If you were a gamer in 1992, you almost certainly experienced the Street Fighter II phenomenon. Daniel Driver was similarly caught up in the hype, but through a friendly-yet-personal rivalry, the game changed from a fad and into an obsession.
There are plenty of big 90s “where were you?” moments. Where were you when the Berlin Wall came down and Germany reunified? Where were you when Stuart Pearce missed that penalty? Where were you when you heard the tragic news of Princess Diana’s death?
Yet for me, the most important question is: Where were you when you first played Street Fighter II?
For me, as a naïve eight-year-old still clinging to the Cheetah Annihilator I used on my C64, I remember exactly where I first played Street Fighter II, and it wasn’t in an arcade.
Over the years I’d been fortunate enough to have mates who had older brothers that somehow got hold of the latest gaming stuff before anyone else. I’ve mentioned my friend Beagle before, but in primary school, it was my two friends Aaron and Stephen whose older siblings always seemed to possess bleeding-edge technology.
A couple of years before I first tried SF2, Aaron’s older brother had shown me his Mega Drive with Altered Beast, a combo which blew my tiny mind with how impressive it looked (yes, really). This time, after putting the action figures down on our latest play date, Aaron took me into his brother’s room to show me his sibling’s latest bounty: an import version of Street Fighter II on the SNES.
The concept was simple: you chose a fighter from a selection of eight, then engaged in one-on-one fisticuffs with the other seven in turn. When the initial roster was vanquished, four bosses revealed themselves and would need to be beaten to complete the game.
Yet the real appeal of the game was having two players select one of the eight World Warriors and duke it out for bragging rights. The game offered an unprecedented level of depth that no other fighter had delivered before.
To say that I was impressed would be an understatement. Until that point, the best fighting game I’d played was the brilliant (but limited) Barbarian on the C64. Street Fighter II was several dozen leagues beyond, with its huge detailed sprites and diverse fighters, each with their own special moves. I was amazed, yet completely shit at it.
By the time my mum had come to pick me up, I could only just perform Guile’s Sonic Boom, but I was already hooked.
It’s a funny thing when you’re in love; you begin to see your infatuation everywhere you go. Suddenly, Street Fighter II was everywhere: it was in the local swimming pool, it was in one of our local pubs, it was in the taxi office, it was at the chippy. Wherever it was, there was no shortage of punters lining up to beat the pixelated poop out of each other.
The impact of Capcom’s seminal sophomore Street Fighter can’t be understated. It popularised the idea of competitive gaming, even being cited by John Romero as one of the inspirations for Doom’s Deathmatch mode.
With no Twitch or YouTube, gamers would watch other players duke it out in public over arcade machines. My local swimming pool ended up having two cabinets and there were frequently crowds of excited kids swarming around these colossal gaming structures, eagerly waiting for their opportunity to stick 50p in the machine, or were just happy to watch fighting perfection radiate from the warm glow of a CRT screen.
Here comes a 16-bit challenger
Would I have loved to get hold of a port of Street Fighter II? Hell yes! Did I? No chance! Super Nintendos were at least £150 in June 1992. Street Fighter II commanded a hefty premium itself. As was frequently the case in the UK, we didn’t get a port until six months after America and Japan, which was why the hardcore would pay way above the eventual, but still extraordinary, £60 PAL RRP.
Such eye-watering prices were well out of reach for my family; I might as well have asked for someone to buy me the Dallas Cowboys. Consoles like Sega’s Master System 2, which my brother received for his birthday the year before at a wallet-friendly £49.99, were far more realistic. Luckily, it was this initial SMS purchase that led to the next console we’d receive, which would help me get hold of my most wanted game.
Street Fighter II was always going to be a hard sell to my younger siblings, but the appeal of a certain blue hedgehog had won all three of us over in the meantime through his wonderful 8-bit debut.
At the time, Sonic the Hedgehog was as much a cultural phenomenon as Street Fighter – they could be considered the Minecraft and Fortnite of their era. So, in the same year I became enamoured with Street Fighter, Sonic saw his own sequel. Naturally, we were thrilled when my brother took possession of Sonic 2 for the SMS, but that game was blown away when we saw the Mega Drive version on a demo pod in Dixons.
It was that demo pod that had my brother, sister and I pleading for a Mega Drive for Christmas. It was too expensive for any one of us to receive alone, but as a three-way joint gift, we ensured that Sega’s black box of magic, complete with two 16-bit Sonic games, was nestled safely under our tree. I finally had a game system capable of delivering a decent port of Street Fighter II, but the only problem is it hadn’t been announced. Yet.
