The Street Fighter series has gone through several major arcs over its 20+ year history. Each new release has received heavy tournament play all over the world for many years at a time. In order for a competitive game to survive under such harsh conditions, it must be elegantly designed, meticulously balanced, and of course somewhat lucky. After all, if a team of fifty designers and testers spend two years working on a game, a community of a fifty thousand players will surpass their combined man-hours within the first week of public availability. Here’s the widely accepted list of Capcom fighting games to have passed the test of time.
Street Fighter II Series
SF2: Hyper Fighting – Quite possibly the purest Street Fighter game ever made, HF demands incredibly sound fundamental skills without providing any super moves or custom combos to bail players out of tough spots. Its quick pace builds reaction time and helps improve concentration. Almost every character on the roster is competitively viable and the top tier contains a broad variety of styles. It may seem a little intimidating at first, but HF is easily one of the most accessible Street Fighter games ever produced in terms of how long it takes to reach “the good part” of competitive play.
Super SF2 Turbo – Even after fifteen years, ST remains widely supported in the tournament scene. It introduced super moves and throw softening to Street Fighter, along with countless new bells and whistles such as overheads and juggle combos. No advantages transfer from round to round because super meter levels do not carry over. The established top tier contains at least five characters: Dhalsim, O.Sagat, Vega, Balrog, and Ryu – with Bison, Chun Li, and Dee Jay also making strong showings.
The Rest – World Warrior is always fun to play for nostalgia’s sake, just to see how many things have changed since the beginning. However, WW is inherently flawed due to the inability to choose the same character as well as the lack of reversals to escape throw setups. Champion Edition solves the reversal problem, but doesn’t properly balance the boss characters – especially Bison, whose insane Scissor Kick frame advantage actually leads to lockdown strings. Super Street Fighter 2 managed to hurt the entire Capcom fighting game scene with its painfully slow gameplay after Hyper Fighting raised the bar across the board. Many years later, Hyper Street Fighter 2 mixed together all these versions to create an entertaining but ultimately unbalanced mashup, with several unpleasant control bugs to boot.
Street Fighter Alpha Series
SFA2/SFA3 – Depending on who you ask, either Alpha 2 or Alpha 3 (but usually not both) will be listed as a classic title. In a lot of ways, SFA2 revitalized the Street Fighter community after SSF2 drove so many people away. SFA2 is fast and chaotic fun, yet still fundamentally sound in terms of what it takes to win. By contrast, SFA3 is one of the most technical Street Fighter games ever created, with a wonderfully unique combo engine to explore. Most importantly, A2 and A3 changed the fighting game genre forever by introducing two different kinds of Custom Combos. It’s impossible to discuss either game without delving into the merits and downfalls of the Custom Combo feature. Therefore it’s not surprising that most of the disagreement between A2 fans and A3 fans comes down to CC preferences. A2 Customs generate insane amounts of damage for relatively little work, but thankfully they’re over very quickly. A3 Customs manifest with much greater diversity and require way more technical skill, but they can drag on forever.
The Rest – As with many of Capcom’s first attempts, SFA1 is relatively slow, somewhat bland, contains some new poorly designed or implemented feature (in this case cast-wide chain combos), and contains one or two massively overpowered characters (in this case Ken and Guy). Street Fighter Alpha 2 Gold (or Street Fighter Zero 2 Alpha in Japan) were both slight upgrades over SFA2, with slight changes made in the interest of balance – Alpha Counters costing an extra half level of meter and weakening Custom Combos in every way. However, these upgrades have never been well-received by the Capcom fighting game community because nerfing everything usually comes off as a lazy shortcut and makes the game less fun. Hyper Street Fighter Alpha is a mashup of the entire Alpha series similar to HSF2, but HSFA received too little tournament play to accurately determine its status, despite being obviously more polished than HSF2.
Street Fighter III
SF3: 3rd Strike – After being sidelined immediately upon release due to Chun Li’s early dominance, 3S gradually gained popularity until it was reinstated into the Evolution tournament lineup. Steadily increasing access to Japanese match footage showed us that characters like Ken, Yun, Makoto, and Urien could overcome Chun Li’s attack priority and frustratingly solid ground game. 3S remained one of the most popular Evo titles until SF4 was finally released.
