Review – Street Fighter II HD

The number of permutations of Street Fighter 2 is one of gaming’s oldest punchlines. Though the joke still has teeth due to plain old nostalgia, savvy gamers now realize that the arcade revisions of Street Fighter added important tweaks and upgrades (and the console versions were various attempts at porting them to limited hardware). This slow burn through the 90’s finally culminated with Super SF2 Turbo, the last major revision and a game still played today in the tournament scene thanks to its familiarity and balance. The fact that fighting game fans won’t let go of Street Fighter 2 is a testament to its quality, and is the justification for why Capcom chose to make yet another major revision after years of silence. SF2 HD Remix (the full name is much too long) is a landmark release in the series, made exactly the way it should be at this point in the series’ life.

If it seems strange to you that Capcom has invested so much into Street Fighter 2 in 2008, you aren’t crazy. Aside from the fact that SF4 is primed to make a big splash in 2009, we must also consider that sometime around the turn of the century, Capcom ceded to the competition, essentially (not completely) halting creation of new 2d fighting games, instead keeping the older flames alive through various ports and compilation discs.

But today’s Capcom is a different beast. They remain among the top developers/publishers in the world due to good original games and early mastery of next gen hardware. More importantly for the fate of Street Fighter, they have also been one of the few companies that does not look at the community and plug their fingers in their ears. They know what we want and what we are doing, and respond to it with something other than lawsuits. Their recent spat of classic revivals has been filled with loving nods to the fans and plenty of communication about their creation; fortunately Capcom hasn’t been hampered by unnecessary overthought of what should and shouldn’t constitute a modern game.

It is from this newer Capcom that HD Remix was born. When the game was first released, it was a matter of pride. They seemed tired of fans slobbering over the sprites made for the Guilty Gear series, and remembered that they could do even better if they really wanted to. The main goal appeared to be nothing more than to give Street Fighter 2 a massive facelift via clean HD artwork, but as development continued we learned that there was more to it than a pretty new face. Every aspect of the game involved members of the fanbase. Developer/competitor David Sirlin worked on new character tweaks in hopes of making Super Turbo even more balanced. One of the main brains behind the fan favorite GGPO online multiplayer protocol was hired to help design the netcode. And since every SF revision needs new arrangements for the soundtrack, Capcom looked towards the Overclocked Remix community to provide new mixes for every track.

If there is any reason as to why Capcom has continued to acknowledge Street Fighter 2, it is because fans have been devoted to it for two decades. They know the game as well or better than most ‘in the industry,’ and the fact that some of them are, in fact, in the industry means that there will be some solid reasoning behind any changes made to the game.

Put this all together and you have HD Remix, a rebalanced version of Super Turbo with crisp new sprites and music re-envisionings, and online multiplayer that tries to compensate for lag. I find it rather hard to turn down this package. It does take a little while for your brain to reconcile new sprites with old, stiff animation (new animations would break the engine). I can also understand that some may not warm to the new music. I find that some tracks are very thoughtful arrangements that try to fit well with each character and their nationality, rather than being the ridiculous techno/metal sound assaults that flood OCRemix. After an hour of play I grew to love the new artwork, and found that the animations aren’t as jarring as you might think (for as great as Guilty Gear looks, it too is not the most fluidly animated game on the market). The aesthetic upgrades help a lot on today’s HD televisions, and add a bit more personality to the characters and stages.

Looks aside, HD Remix plays even better than before. This is still the same classic Street Fighter you love, but Sirlin’s tweaks are crucial. Aside from adding some new moves and balancing old ones, he chose to add new or alternate inputs for many special moves. Now mortals like you and I can actually perform a Spinning Piledriver, while crucial moves like the Tiger Knee are executed with a Dragon Punch motion. These changes are for the better: while there has always been satisfaction in practicing moves until you can do them in your sleep, allowing novice players the chance to use what they want allows opponents to focus on strategy more than execution, leading to better matches and a simpler learning curve without diminishing hard work and skill. Zangief’s throws may be easier to perform, but that doesn’t affect how a good player will stop you from using them.

It is too early to say how the competitive community will finally judge these changes, but there have yet to be any reports of god tier characters. This should not be a surprise, since HD Remix is still based on Super Turbo’s game code, meaning massive changes were simply out of the question. Sirlin approached the characters intending to nerf strong moves as little as possible, instead focusing on making others stronger to even the playing field a bit in the most unfair matchups.

Of course, if you are a purist, HD Remix offers all the options you could need. You can play the game with the original artwork and Super Turbo rules, and the dipswitch settings allow you to adjust certain character properties that you probably didn’t know existed. In addition, there are very basic instructions on how to use advanced techniques like meaty attacks and cross ups, and the training mode allows you to play with visible hitboxes. HD Remix was designed with veteran players in mind without being afraid to give newbies a push in the right direction.

There are quite a few knocks being thrown at this game, and, as usual, they are a mix of valid complaints and gamers missing the point. The most flagrant problems are a slew of bugs that affect the interface. Health bars have vanished, lobbies have been messed up, and the menus have become sluggish. In addition, some players have found their online rank drop to 0. I do not consider any of these to be game breakers, even the rank issue (most people playing this game do not need to be obsessed with rank). Yet these issues can not be entirely dismissed. When the online community solidifies, rank will become far more important, and we can only hope a patch appears.

As for lag, the jury is still out. There is no way to eliminate all lag, not until we all have perfect fiber optic connections. However, some players are reporting specific times during a fight where lag is more likely to occur. The question is whether this is due to poor netcode, the Playstation Network, or the connections themselves. I have noticed some of these trends myself, but not with any regularity (and I’m mostly playing guys in Europe), and the overwhelming majority of my time playing has been smooth as butter.

The most bothersome complaints stem from the modern industry’s obsession with value. SF2 HD contains everything you need to compete, have fun, or get better, and the game itself holds up remarkably well. What it does not contain is extra story, images galleries, making-of footage, unlockables, or anything of the sort. While it might have been nice to see some content pertaining to the game’s development and the involvement provided by the fan community, much of this information can be found in interviews and in the online Street Fighter community. The idea that the game is lacking due to these omissions is absurd.

Street Fighter HD is a blast from the past; an example of how good design and execution can make a game ageless. Perhaps it proves this even better than its counterparts like Mega Man 9 and Bionic Commando: Rearmed. It doesn’t need modern fluff to be good; in fact, such fluff might make it worse. The fact that something so old can be as fun as its current day successors demonstrates that sometimes being newer or more complex is better, but it is no guarantee. It also suggests that sometimes modern bells and whistles have the extra effect of masking a game’s shortcomings and lack of progress. If something becomes poorer in your eyes because its gamefaqs’ secrets page is tiny, perhaps it wasn’t very good to begin with.

If you have any urge to enjoy some quality 2d fighting, or go back to a scene you may have left years ago, now is the time. This is one of the best downloads on any console and a huge boon for fighting games.

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