In the meantime, I relied on trips to the arcade – well, swimming pool – for my Street Fighter II fix, as well as visits to friends’ houses courtesy of Aaron and Stephen. For some reason my lingering memory is that while I got on with both, they didn’t get on with each other at all and I was often caught in the crossfire. I thought this was odd as they both had older brothers of the same age who got along really well.
In 1992, Stephen moved away from our hometown to around half an hour up the A1, which seemed like another world to me as a kid. I was extremely grateful that we managed to stay in touch and during school holidays, I’d visit and stay over. Obviously, a lot of that time was spent playing videogames, and none were enjoyed more than Street Fighter II.
Naturally, I was routinely trounced in our matches, but I was getting better. We also took turns at trying to beat the arcade mode, picking from the initial eight world warriors and eventually challenging the four grand masters in Balrog, Sagat, Vega and M Bison.
Despite not owning the game or even a system it had been ported to (thankfully, I was unaware of the C64 port…), I’d somehow picked up a slew of Street Fighter II promotional material from various multi-format gaming magazines. It was during our playthroughs against the CPU that I’d suggest “play as Ryu, he’s the one beat Sagat in Street Fighter 1 and gave him the scar on his chest”. With what was available to me, I was brushing up on the lore, memorising the moves and gradually ingraining the world of Street Fighter into my psyche.
But still, I couldn’t beat Stephen. No matter how low he set the handicap for me, no matter which characters we used, the result would always be the same: a crushing defeat for me.
The long wait
Like most kids in the 90s, before these so-called interwebs were a thing, most of my videogame reconnaissance was done through games magazines. Mean Machines, Sega Pro, MEGA and GamesMaster were some I’d either pick up or flick through in Tesco while my mum did the shopping. All of them, at some point, referred to the SNES port of Street Fighter II in admiration, shared rumours of a Mega Drive port, or did both.
But it was Sega Pro that eventually delivered the goods with a glorious multipage spread of Street Fighter II: Champion Edition for the Mega Drive. I remember the colours looked off (not uncommon for magazines at the time given that screenshots had to be taken by pointing a camera at the telly) and there was a huge black border where the life bars sat, but the Grand Masters were playable and two players could even choose the same characters! It was a huge win over the SNES version and as the weeks went on, I eagerly anticipated this June 1993 release.
June came and went, but Street Fighter II: Champion Edition never surfaced. Rumours in magazines suggested Sega had stepped in, unhappy with how the port was progressing. I didn’t understand, until I went to Stephen’s house late in the summer and saw why. The first thing he was keen to show me was a new port of Street Fighter II for the SNES: the Turbo Edition.
Based on the latest revision of Street Fighter II, Turbo featured all the bonuses Champion Edition did but added new moves, outfits, and selectable speeds. If you wanted, you could even select the Champion Edition mode from the outset.
It was amazing. We played it to death and well beyond the course of that weekend, but I could tell Stephen had been playing it with gusto as he pummelled me in versus matches and refused to play arcade mode on anything less than six-star difficulty.
Once again, Street Fighter II was all I could think about. The difference was, this time I owned a console that could do it justice, and the release wasn’t only announced, but close. Yes, this time, the much-anticipated Mega Drive port and accompanying six-button controller were launched just before my birthday.
It was a 10th birthday and I’ll never forget it. Well, actually I don’t remember most of it, save for unwrapping a QuickShot six-button Mega Drive controller, opening cards with money and standing in the local independent games shop watching the demo of Sega’s port while my mum handed over the frankly absurd £59.99 (equivalent to £120.06 in 2019; thanks, inflation) of birthday money to finally bring Street Fighter II into the Driver household.
Despite being nearly a year and a half since I’d first played it, the game still felt like a revelation. Having never got on brilliantly with the shoulder buttons on the SNES, the six face buttons on the Mega Drive pad felt much more comfortable.
The Mega Drive port of Street Fighter II was no longer called Champion Edition, but Special Champion Edition. What made it so special was the addition of the Hyper Fighting upgrades present in the SNES version of Turbo. It was abundantly clear why Sega had delayed it; it didn’t want Nintendo to have the superior version, so it pulled it back to add the required bells and whistles to give it the best chance of being voted Queen at the Street Fighter prom.
