Very few successful video game franchises can have their stories told without acknowledging their very first chapter. Pokémon, Super Mario Bros., Resident Evil, Metal Gear and the like had early installments that range from standing the test of time to being forgiven for their less-refined attributes. The commonality between these franchises is that their first installments left such powerful imprints on players that all future titles would go on to be compared to that initial first impression. It's both a blessing and a curse; you made a game so memorable that the demand for more is overwhelming, and yet you can never seem to get out from under chapter one, which, in the case of most franchises, you will never be allowed to totally forsake. Street Fighter is not one of those franchises.
Oddly, the phenomenon of Street Fighter II: The World Warrior
never seemed to prompt much inquiry as to whatever happened to Street Fighter I. I assume most people just figured Street Fighter II was likely just an upgraded version of the original. Capcom themselves certainly seemed happy to have people believe exactly that, considering the sparsity of the game's re-releases, including a sheepish Turbo-Grafx re-release that didn't even bear the "Street Fighter" mantle, as well as being added to a couple of Capcom Arcade Collections and the Wii Virtual Console, although truth be told, I don't actually remember ever seeing it there. Finally, the game was given its widest release yet as part of the Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection, where I first got to play it in all its infamy.
Apparently, the original arcade release was based around some convoluted-sounding system in which the pressure you applied to the buttons determined the impact of the move being executed. Evidently it didn't work very well, considering Capcom immediately shuffled it out in favor of a version with normal buttons, which is the version "most people" have played, although mercifully, relatively few people have ever actually played this game. I can't comment directly on the controls of the original, I can only comment on the controls of the re-released version, and, in so many words: they suck. They suck so, so bad. In theory, they're a dumbed-down version of Street Fighter II's controls, except you're limited to only playing as Ryu, so you just get the Hadouken, the Shoryūken, and the Tatsumaki Senpū Kyaku in your arsenal, as well as some pathetic kicks and punches that you're best left just ignoring. The inputs (again, in theory) are the exact same as they are in SFII, yet the game never gives any indication what these inputs are. They're "secret" techniques! And because they're so secret, they do a ridiculously high amount of damage. So you would figure that going in knowing what these commands are would give you an unfair advantage, right? You wish. Even if you know what the correct inputs are, the inputs are unresponsive on a level I don't think anyone, not the least myself is capable of adequately describing. You're honestly better off just mashing buttons in the general direction of the desired maneuver; you're more likely to correctly input it by accident than with timing and skill.
This strategy basically translates to free wins across the initial two "worlds", the U.S. and Japan, but when you reach China, the cheapness of the AI begins to interfere with our foolproof plan. My strategy for the last three worlds is to give up and go play Street Fighter II, or literally any other game for that matter, because beyond this point, even the bragging rights of telling anyone who will listen that you beat the shittiest fighting game ever made just isn't worth it. It's not particularly time-consuming, considering that your attacks will drain about a third of the opponent's life bar, but every time you lose and you remember that you'll have to endure at least two more rounds of the same goddamn match, your brain will loathe you that much more for the time you're wasting with this mind-numbing garbage. By the time you reach Sagat, who is the final boss of this sorry journey, you'll be getting your ass kicked up and down until you're seeing stars before you finally manage to cheese the AI and squeak by for a win. Anyone who would actually get this far and then feel any sense of accomplishment needs to go touch some grass.
Does this game have anything going for it? Not really. The only positive takeaways from this game have little to do with the actually gameplay. For one, the visuals aren't horrible. Not good, but not bad either. Some levels like Mount Rushmore or the Great Wall of China have some real scaling problems. Did you know that Mount Rushmore is only as tall as two Ryus stacked on top of each other? Or one "Mike" and half of another? Oh, I forgot to mention, you would think that the very first installment of the series would be host to at least a smattering of beloved characters like Chun-Li, Dhalism, or maybe Blanka, but nope, this game only features a lineup of generic tough guys, a handful of which would later return in the Street Fighter Alpha series before getting shitcanned like they deserved. The standouts are a disappearing ninja named Geki and this dickhead named Lee who will mill about the level for a while before kicking the shit out of you without warning. Incidentally, Ken debuts alongside Ryu here as the 2P opponent, but you would never know that because where in the fuck are you going to find somebody willing to play Street Fighter 1 with you? It bears a little mentioning that the sound, contrasting the decent visuals, is garbage. The sound effects are pretty goofy, like this weird bubbling sound that plays between rounds or when you insert a coin. The voiceovers feature some pretty brutal Engrish, as every opponent mumbles out the same generic, confusingly-worded pap between fights in no way that makes any sense to the English-speaking ear. I wonder if Ryu got sick of being told that there are "guys like you all over the world." Speaking of which, it's weird how the game progresses as well. You can start from Japan or the U.S., but you don't move in a logical order from world to world; instead you move from Japan to the U.S. or vice-versa, to China, to England, then back again to Thailand. I can only assume that this whole tournament was a Frequent Flier Miles scam being orchestrated by Sagat, which is why for the most part we never see these assholes again. Anyways, the bad speech is sort-of masked by some equally brutal audio crunch that makes the single voice behind each character sounds like he began talking before clearing his throat. The music tip-toes between the generic and the offensive. Mount Rushmore's only distinctive instrument sounds like it was sampled by slamming on an aluminum table, and both tracks in Thailand but especially Sagat's Theme are garbled disasters that attempt gamelan but only achieve aleatory cacophony.
So it's a vile game presented lousily, not exactly three strikes, but who's counting? Is there anything else that could be said for this game? There is exactly one other thing besides having graphics that on the best of days could be worse - creating Street Fighter. Try and fathom a video gaming landscape without Street Fighter. For one, we never get a whole host of great fighting game franchises, including but not limited to Mortal Kombat, Guilty Gear, Tekken, Super Smash Bros., and even Capcom's own Darkstalkers and Marvel vs. Capcom. Going even beyond that, it's unlikely that Capcom ever becomes the massive company that they would eventually become as a result of this game as well as Mega Man the very same year (a series which would similarly need a second attempt to reach its full potential, although not nearly to the same degree). Without those two, but mostly Street Fighter, we never see the likes of Resident Evil, Monster Hunter, Ace Attorney, Devil May Cry, Dead Rising, or the litany of Disney games released by them on the NES. Now try and imagine a gaming landscape without all THOSE games, and we're left with a pretty bleak situation. All this largely credit to this very game; this lousy, clumsy, joyless mess of a game that I just devoted over a thousand words to ripping apart. And rip apart I shall, for I feel no regret in doing so, no matter what good might have come from this game. For all the good this game may have done, there is absolutely nothing
good about playing it.