Given our recent Street Fighter revival with last month's review of Street Fighter Jenn and Mother's Day being just over the horizon, it only seems natural that we return to the virtual mother of the modern fighting game with a review of Street Fighter II. Not the SF2 you remember, though. You remember a relatively fast-paced game with combos and fairly balanced fighting and challenging bosses and great endings -- and while you'll certainly get all of the above in the versions below, you most assuredly won't get all of them in the same game. See, in today's retro gaming review, we'll be checking out several of the PC incarnations of the classic fighter. They may look like the SF2 you know and love, but a thorough examination reveals otherwise... and after watching the video clips and/or downloading the games for yourself, you may never look at the world warriors the same way again.
SFII: The Official PC Version
I actually owned the official PC version of SF2 in my youth. I'm not sure how many people were excited about its release -- it came out around the same time as the improved SF2 Turbo for the SNES -- but because I didn't get a SNES until the final six months of the console's lifespan, I was thrilled that I would finally be able to bring home the game I'd spent hours watching in the arcades. There were a couple of problems, however. First, our home PC didn't meet the minimum requirements to play the game, as we only had a 286 processor instead of the necessary 386. After reading a bunch of documents that convinced me that I'd still be able to play the game (albeit much more slowly), I decided that slow SF2 would be better than no SF2 and became determined to get it anyway. But I still didn't have the $40 to spend on it, so I went to the store every weekend and fingered the box with glazed-over eyes until my birthday finally rolled around and my parents gave me the damned thing.
Even with two-plus-minute loads between matches and the game moving sooooo slowly that I could quite literally watch the frames change as the image scrolled from the top to the bottom of the screen -- to say nothing of the replacement of the once awesome sound effects by PC speaker beeps and keekee-gonks and diddly-wahs -- I couldn't have been happier. Playing the game now, though, I wonder how pleased other kids would've been with it. To be sure, the graphics are mostly arcade perfect and far surpass the visuals of the SNES version. (See this comparison, but note the weirdness that is Ken's wife. And yes, the SNES graphics really are that narrow, but the quirks of TV displays help to correct the image.) All of the original eight world warriors are selectable, and if you beat them you'll go head to head with the four fearsome Kings of Shadowlaw to earn your character's ending. All of the special moves are represented, from Ryu's hurricane kick to Blanka's electricity to Zangief's spinning piledriver. The bonus stages are all there, including the flaming oil drum stage that was inexplicably replaced by a brick-breaking exercise in the console versions. Hell, the PC version even sports the original arcade intro and the familiar "Winners Don't Use Drugs" screen. Just about everything you'd expect from a conversion is here.
Except, of course, for the classic SF2 gameplay, which is really weird given that everything else is done so well. Some differences -- like the switch to a two-button setup and the loading times -- are understandable, given the speed of computers at the time and the fact that even 4-button PC gamepads were relatively rare in 1993. (The player can still perform the other normal attacks by pressing the directional keys in conjunction with the punch and kick buttons, but the strength of the attacks varies little. Special moves come in only one strength.) Similarly, though other games of the day produced remarkable sound effects and even voices using the PC speakers, bleeps and bants weren't uncommon for that setup -- and, as I've recently discovered, players with SoundBlaster cards get to experience the entire smorgasbord of Hadokens and Tigers. But while it looks and sounds like SF2, it damned sure doesn't play like SF2. In SF2, Dhalsim was not the best character in the game.
That bears repeating. In the official, licensed PC version of SF2, Dhalsim is the best character in the game. He doesn't even need special moves to kick your ass! Sure, he's always had stretchy limbs, but remember how you could kind of hit them and hurt him in the other games? Unless he's punching fireballs, all of his hits have priority in this game -- and good luck getting a fireball off when he's kicking nonstop at your head. And then, assuming you do manage to get one off, his low slide not only travels under fireballs, but -- in this game -- covers the entire length of the screen. I used to pick him just so I wouldn't have to fight him, 'cause this version doesn't have mirror matches. On the few occasions that I played SF2 with someone else, we would outlaw playing as Dhalsim because whoever had Dhalsim was pretty much guaranteed to win. He's that bloody cheap.
Not that there aren't other things wrong with this conversion, as you'll see in the gameplay movies below. You'd think it would've been relatively simple to make a decent SF2 port, but instead they put out a game that plays a whole lot like the other PC fighters of the day, complete with high-flying jumps across the screen and nonexistent combos and rampant cheapness and ridiculous multi-hit moves that can kill you with the proper placement. I liked this game because it was the only SF goodness I had, but once I got my fill of Chun-Li and Blanka and DHALSIM you can surely believe I moved on to better PC games and deleted SF2 to make space for them. The contrast between this version and the real SF2 is best illustrated by the ranking list -- everything more or less looks normal until you realize that instead of displacing CAP and NIN, you're ousting Jazzie, Jody, and Dave from the top spots. PC SF2 was a decent game for what it was -- but, as we've seen, it wasn't really SF2 at all.
[ Ken tackles the falling barrel bonus stage! (881 KB) ]
[ Ken beats the crap out of Blanka. (568 KB) ] [ E. Honda takes on M. Bison. (859 KB) ]
[ Ken versus Sagat in a good example of an evenly-matched battle. (849 KB) ]
UPDATE: The horror of DHALSIM!!!
Still wanna try the PC Street Fighter II for yourself? Download it at Acid Play!
