The fighting game business is built on constant iteration. We’ve watched Capcom publish brand new versions of Street Fighter IV that added a paltry five new characters and a couple of mechanical changes. Street Fighter III had two sequels. There were 19 SNK King of Fighters games in 16 years. This is how the industry works. But there’s something about Street Fighter II – and specifically Super Street Fighter II Turbo – that’s remained relevant throughout all that upheaval. It’s easy to see why. The game introduced some of the foundational edicts of the Street Fighter series when it was released to arcades in 1994. For the first time you could build a Super Meter and rip off mid-air juggles, both of which were quickly adopted by practically every other fighting franchise on Earth. The oldest Street Fighter games lack a certain design nuance – they were built in an era before pros poured over frame data or dissected hitboxes – but while Turbo certainly feels vintage, it’s never grown archaic. To this day, it’s still the one Street Fighter II variant you can count on seeing at the annual Evo tournament, as players continue to squeeze new metas out of a 20-year old game.
Naturally, there have been a lot of different versions of Super Street Fighter II Turbo over the years. That’s the thing with Street Fighter, even its hyper-specific variants are spun off into a million different corners. There was Super Street Fighter II Turbo Revival, a Game Boy Advance-only version that somehow stripped down a six-button game to an A, a B, and a pair of bumpers. Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix holds the reigning championship for most adjectives strapped to a fighting game title. It was released back in 2008 for the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 with an updated (and divisive) art style. And today, Capcom is releasing Ultra Street Fighter II: The Final Challengers for the Switch, which is basically a spiritual successor to HD Remix. Both games share the same art direction, and both were positioned as an updated, freshly balanced Street Fighter II game for the competitive community.
Justin Wong is one of the greatest fighting game players of all time, and he’s had his hands on Ultra Street Fighter II at a number of events over the past few months. Right now, the community controversy is centered on Violent Ken – who along with Evil Ryu, is one of the two new characters being added to this version of the game.
“He doesn’t really follow the rules of original Street Fighter,” says Wong. “He can combo into his super really easily compared to the rest of the cast – who have to do a much harder motion. I think just in general, the fact that he can cancel any of his strings into a command dash is really, really strong.”
Violent Ken was first introduced in 2003’s SNK vs. Capcom: SVC Chaos, and Wong is worried that his character structure might be too powerful when compared to the other, more conservative movesets in the game. “90 percent of the strategies that people use with the old characters in Street Fighter II still exist in Ultra, but adding someone completely new is going to cause a rift in the balance,” he says. HD Remix notably didn’t add any new fighters to the cast and instead opted to rebalance what was already there. So it remains to be seen if 2017 design choices can be responsibly meshed with code that was written when Bill Clinton was president.
Beyond that, Wong says he’s enjoying Ultra Street Fighter II. The game feels good on the silky-smooth Switch Pro Controller, and the imminent Switch fightstick should satisfy any purists who refuse to play a 2D fighter with an analog stick. Capcom has talked up a rework to some of Turbo’s mechanics, and while the retrofitting isn’t as drastic as HD Remix, Wong likes the changes and is excited to see their impact on the competitive community.
It’s hard to think of anything permanently replacing it in the hearts of fighting game pros
“There’s a really big change to the metagame in general. Before, when you were grabbed by any character, and you tech’d it, it’d be called ‘softening’ the grab, which meant you didn’t take full damage from the throw,” he says, speaking of the a term used in Street Fighter games and other fighters that describe the act of canceling out the effects of particular attacks. “But now you can completely tech the grab, which means you won’t take any damage whatsoever. I think that changes the meta a lot. When you think about Street Fighter II, you think about how people like to grab a lot. It’s easy damage, and a big strategy for characters like Chun-Li, Dhalsim, and Balrog. But because of this new change, I think the tier list for those characters will definitely drop down.”
The lingering question is if Ultra Street Fighter II can barrel it’s way into competitive play, replacing the tried and true Super Street Fighter II Turbo. Capcom has built a business by offering slightly more optimal versions of their classic fighting games, and it’s clear they’re positioning Ultra as the preferred way to play Street Fighter II. But Turbo has survived countless jumps in technology, and it’s hard to think of anything permanently replacing it in the hearts of fighting game pros. Then again, HD Remix was featured on the main stage of Evo in 2009 and 2010. It’s not impossible to imagine a brief old-school renaissance.
“I think this game can definitely take over as the new Street Fighter II game to play, the only problem is currently it’s only on the Switch,” says Wong. “For a lot of gamers who only want to play fighting games, it’s a pretty big investment to say ‘okay I’m gonna buy a Switch, the game, and maybe a joystick or a pro controller, just so I can play in tournaments.’ That’s a $500 investment. Right now you’ll have a lot of side tournaments, but as far as a million dollar prizepool, I don’t think so at the moment.”