After watching the intro, which wasn’t present in either of the SNES ports (take that!) I jumped straight into the “Champion” mode, since the Champion Edition version was the iteration I hadn’t played in any home port. I started off on four-star difficulty, much like Stephen and I had played on the original game.
Still, pulling off the special moves seemed to elude me. Disappointed, I moved the settings down to the easiest difficulty. All I’d need was some warm-up rounds and I’d get the hang of it.
After squeaking past Chun Li and Zangief, Dhalsim, whom Stephen and I considered the worst character in the game, was next. I expected a walkover so spent the opening seconds practicing Dragon Punches, but had to rally to avoid being perfected by India’s most flexible fighter. In the second round, I went hell for leather, but a mix of excitement and frustration allowed Dhalsim to really put me to the sword and achieve that perfect victory.
I knew I was better than this. I remember briefly wondering how could I get schooled by the worst character in the game on the easiest setting. How could I ever beat Stephen at this game?! In an act of rage and blind stupidity that still makes me wince with shame today, I threw my controller at the TV. QuickShot’s budget third-party offering shattered into 100 pieces.
The racket caused my mum to fly upstairs and give me a well-deserved bollocking, making me phone the uncle who had bought me the pad for my birthday and apologise in floods of tears. But all things considered, it was no worse punishment than being forced to use the standard three-button controller to play the game.
Gettin’ strong now
Playing with the standard controller meant only having access to either kicks or punches at any time, though not all at once. Switching between the two was done with the Start button. It worked as well as it could, but it made things far more difficult.
Having realised that I really did suck at the game, I spent a lot of time practising in two-player mode, with infinite time limits and low damage meters as I tried to master all of the game’s special moves. The manual supplied with the game was an absolute beast, its spine making it more a book than the puny stapled instructions of its peers. Inside was just about everything you needed to know about the game and ample information for me to try putting into practice.
As the weeks went by, I was getting better and better at the game. With the remnants of my birthday money (being fortunate to have over a dozen aunts and uncles) I bought another six-button pad, this time a Competition Pro one that resembled the official pad a great deal more.
Eventually, I managed to beat Arcade mode on the default setting with all the characters. I’d use a handful of continues but I was finally improving on where I was a year before.
I was playing the game obsessively and my affection for it was only growing in intensity. The Mega Drive port was fantastic in every way that mattered, sprites were large and detailed, arenas had all their wonderful little details intact, and it even included elements that were missing from other ports such as the small spray of blood visible in some attacks.
The music was present and correct, and was, in my opinion, better than that of the SNES game. The CPS1 hardware shared sound design with the Mega Drive, so tracks were faithful recreations rather than remixed approximations. Just listen to the two versions of Vega’s stage compared the arcade original and there was no contest. Granted, the voice samples were of decidedly lower quality, but to me, the Mega Drive port looked sharper and was audio-visually more authentic than its 16-bit rival.
As the months wore on, I managed to beat Street Fighter II on its highest difficulty setting with Ryu, having breezed through everything below at this point without losing a round. Finally, with half-term looming, I was ready to give my best pal the fight of his life.
It seems we’re destined to battle again
Of course, when I visited Stephen again, we didn’t jump straight into battle; his mum was always nice enough to take us out over the course of the weekend. There was a lot of catching up too, as we hadn’t seen each other since the previous autumn.
But when we sat down by the SNES, that was when I suggested we fight it out on Street Fighter II Turbo once more. I remember him eyeing me quizzically, likely recalling over a year of my humiliating humbling at his hands, but smirking, he dropped the cart into his SNES and off we went.
I went straight for Ryu, whom I had mastered on the Mega Drive and whose move-set and combos I knew inside out at this point. Stephen went for Vega. The damage was adjusted to make the fight as long as possible in the handicap screens, and the battle began.
I lost. Badly.
My exposure to the SNES controller was my downfall. I’d been playing Street Fighter II for three months on the Mega Drive pad, but the SNES pad with its alien shoulder buttons (such an idiotic design would never catch on, would it?) caught me off guard. Using L and R for heavy attacks felt completely off and I was subsequently soundly defeated once more.
“I thought you’d been practising,” Stephen laughed.
“Let me change my buttons,” I replied. My tactic was to stick the heavy and light attacks on the face, with the less used medium attacks on the shoulders. It wasn’t perfect; I’d have killed for an MD pad at that point, but it would suffice.
