STREET FIGHTER 2 / Capcom / Arcade
If you're in the camp that believes classic, beloved, groundbreaking games automatically deserve a 5/5 just for what they meant when they were released, I'm sure you're already getting lathered up into a good Rabble over the 3/5 score for this one. As I've said many times in the past, however, this site scores based on how well games have held up over time and how worthwhile it is to come back and play them now. By that metric, Street Fighter 2 is pretty OK. It's not great. Thus the 3/5.

This was the breakthrough game for the fighting game genre. The best prior efforts were Yie Ar Kung Fu and the prequel, both of which had their qualities, but overall were not good enough to spark a revolution. Simply tuning up the gameplay and making it smoother did wonders, as did bringing in larger and more detailed sprites. But SF2 also gave you a roster of eight characters to choose from (where previous efforts had two at absolute best), opening up the whole competitive scene.

Though numerous very good home ports were developed over the next couple of years, the original 1991 arcade release is still the best of the bunch, at least from a technical and aesthetic perspective. It has better color, sprite detail and sound by far than any of the home ports. The downside is the lack of selectable difficulty (and the computer gets pretty brutal as you get toward the final matches).

SF2 is definitely a little slower and stiffer than the 2D fighters that would follow it in the next decade, but there actually isn't that tremendous of a difference. The game's biggest problem (in terms of longevity) is that it's terribly unbalanced. This was literally the first serious competitive fighter ever, and Capcom was far from having that whole "balance" thing down just yet. Once you get used to their quirks, skilled players of Guile, Dhalsim and Blanka can mop the floor with anybody else. It's funny in retrospect that there was so much complaint about people spamming Ryu and Ken in the first year or two this game was out, as after clocking all the AI and hit detection and priority and all that, it turns out they're actually the toughest characters to win with short of Zangief! Their fireballs are slow as shit here, the hurricane kick comes out slowly and has limited practical application, and the vaunted Shoryuken leaves you hanging up in the air forever while also not knocking enemies down (though it does stand a fair chance of dizzying them if it registers more than one hit). Poor Zangief is still a little harder to handle, but he does have the nice perk of starting a very-hard-to-break piledriver chain if he can manage to get one in on you.

It was also tough to practice at the arcade cabinets and required some good funding. Though the AI is not sophisticated, the difficulty gets brutal in the later going thanks to a huge "house advantage" for the computer. Response to your inputs is instant, the computer can rattle off specials all day with no chance of screwing them up (like you inevitably will), and it also isn't required to charge specials like Guile's Sonic Boom and Flash Kick. The only thing that makes getting through the single-player campaign manageable is that a bunch of enemies have specific AI exploits, like you can jump straight up and fierce kick endlessly to confound Zangief (or just spam him with fireballs), and you can turtle in the corner against Guile and just combine foot sweeps and standing air counters to knock away any approach of his.

Though it hasn't aged all that well, SF2 does deserve respect as a heck of a jumpstart for the fighting game genre, showing how much was possible beyond the clunky action of Yie Ar Kung Fu and the original Street Fighter in just one title. Just three years later the genre was already considerably more advanced with King of Fighters 94, Darkstalkers and the first two Samurai Shodown games.