hours every week. When we got together as a group, Rob would struggle to pull off the most basic moves. Anything requiring so much as a half-circle movement seemed impossible to him.
“Well, that really sucks, Rob,” I said. “But once you get the cartridge, you better at least practice the game.”
After the home version of the game came out, Rob put a ton of time into training. Eventually, we had to ask him to stop playing as Guile, because none of us could keep up with him when he chose that character. Ultimately, peace was restored, and Rob was forgiven for making the rest of us fork over an extra thirty bucks on the night of the big dance. By summer, he and Stacey were no longer a thing, but we were still playing Street Fighter II religiously.
The first time I had seen Street Fighter II in arcades was in the summer of 1991. I was visiting family in Minnesota, and was a sophomore in high school. My cousin Mitchell and I rode our bikes from my grandparent’s house to the local arcade, which had a great mix of old and new cabinets. For me, the draw was Double Dragon II: The Revenge. For Mitchell, it was this new one-on-one fighting game that featured six buttons per-player. Mitchell explained that the game was super popular in Arizona, where he lived.
Street Fighter II looked terrific. Double Dragon II was primitive by comparison. Mitchell was able to dominate the Street Fighter II cabinet; in the two hours we were at the arcade, he never had to drop in more than one quarter. Opponents would continue to line up and get bested by him.
I faced off against Mitchell a few times that day. He was kind enough to throw one round every time I put in a quarter, to ensure I’d get three full rounds for practice. He taught me how to throw energy balls, and how to pull off a dragon punch. After this trial by fire, I was still pretty bad at the game, but at least I understood its basic rhythm.
Shortly after I returned home to Illinois, our local bowling alley installed the game. It was always swarmed with teenagers. Over the next few months, one cabinet eventually became two, and then four. For a time, it seemed that Street Fighter II actually became a bigger draw for the bowling alley than bowling itself.
Street Fighter II ignited the demand for arcade machines in a manner that hadn’t been since Namco introduced Pac-Man in 1981. You could play a round in your local 7-11, any 24-hour diner, and most movie theaters. And there never seemed to be an empty cabinet.
And then, a megaton bomb was dropped. Electronic Gaming Monthly showed the first-ever images of Street Fighter II running on a Super Nintendo Entertainment System. It was going to be a platform exclusive. My friends and I were astonished by the side-by-side comparisons of the arcade and SNES screenshots. Some minor adjustments had been made, such as the removal of a few elephants in Dhalsim’s stage. But otherwise, it promised to be a perfect port. I needed this game, but first… I needed a Super Nintendo.
Before the release of the home version, I had started working at Software, Etc., a store that specialized in video games. I got an employee discount on all hardware and software, so I was able to pick up a Super Nintendo, Super Castlevania IV, Zelda: A Link to the Past, and Contra III, all for 20% off. Playing through those games was a blast, but great as they were, they were just the appetizer to the main course that was Street Fighter II.
Picking up Street Fighter V at GameStop this past week (in February 2016) was a pretty straightforward thing. No lines, and plenty of copies in stock. It was nothing like the zoo that surrounded the launch of Street Fighter II in July of 1992. When I came to work at Software, Etc. that morning, there was already a line of more than 100 folks outside the store, pre-order receipts in-hand. We had boxes upon boxes of the game. After hours of selling the game to others, it started to become painful to be unable to go home and play it myself. My personal copy was sealed in the backroom, ready to go… And I wouldn’t be able to play it until late evening.
When I was finally able to tear off the box’s cellophane at my friend Jim’s house and pop in the cart, I was knocked back on my heels. It was everything the magazines had promised. This WAS the arcade game, brought home. The Super Nintendo control pads were not perfect, but at least they had six buttons, and everybody was similarly disadvantaged when playing.
Eventually, my friends and I upgraded to “Super Advantage” game controllers, which made the game feel even more like the arcade version. We would play at parties, before work at Software, Etc. (on the Super Nintendo kiosk), and right after school. When new editions of the game, like Street Fighter II Turbo and Super Street Fighter II came out, we’d snap em up.
Ultimately, Capcom took too long to produce Street Fighter III. That game hit arcades at a time when coin-op businesses were disappearing. When the game was released for home play exclusively on the Dreamcast – a machine few people owned – there was no fanfare. And while both Street Fighter IV and Street Fighter V hit all the right nostalgic notes, it was clear that this one-time world phenomenon had become quite niche. Still, every time I hear Ryu shout “Hadoken!”, I’m sent right back to the early nineties, playing my all-time favorite competitive game with my high school friends.