In the contentious console war between Nintendo and Sega’s 16-bit systems, most of the attention was focused on the elements that the two warring factions directly controlled: the hardware and first-party games, and especially the dueling mascots, Mario and Sonic. But third-party support varied wildly at the time, with entire series like Final Fantasy pledging loyalty to just one of the two major competitors. And there was hardly any single 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 how massive a hit Street Fighter 2 was when it first hit arcades. By 1991, coin-operated arcades were starting to dim, falling short of the heyday of the golden age of arcades in the 1980s. The arrival of Street Fighter 2 heralded a revitalization of the arcade industry, driving foot traffic to arcades and attracting countless imitators. It quickly created a burgeoning competitive scene, with each arcade community knowing its own top players and others placing their quarters on the edge of the box to challenge the champs. It also, not surprisingly, dominated the cash flowing into the arcade business. David Snook, editor of the arcade trade magazine Coin Slot, estimated that Street Fighter 2 accounted for around 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 a genre with few rivals.
At the time, an arcade-faithful port seemed like a pipe dream. Players had become accustomed to arcade machines far outpacing the power of home consoles. Home ports of arcade games on the Nintendo Entertainment System were often slightly compromised or even just rebuilt from scratch to fit the system specs. The Super NES had released near The World Warriors in 1991 with relatively impressive specs, 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 presume that any Street Fighter 2 port would be compromised at best.