All Your History: Street Fighter Part 4 – Return of the Champs
The fighting game genre went from small fry to mainstream smash with the unparalleled success of Street Fighter II. Offering a host of different characters with different fighting styles, Street Fighter II dominated the arcade scene of the early Nineties. After releasing a whole army of follow-up versions both in arcades and consoles, publisher Capcom found that they all made an amazing profit, too. Assuming then that they could put out anything, call it ‘Street Fighter,’ and make money, Capcom unleashed a torrent of games in the franchise, and then follow them each up with newer versions. By the early Two Thousands, the Alpha series, EX series, and III series, and their infinite iterations, had drowned the very genre Street Fighter had popularized in the first place. So for most of that decade, Capcom simply let the franchise alone. But at last, the time came to bring the franchise back for one more round.
Return of the Champs
Onimusha was a fairly popular hack-and-slash series from Capcom. In Two Thousand Six, the fourth game in the series, Dawn of Dreams, was slated to release. The game’s producer was Yoshinori Ono. An avid Street Fighter fan, Ono decided to add in costumes from that franchise as bonus content for the Onimusha game. While only a small addition, fan reaction to the costumes was electric.
Ono took this as proof positive that the gaming world was as ready for a new Street Fighter game as he was. So he went to his boss, who just so happened to be Keiji Inafune, the Megaman creator whose first job at Capcom had been to design the character art on the original Street Fighter. Ono told Inafune that Capcom should make a brand new, high-quality Street Fighter game — and that Ono should be put in charge of it. In Two Thousand Four, Ono had produced Capcom Fighting Evolution, and while that game wasn’t much of a success, it meant he had experience working in the genre.
Inafune liked the idea, but there was a problem: it had been so long since Capcom had worked on a fighting game, they didn’t have an experienced internal development team that could make one. But fortunately, Inafune had a brainstorm. When he had been designing the character art for the first game in the franchise, he’d been working under producer Takashi Nishiyama. Nishiyama had innovated the entire genre with the addition of six buttons and supermoves. After leaving Capcom for SNK, Nishiyama had then moved on to start his own company, Dimps. What if Capcom partnered with Dimps to make the next Street Fighter game, thus combining some of the original team with new blood like Ono? Capcom agreed to Inafune’s idea, and so did Dimps.
So it was that a new Street Fighter game officially got the greenlight. And this one would not be an Alpha, or an EX, or any other ridiculous name. This would be a full, numbered sequel: Street Fighter IV. Under Ono’s direction, Capcom would handle character choices, art design, and gameplay mechanics, while Dimps would handle all the programming and balancing. Ono made the wise decision to put the emphasis on the Street Fighter II characters that everyone had loved from the old days. He also chose to keep the gameplay strictly 2D, since that was always what Street Fighter had been best at. That said, the actual models and sets would be a stylized 3D, simulating an ink-brush painting technique.
When the first teaser trailer for the game hit the internet, fans were initially skeptical. The inkbrush style was unlike anything the franchise had done before, and some fans thought that Ken and Ryu just looked wrong. But Ono stuck to his guns and pressed forward with the game, confident that fans would change their minds once they actually started playing.
He knew that as long as the gameplay was solid and controls were tight, the game would be well-received. The only question was whether the mainstream was still interested in a series that was more than twenty years old.
Street Fighter IV hit Japanese arcades in July Two Thousand Eight, coming to Western arcades a few months later and to consoles worldwide in Feburary Two Thousand Nine. And immediately, Capcom saw that Ono’s instincts had been right on the money. Enough time had passed; the bitter taste of the overflooded Nineties had been washed away, and gamers just wanted to kick each other in the face again. Fans new and old were delighted to see all twelve of the original Street Fighter II characters again, plus a few Alpha veterans and new contenders. The choice to keep the gameplay 2D was spot-on for the franchise, and the mechanics were top-notch. Between Capcom’s mechanics and Dimps’ fine-tuning, everything ran smoothly and played well for casual and hardcore alike. By April of Two Thousand Nine, only two months after its console release, Street Fighter IV had sold two point five million copies. While this didn’t compare to the phenomenal Street Fighter II, it blew away everything that had come after it.
So was anybody really surprised when Capcom released an updated version? Super Street Fighter IV came out in April Twenty Ten, adding in new characters and modes. In the modern age of downloadable content, many fans complained that this was just Capcom milking the cash cow again. Capcom claimed that they had looked at the possibility of just releasing the new content as DLC, but in the end determined that there was simply too much new content for that to work. While this explanation is dubious at best, especially given how massive DLC has gotten in other games, at least Super Street Fighter IV released at the discounted price of Forty Dollars. After that, Capcom promised they were done with Street Fighter IV updates.
…except when they released Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition in Twenty Eleven, a hardcore-friendly variant rebalanced for the tournament scene! It also added in some characters from Street Fighter III. While this game, only naturally, released as a standalone product, Capcom at least allowed those who had already purchased Super Street Fighter IV to download the new content. But now, Capcom was really done.
All told, Street Fighter IV has proven to be a great commercial success. To date, the console versions of the main game have sold three point one million units, the console versions of Super Street Fighter IV has sold one point eight million units, and the 3DS port has sold one point one million units, the first 3DS game to clear the one million mark. It proved to Capcom once and for all that fighting games weren’t dead. Sure enough, the Vs franchise was brought back to life with Twenty Eleven’s Marvel vs Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds, which of course was updated into Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3 IN THE SAME YEAR. Some things never change.
In Twenty Twelve, Capcom will release a new crossover title, one of the longest-awaited in fighting game history: Street Fighter X Tekken [Street Fighter Cross Tekken]. It will retain the basic Street Fighter IV look and style, but add in characters from one of the franchise’s oldest rivalries. In fact, Tekken makers Namco Bandai promise to release Tekken X Street Fighter [Tekken Cross Street Fighter] later in the year, which will retain the basic Tekken look and style.
While that’s all the Street Fighter announced so far, don’t be surprised to see more in the future. The franchise is undergoing a period of resurgent popularity, and if Capcom can rein themselves in and not flood the market, it could last for quite a while.
To date, the Street Fighter franchise has sold an incredible thirty-two million units on consoles, in addition to over five hundred thousand arcade cabinets. It is easily one of the most iconic and recognizable brands in the medium, in particular Street Fighter II. And while it can rightly be criticized for overdoing itself with far, far, far, far too many games, when Street Fighter gets it right, it can KO any new challenger.
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