Friday, February 17, 2012

Down, Right, Fierce!

I wrote this blog post for an IGN contest, but I figured I'd post it here.

It was 1987. I was walking around Pier 39's arcade, here in San Francisco. Back then, that was the spot, the place an eleven year old could feel like he owned the world if he saved it a quarter at a time. But there was one game, one game where I was trounced in 16-bits and I was left standing there, joystick in hand, shamed as the next quarter on deck was ready to take my place. The game was Street Fighter, and I was its bitch.

For the life of me, I couldn't figure out how to pull off a special, it was my biggest weakness in the game. Be it the computer or a human opponent, I would get my ass humbly served by a Hadouken, or Shoryuken, or even Tatsumaki Senpuukyaku.

My questions of how to pull off those moves were met with mixed answers. Some told me a full rotation of the joystick, some only half circle, all were toying with me; no one wanted to give up the secret of how to get their asses kicked. But I never gave up. Cue the montage of quarters and life bars disappearing to the music of War's "Why Can't We Be Friends". And then it happened. A fireball. The tables turned. It was 1991, and my first year of high school. It just so happened that the billiards place 4 blocks from the high school got a cabinet of Street Fighter II. And my lunch money was minus a couple of bucks for the next four years.

But it wasn't the mastering of combos, or the discovery of being able to freeze the game with Guile, or even the fabled urban legend of turning the cabinet on and off thirty times to get a naked Chun Li that made me drawn to the game. It was the interaction between my friends and I, the conversations of who was better, Ken or Ryu that made Street Fighter a part of my life. The characters in the game became avatars of ourselves, we were drawn to not just the fighting styles but the little bit of stories these characters had that made them so appealing. And man, did I get good. I was one of the best players in high school. So good, that there was a kid in the arcade that would pay me a quarter not to play him and kick him off the game. My best friend and I grew with this game, so much so, that today Street Fighter is the only game we still play together.

The Alpha series came around the time I was leaving high school, I thought I could sit on my laurels of having mastered all the bootleg editions of Super SF II. Man, was I countered, alpha countered if you will.

I fell in love with Street Fighter Alpha 2. I was unbeatable at the movie arcades of the day. I used to love seeing some dude come up with his girl, watch him try his hand at the 6 shiny buttons beside me, then watch him walk away, deflated for having lost in front of his date. I owned the console versions, of course. From Marvel vs Capcom, to even the EX series. It wasn't until my college years that the arcades began to die out. In the cafeteria of the university I went to, there were only a couple of arcade cabinets there. Thankfully, one was Street Fighter III. However, my friends were no longer around. I was a man alone, 6 shiny buttons beside me. No one was playing arcade games anymore. The era of the consoles had made sure of that.

Sure, I played other games. Tekken, Marvel vs Capcom 2, Virtua Fighter, even Killer Instinct. But it was harder and harder to get friends together to play on a console together.

Ten years later. Consoles have established online play. And Capcom gives the fans what they have been begging for since SF III; SF IV.

Finally, a true sequel. Finally, the ability to play with my best friend online. Finally, we're kids again.

Twenty-four years after my first encounter with the series, SF continues to bring me entertainment. Not because of the well-balanced gameplay, not because of how they continue to push the envelope of what is possible in fighting games, and not because we can finally see Chun Li naked for a few seconds in the animated movie. But because someone over at Capcom remembers that feeling of playing with your buddies, as well. And that's just down, right, fierce.