SFIBM: Wacky Korean Homebrew Hacks
Given the problems with the official PC version, computer gamers who wanted a somewhat more authentic SF2 experience had to look elsewhere. Because SNES and Genesis emulators had hardly been perfected by that point, some players looked to homebrew versions to get their street fighting fix. What they found instead, however, was Hotel Keitel's SFIBM: a weird version of SF2 that looked like a grainy console port (I'm guessing the graphics came from the Amiga or PC Engine versions, but I've got no evidence to substantiate that claim) and played more like SF2 than the PC version but was still slightly... off. Someone must've liked it, though, because somewhere along the line more additions got added to the game to make it truly freaking insane.
Have you ever wished that, instead of hurling mere spinning energy waves at his opponents, Guile threw clones of himself? How about wishing that Ryu's regular dragon punch were replaced by a modified version that entailed him doing the move twice -- the second time while already in the air -- and then coming back down with an inverted attack? Or that Ken's fireballs zigzagged or that Chun-Li could hop forward while doing the lightning kick or that Blanka could spit little yellow birds that electrify his opponents on impact? Well, evidently someone did, because that's exactly what you'll find in the "super" version of SFIBM 1.25 -- not that the "normal" game is all that normal. It doesn't feature insanity of the above degrees, mind you, but Blanka's horizontal rolling attack still hits up to four times. Oh, and did I mention that whoever made the game actually provides the characters' voices during their winning poses? Hearing this guy rasp Blanka's "Seeing you in action is a joke!" and Dhalsim's "I will meditate and destroy you" in an Indian accent is pretty funny to say the least.
Later versions of SFIBM improved things quite a bit in the graphical department with sprites imported from some other source and even original win poses for the characters. The sounds got an upgrade, too, but the craziness remained. Among other changes, Blanka's horizontal roll in SFIBM 1.98 now sets opponents on fire a la Bison's psycho crusher and Ryu and Sagat sport super vicious specials that allow them to fire off a barrage of fireballs with a single command. There are also a few things that may or may not be glitches -- for example, I've seen characters electrify themselves and then float completely off of the screen and have been thrown multiple times in the corner until I died without ever having touched the ground. Weird things happen in this game. But don't take my word for it -- check out the gameplay videos or download the games yourself! They're not strange to the point of being wholly unplayable, but their unpredictability should stand as a deterrent to serious tournament fighters, as winning here has less to do with skill and more to do with being cheap and lucky. As with the official PC version, the reason to play these games isn't to get an authentic SF2 experience: it's to see how just fucked up a game can get and still call itself Street Fighter II. In the case of SFIBM? Very.
[ Zangief versus Chun-Li in an extended SFIBM 1.25 battle. (1.14 MB) ]
[ Blanka battles Ryu in SFIBM 1.98. (922 KB) ] [ Ryu challenges E. Honda in SFIBM 1.25. (932 KB) ]
[ Sagat shows Guile something irredeemably wicked in SFIBM 1.98. (573 KB) ]
And if you actually want to experience the madness,
you can download SFIBM right here on Scary-Crayon!
STREET FIGHTER: The Original PC Suckfest
And finally, it's not technically an SF2 game, but we just couldn't examine Ryu's ancient PC adventures without at least mentioning the conversion of the original Street Fighter. Again, this is a title I owned back in the day, but it was one of the few games that I actively disliked. Whereas the graphics of the above games at least look more or less like the arcade version, SF1 for the PC visually has more in common with your average NES title. Of course, that could be forgiven if the gameplay were decent or passable or at least remotely enjoyable, but that's unfortunately not the case either. SF1 is one of the most frustrating fighting games I've ever played.
"But wait!" someone will cry. "It's got multiple locales in which to fight! Hell, it's got Birdie! Everyone loves Birdie." Yeah, it's also so goddamned fucking difficult that the only way to win involves using special moves that can almost totally annihilate an opponent -- but it controls so poorly that you can only pull them off roughly once out of every 30-40 tries. I once decided that hitting my opponent once (you can generally get the first shot in) and then jumping around the screen trying not to get hit until time ran out was a viable winning strategy -- and not just for that extra tough fifth guy, but FOR EVERY SINGLE FREAKING OPPONENT. And when once -- once! -- by some stroke of incredible luck! -- I actually made it to ol' Sagat himself, the sonofabitch literally floored me in two seconds flat because he too has special moves and unlike me he could pull them off at will. And guess what, buddy? SF1 has NO CONTINUES. Seriously, this game pisses me off to no end and I wish you the berry berry best of luck if you decide to play it. If you can actually get to Sagat, please send me a screencap so that I can remember what he looked like. If you can actually beat the bastard, send me the ending too. Thanks.
Feeling masochistic? Visit Alex-Soft.net to download the original Street Fighter for PC.
(Click "Old" on the sidebar, then "S" under MS-DOS games, then scroll down to the title.)
Thus concludes Scary-Crayon's review of the wild and wacky SF2 (and 1) PC offerings from the early 1990s. While players certainly weren't going to get an authentic Capcom arcade fighting experience on the PC in those days, though (the SFLiu mod of SFIBM was about the closest thing there was), later years saw the PC receiving almost arcade perfect translations of Super Street Fighter II, Super Street Fighter II Turbo, and even Alpha 1 and 2, to say nothing of improvements in emulation and the releases of a number of excellent PC exclusive fighting games. That said, these older games (except for fucking SF1) possess a unique charm that accurate ports just can't hope to replicate. You might be thrilled that your triple fierce fireball combo works even on the computer, but it's not quite the same as seeing Chun-Li throw shuriken or Dhalsim kick the shit out of everyone in the game without breaking a virtual sweat. It's not the same as watching characters inch along the screen in exaggerated slow motion or seeing E. Honda vanish into the floor and never return or even screaming lengthy curses at SF1 for being so goddamned impossible. There's something different -- even interesting -- about these imperfect translations: and while that doesn't make them good, it does make them memorable. And in an industry in which every new title wants to be just like the last popular one, there's something to be said for that.