The title of this article sums it up, really. I’ve been thinking abut Super Street Fighter II for the SNES recently and how it’s probably the fighting game I’ve spent most time playing, and consequently the most time looking at. That’s fine by me, I like looking at Super Street Fighter II. It’s a good-looking game. For a long time, it was probably the best looking fighting game I’d played, although I’ll grant that’s down to both personal circumstance and aesthetic preference. The Street Fighter II series’ cartoonish but not too wild style always appealed to me far more than its competitors’ did. I’ve never much liked digitised graphics and I’ve always thought the Mortal Kombat games are kinda ugly. It felt like most other fighters were either aping Mortal Kombat’s visual style, or they were trying to copy SFII and simply not being as good at it as Capcom. The outliers are SNK’s fighting games like Fatal Fury. They do look great, of course, but between the lack of nearby arcades and the scarcity of SNK’s home console (I’ve still never met anyone who owned a Neo Geo during its “heyday”) those games only existed as pictures in magazines to me. So, Super Street Fighter II stands as a graphical high-point of the 16-bit era to me, even if other people would probably disagree. I thought it might be nice to look back at a few of my favourite animation frames from Super Street Fighter II, which now I’ve written it out twice seems like a strange topic for an article but hey, I’ve already taken a bunch of screenshots so I guess I’m going with it.

Let’s begin with Balrog and his mighty uppercut. Looks painful, doesn’t it? It makes sense that a character “inspired” by Mike Tyson would possess a devastating uppercut. I’d say that Balrog’s early appearances have something of the classical about them, though. They’re... statuesque, almost. This could almost be a 16-bit version of an illustration from a Victorian book, a pixellated take on The Gentleman’s Guide to Pugilism Under the New Queensberry Rules, Third Edition. That’s something I noticed when looking back on Balrog’s Street Fighter 2 sprites – they don’t seem to quite match up with his characterisation as a dirty, below-the-belt fighter. There’s something old-school about Balrog’s poses, perhaps because of the way his idle stance has his gloves up by his chest. Later Street Fighter games would introduce Dudley as the fair-fighting, honourable boxer of the cast, but Balrog definitely has a touch of the old-school about him at this point in the Street Fighter series. Well, until you use his jumping headbutt move, anyway. It’s not that old boxers were averse to nutting people, it’s just that they didn’t usually leap into the air while doing it.

Sticking with the theme of “classics,” Fei Long’s Bruce Lee impersonation is about as classic as they come. When creating Fei Long, Capcom may have shamelessly copied Lee’s looks and movements with little alteration besides Fei Long being able to set his own legs on fire by, I dunno, thinking really hard about kicking someone, but they did such a good job it’s hard to begrudge them. I think this simple punching animation captures it best. It’s all well and good having amazing animations for the big, flashy, oh-god-why-did-I-set-my-own-leg-on-fire moves, but this punch perfectly captures the Bruce Lee mannerisms and once you’ve got the basics right the rest will follow.

I’ll be honest, this frame of Blanka’s jumping medium kick it what got me thinking about writing this article in the first place. I think about this pose a lot, actually. Look, sometimes things get stuck in your head and you can’t explain why. There’s no rhyme or reason to it and it certainly doesn’t indicate that I should visit a healthcare professional. That’d be an interesting appointment. “What seems to be the problem? Well, I can’t stop thinking about this jungle-dwelling beastman and his mid-air poses. He’s just so goddamn jaunty, but if you cover his legs and just look at him from the waist up he looks he’s responding to a shocking accusation in an exaggerated manner.” Go on, try it and tell me you can’t imagine Blanka saying “You saw me creeping to the chambermaid’s quarters in the dead of night? How dare you! The very thought!” Actually, what’s the status on Blanka being able to talk at the moment? Is Dan Hibiki still the only one who can understand him? You know, it doesn’t matter. As Blanka didn’t appear in Street Fighter V I’m just going to assume he’s living with his mum and enjoying a peaceful, contented life.

Get down from there, Dee Jay. It’s unfair to take one frame from an animation – in this case, it’s Dee Jay’s forward jump – and single it out as looking goofy, but I’m going to do it anyway. Please know that this all comes from a place of love. Part of this one’s charm is that it’s one of the few frames of Dee Jay where he’s not grinning like the Joker on a visit to a puppy parade. He looks anguished, almost, as though he’s realised that turning side-on to his opponent and flipping completely upside down might not have been his smartest tactical move. He knows he’s going to feel a dragon punch slamming directly into the top of his bonce any second now. In a way, the anticipation is worse than the actual impact of the highly-trained martial artist’s flaming fist slamming into your head. What am I talking about, no it isn’t.

In a game with all the aforementioned flaming dragon punches and jaw-shattering uppercuts, it’s perhaps surprising that the most painful-looking thing is Dhalsim’s knockdown pose. I know he’s able to contort and stretch his body into any position he likes, but I don’t have those powers so seeing Dhalsim’s leg bent that way is enough to cause a sympathetic aching in my hips. It’s a nice companion piece to the actual aching in my hips that comes from being old.

Dhalsim’s knockback animation, with his chin being thrown so far backwards that he could nibble his own backside, that one’s fun too. Admittedly part of my appreciation for it is that I mentally append a rubbery “boioioing” sound effect to it.