The Rest – SF3: New Generation received massive immediate backlash for several reasons: the cast was unreasonably small and contained only two familiar faces, the parry system conceptually negated much of the fundamental spacing skills at the core of the SF2 series, it was poorly implemented because almost everything could be parried low, and it was full of dumb infinites. SF3: 2nd Impact dealt with most of the objections against NG, in addition to introducing EX moves, semi-useful Taunts, and three new characters. Considering SF3’s bad rep, 2I was relatively well-received and carved its own niche as a tournament game until 3S made it obsolete. 2I comes very close to being a classic game, but Akuma and Ibuki are a little too overpowered.
Marvel vs Capcom 2 – Many people (who don’t understand what they’re talking about) complain about there being too few viable competitive characters in this game. In reality, it’s nothing short of miraculous that MvC2 is as balanced as it turned out to be. There were literally countless points in MvC2’s tournament timeline where it seemed like one tactic was becoming irreversibly dominant, only to be overcome by something new and unexpected. Today the top four characters are cemented as Sentinel, Storm, Magneto, and Cable, but the number of viable teams measures in the dozens; as does the number of characters who were considered top tier at some point or another during the game’s lifespan.
The Rest – It all started with X-Men: Children of the Atom, and Capcom clearly had no idea how to deal with what they’d just let loose. COTA is ridiculously broken in far too many ways to count. However its followup, Marvel Super Heroes, is probably the second most respected game in the entire series and was considered a classic until it was replaced by the next Marvel title. Unfortunately MSH hasn’t received much tournament support since then, so it’s impossible to judge whether it would still be considered balanced enough if everyone started applying the isolated combos and tactics we’ve uncovered in recent years. X-Men vs Street Fighter is quite possibly the most fun to play game in the entire series, but unfortunately the anything-is-possible nature of XSF’s combo system leads to way too many infinites. Marvel vs Street Fighter miraculously eliminates nearly all of the infinite combo design archetypes found in XSF, but falls into the trap of making every character too bland, too weak, and too similar to one another. Marvel vs Capcom brings back the breathtakingly chaotic nature of the Versus Series, but fails to properly balance its new Variable Cross feature, leading to ridiculously broken shenanigans.
Capcom vs SNK Series
Capcom vs SNK 2 – Everything CvS1 lacked, CvS2 brought back in spades. The sheer combination of characters and systems found here is absolutely unmatched by any other fighting game. What’s even more remarkable is that three (or even four) of the six available Grooves (subsystem configurations) are competitively viable and that the top tier consists of over ten characters: Blanka, Sagat, Bison, Vega, Sakura, Cammy, Guile, Chun Li, Honda, Hibiki, and Rolento. That’s simply unprecedented. The one knock against CvS2 is that it requires too much technical execution ability, which translates into a huge barrier to entry for beginners.
The Rest – Not only did CvS1 have only four buttons, but it was also cursed with a terribly flawed ratio system which systematically promoted the least interesting characters into top tier slots. All startegy quickly devolved into turtlefests with little variety from match to match. Add Nakoruru’s broken nonsense to the mix and it becomes difficult to find anything salvageable in this mess. Capcom vs SNK Pro was an attempt to fix the ratio system by raising the damage and defense modifiers of the higher ratio characters and making subtle moveset adjustments, but ultimately no one cared and no one bothered playing the game. Capcom Fighting Evolution (or Capcom Fighting Jam, as it’s known in Japan) doesn’t feature any SNK characters but is built on the CvS game engine. Unfortunately its production values and marketing budget were shockingly low, so it was largely ignored and received next to zero tournament support. It seemingly ended up quite balanced, despite the Darkstalkers initially ruling the rankings, but most people agree that CvS2 is a better game overall.
That brings the final tally to: SF2HF, SSF2T, SFA2 and/or SFA3, SF3:3S, MvC2, and CvS2.
Jury’s still out on Street Fighter IV and SSF2T HD Remix.
I’ve left out a few series of Capcom fighting games, but only because of lack of experience with them. If someone wants to chime in on behalf of the Darkstalkers series, Street Fighter EX series, and whatever else, by all means feel free.