Puny reader! Your feeble willpower is as nothing to my limitless skill in stylish browbeating! Submit, and read this masterful article on Capcom's top-selling fighting game series, Street Fighter!

"Praise me! Extol me! My beauty is unparalleled!"
In the late 1980s, in testosterone-charged coin-op arcades loud with explosions, when manly self-esteem compelled you to face your rivals like a rutting stag, you played Street Fighter II. No game compared; it was exhilarating, gladiatorial.

Trouncing earlier 2-D fighting games - outstripping even its own weakling precursor, Capcom's original Street Fighter - SF2 offered a wide range of fighter characters, each with distinctive moves, all (well, most) game-balanced to katana sharpness. Above all, SF2 offered combos, unique moves you triggered by pressing a certain button sequence with split-second precision. With these combos, a landmark innovation, SF2 recruited, almost overnight, legions of players vying for supremacy. The world had never yet seen such an efficient outlet for adolescent male rage.

More than many other arcade games, Street Fighter inspired a culture, a code. Among friends, you might taunt and talk trash as you played. Against a stranger, etiquette dictated an attitude of couth - a regal aloofness. To silently duck or overleap your opponent's attacks, to pull back and then, with a light touch on the joystick and decisive stabs at the six buttons, to land three or four telling jabs and kicks - all with a cool, fated composure - that was the tao of Street Fighter. And then, having initiated with musical precision your final, killing combo, to turn from the console, silently, dismissively, feigning to chat idly with a friend while the hapless loser viewed his fighter's humiliation ... Boooo-yah!

An instant hit at its 1987 debut, Street Fighter II went through five revisions and spawned a prequel (Street Fighter Alpha, five revisions), a sequel (Street Fighter III, three revisions) and multiple console ports. Capcom says the SF franchise has sold nearly 30 million units worldwide. Then there's the terrible 1994 movie (Rotten Tomatoes score: 29%), anime, manga, comics, art collections, action figures, a collectible card game, a tabletop roleplaying game and Street Fighter "sound drops," pushbutton keychain fobs that issue trademark taunts. (Relive these Street Fighter taunts on Wikiquote.) And in August 2006, SF2 itself, now a venerable master, became the fastest-selling game yet released on Xbox Live Arcade. After 20 years, while nearly 200 other fighting games have risen and fallen, Street Fighter still holds its ground.

Yet this may not speak well for the form. Like the tournament competitors they depict, the ranks of fighting games are thinning.

"If you are not merciless, your soul will be slaughtered!"
Clearly, the ranks of devout fighting game fans remain pretty thick. Every year, more fighter fans attend the Evolution tournaments; in 2007, there are four regional Evo tourneys, ahead of August's big championship in Las Vegas. (For a memorable battle from Evo 2004, see "Fei Long and Justin Wong" in The Escapist issue 88.) Evo's sponsor is the leading Street Fighter fan site, Shoryuken, named for the original game's single unstoppable fighting technique.

Evo features lots of manly self-esteem. Like fighting games themselves, the competition uses a ruthless double-elimination format: Lose two matches and you're out, you miserable worm. As consolation, you can buy the Evolution tournament DVDs, and if you're lucky, you may see the unreleased 2002 Street Fighter documentary Bang the Machine. (Brad King summarized the film for Wired.com, and FilePlanet hosts the Bang the Machine trailer.)

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