By Oldirtybearon 15 Comments
This blog is about Super Street Fighter 4. Sort of.
Full Disclosure: I am a complete and utter Street Fighter fanboy. I have been playing Street Fighter games since first seeing (and playing) the first Street Fighter II cabinet in a seedy Chinese restaurant in 1991. Keep that in mind if you think this blog veers off into pure-gushing. It might. I don't think about these things or edit them. I'm lazy and my thumbs are sore.
And with that out of the way...
It's three o'clock on a Friday afternoon. Winter is finally over here in Central Ontario, and while the beautiful green vista that greets me for my morning coffee on my front porch is shining particularly bright this day, the only thing I can think of is the shrink-wrapped, yellow-and-gold box with the slightest tint of lime green. In my hands is something I never thought I would've seen not a few years ago. I was holding Super Street Fighter IV, and I was ready to throw down.
I remember being a young boy, my tiny boy-fingers trembling with some trepidation as I plunked a quarter into the cabinet, laid my hands on the dingy, grimy buttons and stick, and went about getting my ass handed to me by the green fella you see right there. I handily lost, and then I plunked down another quarter.
And then another.
And then another...
Soon my mother was calling me. She had finished her shift and was now going to take us home for a summer afternoon filled with BBQ Durgers and weekday cartoons. I did as I was told--as I was wont to do at that point in my life--but I could not get that game out of my head.
I remember telling anyone who would listen about how amazing this game was. "It's a game, and you fight," I said with a certain gleam in my eye. No one else really knew what to make of it--they didn't care, and to be honest, the idea of a game inspiring the imagination of this young man seemed more cute than worrying. Mortal Kombat hadn't been released yet, and so there was no reason to worry.
My grandmother is a 77 year old woman with a bad knee and missing a foot of her small intestine. She's a hardened Christian Warrior but she's also the sweetest woman in the world. Perhaps I feel a little wrong that in my eager youth, I had convinced her to buy me a SEGA Genesis--strictly because it had "Street Fighter II". To her credit, she didn't deny me, perhaps because she's always treated me like her own child or because she felt like getting me to shut up about the stupid "game with fighting green people". I didn't know--still don't--and honestly don't care.
That Christmas I got my first 16 bit console. A SEGA Genesis, and a copy of Street Fighter II: Championship Edition.
I played that game religiously. I learned to play and worked my thumbs so hard with the awkward controller that I now possess twenty year old calluses on my thumbs. It was the first addiction of many in my life (Well, gaming I mean), and it has and will always hold a near and dear place in my heart.
It struck me then, sitting there on my porch, the radio playing some hip tune from the 90's, that I finally realized that my life had, in a way, come full circle.
A few years ago, I kind of lost the plot, you see. I started trying to justify my hobby of videogames as something as grandiose as other mediums are perceived. I'm sure we've all been there with our hobby--but I did it in a big, bad way. I wrote essays and turned them in for grades. I told anyone who would listen about the emergent nature of our artform, and I even tried to hold a lecture on the subject. All of this is in the last five years and, looking back, I was kind of an ass about it.
I do believe games are art, but that's not the issue here. The issue is that I started grading games on things like emotional impact, about digging deep and finding the symbolism in a game like Gears of War (and to be honest, there's a ton there). It became less about enjoying the pleasure derived from games, and more about finding what each title was trying to say.
Growing disillusioned with my lack of findings, with the fact that games were not--I argued--maturing at the rate I felt they needed to, I was kind of almost ready to dump the whole hobby entirely. I had long ago abandoned fighting games and sometimes, just sometimes, I would casually think back and reminisce to the titles of my distant past. I'd say "Man, they should make another Bionic Commando", or "Whatever happened to Earthworm Jim and Vector Man?"
The biggest question, however, was thinking back to mid-2007 and saying to myself, "I'd love to see a new Street Fighter game."
Needless to say, Capcom granted my wish. At first I was thrilled and bought it day one in February of 2009. I enjoyed the ever-loving snot out of it, and dove right into the multiplayer (this was something I had never experienced in a fighting game before--save for the friends using my second GENESIS controller). I got my ass handed to me. Repeatedly.
It came to a point where, while I had finally managed to compete in over 500 LIVE battles (1200, last I checked), I had always become increasingly annoyed with this game. I was still enamoured with Games As Art, you see, and I could not, for some reason, see the forest for the trees in Street Fighter IV.
After a month or two, I put it down, and forgot about it. I don't know why--perhaps it was getting my ass handed to me or perhaps it was the rather slimy "pro players" subculture--but I just stopped. Capcom had tried, and failed.
And now, flash-forward to (now) May of 2010, and here I am, back in the saddle and coming right back to where I started. There was a certain kind of magic when I held that game in its shrink-wrap. A certain kind of adrenaline rush that one only experiences when they are engaging in something truly adventurous. Sure, to many of you, it was just a stupid 2D fighting game, but to me, Super Street Fighter IV summed up 17 of 22 years on this planet. And now, I finally get it.
It's not about Games As Art. It's not about Roger Ebert or anyone else either for or against the idea of Games As Art. What it's about--at its very heart--is about making someone get shivers down their spine when they hear the opening notes of a familiar theme song. It's about having a reveal trailer for a title that people have been fantasizing about for years. It's about finally getting your game on launch day and fulfilling a person with so much joy their eyes are about to burst and shoot lasers made of rainbows. And for me, Super Street Fighter IV is that game.
Where am I going with this? I'm not quite sure. All I can say is that I've pumped ten to twelve hours into this game right now. I've accumulated a ton of icons, titles, completed challenges, and I've completed most of the characters in arcade mode. I've also had roughly 24 matches online... you know what? I got it.
My point is this:
Mass Effect 2 wowed me and made me feel genuine tension in its climax. Silent Hill 2 made me thoughtful and scared. Half-Life 2 showed me a person can rise up and become the hero a world needs, and a fat Italian plumber showed me that conquering dragon-turtles and saving the Princess is an incredible adventure, no matter how ridiculous.
What Super Street Fighter IV has shown me is that, games don't need validation. They don't need encouragement. They don't need vehement defense when people "just don't get it". What they are, need to be, and have always been, is a gateway to another world full of adventure and love and loss and everything in between. What they are, at the very core of the matter, is a magical place where, if the gameplay and the animation and the visual design and the music all come together in just that special spot, you can take a full-grown man and turn him into that five year old boy who first touched fingertips to Sanwa buttons and fell in love.
And in the end, that's what it's all about, isn't it?