In the contentious console war between Nintendo and Sega’s 16-bit systems, most of the attention was focused on the elements directly controlled by the two warring factions: the hardware and first-party games, and especially the dueling mascots, Mario and Sonic. But third-party support was very different at the time, with entire series like Final Fantasy loyal to only one of the two main competitors. And there was hardly any game that made a bigger impact than Street Fighter 2. Today marks the 30th anniversary of the first Street Fighter 2 home release on the Super NES– a move that would shape the console competition and the industry for years to come.
It’s hard to overstate just how huge a hit Street Fighter 2 was when it first hit the arcades. By 1991, coin-operated arcades were beginning to slow down compared to the heyday of the golden age of arcades in the 1980s. The arrival of Street Fighter 2 heralded a revival of the arcade industry, driving foot traffic to arcades and attracting countless imitators. This quickly created an increasingly competitive scene, in which each arcade community knew its own top players and placed their quarters on the edge of the box to challenge other champs. It’s also not surprising given the amount of cash flowing into the arcade business. David Snook, editor of the arcade trade magazine Coin Slots, estimated that Street Fighter 2 accounted for about 60% of the total coin-op market in a 1993 edition of the UK magazine Mega. Street Fighter 2 was one of the biggest games ever made in the genre with few rivals.
At the time, an arcade-faithful port seemed like a pipe dream. Players were used to arcade machines that far exceeded the power of home consoles. Home ports of arcade games on the Nintendo Entertainment System were often slightly compromised or even rebuilt from scratch to fit the system’s specs. The Super NES was released in 1991 with relatively impressive specs around The World Warriors, but nothing on the system looked quite like Street Fighter’s screen-filling sprite artwork. The occasional console game that matched its arcade counterparts was the exception, not the rule. Fans at the time had every reason to assume that any Street Fighter 2 port would be a compromise at best.
Ultra Street Fighter II: The Final Challengers – Announcement Trailer
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Against that backdrop, the July 1992 release of Street Fighter 2: The World Warriors on the Super NES came as no surprise. It was arcade-perfect, lacking some visual flourishes like the opening cutscenes of the arcade version. With the Super NES version, and the arrival of home arcade sticks shortly after to capitalize on its success, players could master their fighting skills at home with a faithful recreation of the arcade experience, and then head to the arcade to take on opponents. .
At the time, game prices varied greatly, depending on everything from cartridge size to game demand. The standard MSRP for console games is typically $50 USD, while some significantly larger games such as Final Fantasy 3 (aka FF6) can be as high as $80. Street Fighter 2 was relatively expensive at $75– roughly $158 in 2022 dollars. But fans happily paid the price, quickly buying millions of copies as Street Fighter 2 became the best-selling game on the Super NES. This demand was partly fueled by its platform exclusivity. No version was released for the Sega Genesis in 1992. For a few months, if you wanted to play one of the world’s most popular games, you had two options: buy a Super Nintendo or go to the arcade and spend an infinite number of quarters in schoolyard console battlefields and parents’ basements, a huge win for Nintendo.
Capcom capitalized on Street Fighter’s massive popularity and planned many more versions and updates, but in the pre-internet era, those updates had to be released in new physical carts. A completely new arcade cabinet and completely new home cartridges were planned. Street Fighter 2: Champion Edition arrived in the summer of 1993, introducing four bosses–Balrog, Vega, Sagat, and M. Bison–Added playability as a mirror match and some other balance tweaks. This version would serve as the basis for the Sega Genesis port. Meanwhile, Capcom is planning a “Turbo Edition” for the Super NES that will add speed options and new special moves. At this point the two converged, with the Genesis version pushed from its summer release window to fall so Capcom could add Turbo improvements to it. Sega fans were once again stuck waiting.
Once the Sega Genesis version arrived, in September 1993, it was as successful as you’d expect, selling millions of copies. But Nintendo fans still had a justified sense of superiority, as the Genesis version was mildly compromised with significant changes to elements such as its color palette and sound channels. This wasn’t a dealbreaker for most fighting fans–the game still ran extremely well and relieved an itch that Genesis owners had been feeling for over a year. But there was still a difference; Nintendo fans can boast an excellent port.
Another major difference between the Super NES and Genesis versions: the controller. In the arcade, Street Fighter 2 used a six-button control scheme: Jab (weak), Strong (medium), and Fierce (heavy) for punch and kick commands. They will also define the strength, speed and range of your special attacks. Activating Guile’s Flash Kick with the fierce command will create a significantly larger area of effect compared to the jab command. The default Super NES controller had six buttons, four face buttons and two shoulder buttons. Capcom mapped these commands onto the Super NES controller with relative ease–the four face buttons were used for jabs and powerful attacks, while the shoulder buttons were used as two gruesome commands. It wasn’t an arcade stick, but made the game perfectly playable without having to buy any extra accessories.
The Genesis controller, by comparison, only had three buttons by default. Rather than any issues with the software, this led to a very strange compromise, forcing players to press a separate button to toggle between punches and kicks. The toggle was mapped to the start button, which had the odd side-effect of removing the ability to pause when playing with a 3-button controller. Needless to say, this was not ideal. Anticipating this problem, Sega released its six-button controller. This eliminated the awkwardness of the Street Fighter, and with no shoulder buttons, it was closer to a traditional arcade stick. It also served as the controller of choice for players of other games such as Mortal Kombat and Streets of Rage. But it also represents another accessory purchase to get the full experience. And if you want to beat your younger brother – at the game – you’ll have to buy two.
As the years passed, Street Fighter 2 became less of a phenomenon, but Capcom had another trick. The second, final version of Street Fighter 2 was released in 1994. Super Street Fighter 2: The New Challengers was the definitive version of the game. It included four completely new fighters: T. Hock, D. J., Cami, and Fei Long. Classic fighters received new moves that would eventually become signature features like Ryu’s Flaming Hadouken and Ken’s Flaming Shoryuken. Stages and portraits were given a facelift and a scoring system was introduced to track elements such as combos and recoveries. All fighters had a great variety of color schemes and this brought back speed options from the Turbo. It also finally included a detailed animated opening like the arcade original–though instead of two nameless men punching each other, Ryu fires Hadokane directly at the screen.
This time, Genesis is not far behind. Capcom developed and released two versions simultaneously, and also created its own six-button controller for consistency across platforms. Although fans say the audio quality on the Genesis was poorer than its SNES counterpart, the two were roughly equal matches.
Sega still did very well for itself in the 16-bit generation, especially in North America (which accounted for half of its total lifetime sales), thanks to the Genesis’ image as a “cool” system with attitude. It held a respectable amount of market share against Nintendo against their competition in the 8-bit console wars. But by 1994, when Super Street Fighter 2 was released, Sega had lost significant ground to a steady stream of acclaimed releases on the SNES, including but not limited to Street Fighter. While Sega has fractured its market with add-ons such as the Sega CD and 32X, Nintendo is only recently putting first-party software with third-party support. By the end of the generation, Nintendo had sold 49 million Super NES systems worldwide to Sega’s 29 million Genesis units.
The Sega Genesis version of Street Fighter 2 wouldn’t have arrived more than a year after the Super NES version, and it’s impossible to say what would have happened without significant compromises in its graphics and control scheme. But it’s safe to say that this disparity contributed to Sega’s woes. Without the stronger showing of Street Fighter 2 on the Super NES, Sega might have been a close match for Nintendo’s sales or surpassed them. Different decisions may have been taken in the meantime. It may still be a console maker. In the bitter rivalry between Nintendo and Sega in the mid-90s, perhaps Capcom threw the hardest punch.
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