Nearly 30 years in the business, still wearing the same clothes
It's astounding just how much Street Fighter 2 got right. The controls are tight, the graphics are crisp (even now, provided you appreciate pixels), and the music is interminably catchy. But perhaps its biggest triumph is its roster, which started out at a mere eight fighters. For a fighting game to thrive, players need to feel truly invested in their chosen character, establishing the kind of deep connection that can carry across multiple games and even decades. SF2 put forth the kind of designs that are still iconic and appealing almost 30 years later.
Take a trip with us down memory lane as we examine how the original World Warriors stayed the same, even as game platforms and graphics were changing. Be sure to maximize each image (by clicking the little 'expand' icon in the upper right) for the full effect, because it's incredible to see these subtle evolutions up close. With Street Fighter 5 on the horizon, let's take a look back at the legendary fighters who got us here.
Ryu is a paradox, given that he's a nondescript leading man who's somehow unforgettable. It's got to be his plain-yet-immediately-recognizable outfit, which (like the design of so many national flags) consists of only three bold colors. This makes him about as visually interesting as a crash test dummy - especially next to some of Street Fighter's oddballs like Necro or Sodom - but his modest appearance matches his nomadic lifestyle and detachment from notions like glory or fame. Ryu is a World Warrior in every sense, traveling the globe with a singular focus: become stronger.
Despite the fact that Honda's always hundred-hand slapping opponents or torpedoing his entire body at them headfirst, he's actually a pretty nice guy. Sumo wrestling is as much about tradition (like the real-world practice of tossing salt before a match) and prestige as it is two large dudes slamming into each other, and ol' Edmond fights for the honor of his beloved sport rather than any directly self-serving means. His gigantic eyebrows and red, kabuki-style facepaint make him look intimidating, but Honda's all smiles outside of the ring. He's also absurdly muscular for a sumo wrestler - or any human being, really - which looks even more exaggerated given his hunched, low-to-the-ground fighting stance.
It's a fact: kids love Blanka. Don't believe me? Just take a look back at some of the old Street Fighter products and advertisements and you'll see a recurring trend: Blanka is everywhere. A cross between a gorilla and the Jolly Green Giant, this Brazilian beast is the ultimate Street Fighter wild card. Ryu? Chun-Li? Guile? They could almost pass for everyday people. Not Blanka; he's one-of-a-kind, and that made him the de facto poster boy (poster beast?) for Street Fighter 2. If you knew anything about video games in the '90s, and you saw this guy's smiling face rolling your way, you knew exactly what game was being advertised.
It all starts with the hair. Guile's pristinely trimmed, impossibly large flat top is his most notable trademark, besides his stalwart patriotism and passion for being a family man. He seems to suffer from 'Resting Soldier's Frown Face' (or RSFF as it's known in the medical community), though it's hard to blame the guy: he lost his Air Force buddy Charlie Nash to the evil machinations of M. Bison's Shadaloo. Now he travels the world searching for any clue related to Charlie's supposed death, taking the time to hurl Sonic Booms, comb his blonde mane, and whip on a pair of sunglasses mid-fistfight wherever he goes.
Ken Masters is that cool older cousin or fun uncle you had growing up. He's got a sweet sports car, a smokin' hot stable-and-monogamous relationship with his wife, and that blistering red gi which he probably dyed himself. While Ryu has always been the Street Fighter straightman, Ken isn't afraid to let his hair down and bring some style to the fight. Or at the very least crack a smile. However, his easygoing demeanor belies a forceful and finely-tuned fighter who is every bit Ryu's equal - as seen in the two black belts they share.
If all law enforcers took as much pride in a sense of justice as Chun-Li, the world would be a better place. She may not dress like your typical Interpol agent - what with those spiked bracelets and Princess Leia-esque hair buns - but she takes her job to serve and protect seriously as she searches for her father's killers. And if you're in need of motivation when doing leg presses at the gym, just imagine how grand life would be if you had the same kind of sturdy, tremendous thigh muscles as Chun-Li. If you want to high-kick hundreds of times in the blink of an eye, you're going to need some serious lower body strength.
Zangief's character design tells a story, one of struggle and triumph in the Russian wilderness. The pronounced scars on his legs, arms, and back are a testament his grueling bear-wrestling training regimen that has molded him into such a destructive warrior. His inhumanly large muscles display his resolve and dedication to becoming a grappler without equal. And finally, that mohawk and beard reveal that the big guy is not without a sense of humor - or, at the very least, was a fan of The A-Team growing up. Just don't say anything negative about his glorious homeland of Mother Russia, unless you want to go for a ride in a Spinning Piledriver.
One of the most striking aspects of Dhalsim's design is also one of the most contradictory. Dhalsim is himself a yoga master and a pacifist, though he routinely goes against that belief to help raise money for his village in underground fighting tournaments. So if fire-spitting Stretch Armstrong is such an enlightened warrior, why does he wear a necklace of human skulls!? Nothing says 'Zen' like three dead people hanging around your neck. Maybe it's for the intimidation factor - I mean, the poor guy does fight a Russian bear-wrestler and a Brazilian monster-man. Whatever the case, it has endured as a bold fashion accessory to this day.