Street Fighter has long been considered the holy grail of fighting games for its unique mix of style and strategy, and its challenging battle system. However, even though it seems Street Fighter has been around forever, this series actually had meager beginnings. Our story begins with an arcade cabinet in 1987...
The original Street Fighter was a minimalist game, unleashed on arcades nearly two decades ago. The game featured two playable characters: Ryu and Ken. Ryu was the persistent first character, but if someone wanted to play as Ken, he would automatically be selected as the second character. The game didn't have much of a story, and there wasn't that much to the battle system (there were only three attacks for each character). However, the game became a cult hit and set the stage for what would be the biggest game in Street Fighter history.
Street Fighter II was released in 1991, and went on to become the best-selling title in Capcom's history. Though the Street Fighter series was relatively unknown outside the arcade sphere, Street Fighter II was released both in arcades and on home consoles, and it was the latter that really gave Street Fighter II its staying power. It launched on both Capcom's CP System as well as on the SNES, and though all these versions were nearly identical, the game proved to be a breakout hit on the SNES.
In addition to boosting the move rosters of the game's original core characters, the game also included several new characters who would go on to become staples of the franchise, including M. Bison, Vega, Guile and Chun-Li. Street Fighter II's success became the stuff of legend fairly quickly, and Capcom looked to capitalize on its success with several re-releases including Street Fighter II: Championship Edition, Street Fighter II: Hyper Fighting, Super Street Fighter II, and Super Street Fighter II Turbo. These subsequent releases included more characters, extra moves, and improved technical elements.
Though the various re-releases kept the Street Fighter engine going through the early nineties, fans soon wanted something different. However, instead of going for a full sequel, several spin-off series were commissioned. The first of these was Street Fighter Alpha. Street Fighter Alpha differed from its enumerated counterparts in several ways, the most obvious being the change in art style. The game featured all-new character designs that were based on the characters from the Street Fighter animated movie, making them instantly recognizable to those who hadn't played the original games, but had seen the cartoon. The Street Fighter Alpha series (which spawned three iterations over as many years) also introduced a new custom combo system that can be seen as one of the bases for the modern fighting game. The custom combo system allowed players to chain together big attacks in a way that was strategic and took advantage of individual play styles.
However, before the 3D visuals became a permanent fixture in the Street Fighter series, fans were treated to the third enumerated entry in the series. Street Fighter III, released in 1997, ditched the roster from Street Fighter II (keeping only Ken and Ryu) and introduced a whole new cast of characters. Though the game was expected to do well due to its "fresh" feeling, fans were upset about their favorite characters' absence in the game, and subsequent special editions of the game featured the return of older characters.
The end of the nineties and beginning of the 2000s saw the release of more two more EX games and several re-releases of Street Fighter III. There wasn't much new content during this period, and as console cycles came and went, it was easy for Street Fighter fans to become disheartened. However, in 2008, that all changed with the release of Street Fighter IV. Though this title couldn't match the high bar set by Street Fighter II in terms of sales, Street Fighter IV certainly gets the prize for being the most improved entry in the series.
Though spin-offs and sequels and re-releases in Street Fighter's past only tweaked the core formula or added small features to the gameplay, Street Fighter IV marked the first complete shift for the series. The game featured a new, deeper battle system, a brand-new calligraphy-inspired visual style, and plenty of new characters. The game was met with critical acclaim, the likes of which had not been seen since Street Fighter II, and has become the foundation for a whole new generation of Street Fighter games.
Since Street Fighter IV was released two years ago, we've seen one subsequent re-release: Super Street Fighter IV. This re-release added new characters, online modes, and an improved combo system. Super Street Fighter IV was originally released for home consoles, but a 3DS version is on the horizon, which features even more new modes, including local wireless "Streetpass" multiplayer, and of course, stunning 3D.
The Street Fighter series has seen over twenty releases over the past twenty-three years. Like any large franchise, Street Fighter has seen its high and low points, but it seems that we are entering a new era for the franchise. Street Fighter IV re-wrote the series' DNA for the better, and with a pioneering 3D title launching with the new 3DS handheld, you can bet there's plenty of room for bigger and better Street Fighter in the near future.
Source: Amanda L. Kondolojy, Hadoken! The History of Street Fighter, Cheat Code Central