Hostilities resumed. I chose Ryu again and he chose Sagat. My initial embarrassment had emboldened my rival, but his cockiness and showboating was his undoing as I acclimatised to my new controls. After a brutal beatdown, we were one-all for fights won.
Next, we both chose Ken as we went all in. Despite some hairy moments, my jumping cross high kick–heavy axe kick to dizzy–dragon punch combo, which I’d learned from the pages of MEGA, gave me the win.
I could sense his frustration now. He went for M Bison, the game’s boss who had a decidedly overpowered Psycho Crusher move. However, perfectly timed Flash Kicks and Sonic Booms courtesy of Guile saw me prevail again. We cycled through the roster, each trying our mettle as a different world warrior, but my training had paid off and the initial battle would be the only one that Stephen would win that day.
Following my triumph, the next time we’d play Street Fighter II was via my Mega Drive copy when he visited. Having clearly brushed up himself following our last battle, we had some epic matches via the version’s Team Battle Mode. This allowed up to six characters to be picked in an elimination battle not unlike The King of Fighters, or a via a match-play option which worked as a “best of #” series.
We had fun experimenting with the other peculiarities of Special Champion Edition too, such as the ability to turn off individual special moves, or to play Champion mode at Hyper Fighting speeds. By this point it was clear that the student had surpassed the master, but that didn’t stop my friend from trying to reclaim dominance.
However, as we both advanced towards our 11th birthdays and then beyond, we slowly began to drift apart. The school holiday visits decreased until they eventually stopped, a thought that still makes me a little sad even now.
The fight is everything
But what of Street Fighter II? As you may expect in an era filled with classic titles, more and more games fell in and out of my playlist, yet Street Fighter II was one of few that I’d still go back to. It was a title I’d play against anyone who was willing, and even in 1994 it was this port that convinced a friend of mine who owned the Amiga version to get a Mega Drive for his birthday.
One long-lasting memory I have was going back to Street Fighter II in 1997. This was after I’d obtained a Saturn with the genre-defining Virtua Fighter 2, and the Saturn’s sublime port of Street Fighter Alpha 2 saw me go back to see how the Mega Drive version had aged. I still remember thinking how amazing the game had held up, and how it really was one of the best of all time.
That same year I went to Butlin’s with my brother’s football team, where I found a Super Street Fighter II Turbo cabinet and, en route to finishing the game, tore through plenty of my brother’s teammates who dared to step up to the plate.
Later still, at the turn of the millennium, a few schoolmates gathered round a friend’s house who pulled out his SNES with Street Fighter II for a long bout of winner stays on, the game’s mass appeal still shining through all those years later.
Despite the litany of sequels, remakes, spin-offs and versus games, Street Fighter II holds a special place in my heart and the Mega Drive port of Street Fighter II: Special Champion Edition will always be my favourite. It’s where I honed my skills and turned my early infatuation with the series into a full-blown unending love affair. The graphics were bright, bold and accurately reflected the legendary arcade machine, while the interpretation of the game’s soundtrack by the Mega Drive’s mighty Yamaha sound chip was exquisite. Its Team Battle Mode is something that hasn’t been seen in any other port since.
By the narrowest of whiskers, I think it’s the best port of Street Fighter II of the era, and being a home-focused version rather than an arcade coin guzzler, playing in single player is nowhere near as cheap and infuriating as later arcade-perfect emulated ports.
Neither version of Super resonated with me in the same way the Mega Drive’s port of Hyper Fighting did. That said, I’d remain faithful to the series even at the turn of the millennium, when everyone else seemed to forget about it.
It’s a view I know a lot of other people share. After all, it was the resounding success of Street Fighter II Hyper Fighting on Xbox Live Arcade that brought the series back into the public eye, revitalised the fighting game community, and gave birth to what in my opinion is the greatest fighting game ever made. But that’s a story for another time…
- It’s Street Fighter II! The revolutionary beat ‘em up classic!
- An outstanding port considering the hardware, large detailed sprites and colourful backgrounds
- The classic Street Fighter gameplay felt right at home on the Mega Drive’s six-button controller
- Music was the most authentic of all the home ports in that era, due to the commonality between the Mega Drive and CPS1 sound chips
- Voice samples are noticeably lower quality
- Awkward to play on a standard three-button controller
Quite simply, it’s an astounding port of one of the most seminal arcades games of all time. Street Fighter II rewrote the book on beat ‘em ups, and the Mega Drive Special Champion Edition version pips the others to the post by delivering the most complete, playable and well-rounded experience.