Running Dhalsim’s hips a close second for “Most Painful SSF2 Visual” is Chun-Li’s hard kick. There has to be an easier way to fight crime than this. Chun-Li is a cop, and it’s going to be easier for the criminals she arrests to exercise their right to remain silent when she boots them so hard in the chin that their jaw lands forty feet away. I think it’s the way her feet are pointing in completely opposing directions that gets to me with this one. Like, I’m sure that it’s technically possible for a human body to get itself into this pose, but at the same time I’m wary of mentioning it in case someone reading this tries it at home and their legs fall off.
Seriously though, this move is excellently animated and the way the animation snaps makes it look like one of the most powerful moves in the whole game.

Also powerful: Zangief’s arse. It’s not often you get to describe hulking Russian wrestlers as “coquettish” but that’s the vibe I’m getting from this out-of-context image. Zangief wants you to look at his arse. And why not? It’s a backside to be proud of, powerful and abundant like the landscape of Mother Russia herself.

The Street Fighter cast are a colourful bunch of characters, drawn from all walks of life and imbued with a gamut of crazy abilities, and that’s what makes Sagat’s throw so great. No messing about, no magical powers or rigorous waterfall meditation sessions; just pick your opponent up and throw them over there. It is only by coincidence that in this example Sagat is throwing E. Honda, by the way, but we have the added bonus of it looking like Sagat’s picked Honda up by his nipple. That’d explain Honda’s expression. But it’s Sagat we’re looking at in this one, and as I watch the mighty emperor of Muay Thai hoist his opponent onto his back like Santa carrying a sack of presents, it’s difficult not to appreciate his straightforwardness.

Here’s T. Hawk riding his invisible bicycle. Ring ring ring goes the little invisible bell.

You know, even back when I first played Super Street Fighter II I thought Cammy’s costume was a bit much. Maybe it was because the girls I knew in high school were forever complaining about having to wear leotards during PE lessons. Wearing a leotard hoiked so far up her backside that her buttcheeks would have to use the telephone if they wanted to talk to each other? I’d heard enough stories about gymnastics class to know that Cammy must be in considerable discomfort. All that said, I still think Cammy looks kinda cool in her victory poses. No-nonsense, tough, the faint sense that she’s desperate to get home and put on some tracksuit bottoms. This is just a job to her, whereas everyone else seems to enjoy the bloodsports a little too much.

Here’s one I only noticed the other day: Ken goes a bit cross-eyed when he’s uppercutting people. Presumably this means Ryu also goes a bit cross-eyed when performing the same move. Perhaps these punches require a level of zen disassociation from the material world so complete that there’s no need for your eyes to focus, or maybe his underwear has suddenly ridden up just like Cammy’s leotard.

Here’s M. Bison, feared overlord of a vast criminal network. He’s posing. Of course he is. Half the work of being a fear overlord is posing, usually with menace. The other fifty percent is made up of overblown speeches and murdering the families of those who oppose you. But here’s the thing: is M. Bison posing, or is he in the middle of stomping on someone’s head? Surprise, it’s both, and in a cunning bit of recycling Bison’s post-victory stance and his head stomp move re-use the same sprite. Fair enough, it’s a good sprite, although I’d appreciate it if you take a moment to consider that the most evil character in the Street Fighter franchise’s go-to move is to jump on people’s heads. I guess the M stands for Mario.

Guile has a kick that somehow possesses anti-gravity properties, causing him to hover upside-down for a moment whenever he executes it. This is fantastic, don’t you think? I know I and my younger brothers loved it as a kid, with us encouraging each other to do “the upside-down kick” every time we played a Street Fighter game. It’s just such a weird move for a Guile to have when the rest of his attacks are mostly “classic” street fighting punches and kicks. I’m glad they retained it for later Street Fighters, even though it does look even weirder when a three-dimensional model’s doing it.
Then, while I was getting the screenshots for this article, I had a revelation. Guile’s got his upside-down kick, right? And he’s also got a crouching leg sweep, too.

They use the same sprite, just flipped. I feel as though I’ve stumbled upon a secret that has rocked my universe just a tiny bit.

Where else could I end but with Ryu himself? Ah, I can already hear the faint and distant arguments of years past. It is pronounced “rye-oo” or “ree-oo” or what? Do he and Ken fight in exactly the same way? Will anyone ever defeat Sheng Long? All questions that have since been answered, but none of that detracts from the iconic look of Ryu’s idle stance. And it is iconic, in an age where that word is overused, because I think it could and perhaps does stand as an icon for fighting games in general. If you took a silhouette of this sprite and used it as the logo for a category of games or something, then most people who play videogames would immediately know what to expect. As for me, just looking at it is making me feel nostalgic. I know that to some degree the entirety of VGJunk is a paean to nostalgia, but this is of a deeper kind, one that’s tied up in childhood memories of happy multiplayer games with friends and play-fighting with my brothers while shouting “hadooooken” at each other. I think that’s why I fancied writing this daft article about Super Street Fighter II’s sprites – sometimes it’s nice to be reminded that videogames can be a real force for positivity and camaraderie.

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