Originally Published: March 25, 2009, for 1050ESPN.com (now ESPNNewYork.com) and ESPNVideogames.com

It started as an arcade unit in Japan in 1987. Then it was ported to home consoles in late 1988 and it finally hit American shores in early 1989. The Street Fighter phenomenon has been an integral part of video gaming culture ever since.

There were only two fighting franchises you ever spoke of in public during the beginnings of the video game revolution, Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat, and lines would be drawn in the sand for which one you preferred. I admit, I was a Kombat-freak, but I still enjoyed and appreciated the nuances of the Street Fighter franchise. Now, 20 years later, Capcom has pulled no punches for its American anniversary with the release of a new movie, video game, and national tournament. In this article, I will take a look at each part of this celebration that has been going on since early February and will wrap up in April with the crowning of a national Street Fighter IV champion.

The first aspect of the celebration was the release of the new video game, Street Fighter IV, on February 18, 2009.

In Street Fighter IV, M. Bison has fallen from power and Shadoloo is no more. All the combatants of Street Fighter have gone their separate ways when a mysterious organization known as S.I.N. has sponsored a new tournament. All the classic characters return with a few new faces to fill out a 25 fighter roster (12 to start including the four new ones, and 13 unlockables from previous Street Fighter incarnations) in what is to be the greatest of all Street Fighter tournaments as the fighters come together to figure out why exactly this new organization has put together a new tournament.

I’ll tell you why. The evil CEO of S.I.N., Seth, is a weapons manufacturer and he has turned himself into the ultimate weapon by injecting himself with a virus that allows him to absorb and mimic all the fighting techniques of those he comes into contact with. Only one person remains to absorb before he can become the most unstoppable force on Earth; he must absorb Ryu, the champion of the Street Fighter tournaments. Thus, the events of Street Fighter IV begin to unfold.

The story has never been the selling point for the Street Fighter franchise. It has always been about the fighting mechanics more than anything else. The story in this is similar to those that have come before; it’s like any anime you would see at 4 AM on Adult Swim so I will not spend any more time talking about the lack of a decent storyline.

What makes or breaks a fighting series is the combat and any additions made over the course of the series. Street Fighter IV, in my mind, disappoints on this front. This is the first entry into the series in nine years (all those Street Fighter III special additions like Alpha or 2nd Impact do not count) and all they added was an “Ultra Combo” that is easily avoided or lacks the power that you would expect with all the work that goes into building up that bar, and a “Focus Attack” that does add an interesting aspect to strategy, but after nine years you would think they could have come up with something with a little more “oomph” than one decent extra attack per character.

For everything else involving the fighting mechanics, it is all the same. Light, medium, and heavy punches and kicks, press both light attacks for a throw, retreat to block, and the special moves are all the same. So after nine years of waiting, all that has been added is four crappy new characters, one new regular move, and one extra combo bar that always misses? “Disappointed” is an understatement. The best aspect of the new game is the awesome opening movie. After that, you might as well break out your Super Nintendo and stick Street Fighter II Turbo in there. Even the cut scenes are disappointingly done in a cheap anime style, which pales in comparison to the amazing looking opening movie.

Ratings are based on a system of 1 to 10 with 10 being the highest.

Graphics: 6.5: Considering how great the opening movie was, the rest of the game wasn’t up to par visually. When you have a 2D fighting game, I understand you can only make it look so much like a 3D game before you actually just make it a 3D game, but the lackluster anime cut scenes and the fact that it only looked marginally above the Street Fighter games of old gets this a barely passing grade.

Audio: 8.0: The voice acting reminded me of a badly dubbed kung-fu movie from the 70s. Since I’m not sure if that was the effect they were going for, I can’t dock it a lot, but I do doubt it. The music was catchy and original and the SFX were solid enough to strengthen the score some.

Plot/Plot Development: 5.5: I get that no fighting game ever has a great plot, but again it seems like a bad anime you find in a bargain bin at the grocery store. I miss the days when Bison was the bad guy and you had to fight through his Shadoloo henchmen. At least it was a system that worked.

Gameplay: 7.5: The game had the typical fighting game glitches so there was nothing to get all up in arms about, but considering all the time between titles, they could have added more to this to make it stand out from the rest of the series. I love nostalgia, but give me a break! I didn’t want Street Fighter 2.5, I wanted Street Fighter IV. I wanted something completely new to break the mold and reshape the franchise.

Replay Value: 8.0: Great online play and tons of unlockables make it so that if you enjoy playing the game the first few times through, you’ll probably keep coming back for more.

Overall (not an average): 6.5: The plot was poor, there was a minimum of new features and characters, and the graphics were not concurrent with this generation’s consoles. The voice acting was horrible and the control scheme was the same as it was 20 years ago. For a 20th anniversary installment, this falls on its face faster than Zangief while performing his power bomb. It’s just the same Street Fighter with a new number on the front and for me, that’s not enough.

The next aspect of the 20th anniversary was the national tournament that began on February 21st, 2009, and will continue on until the middle of April.

The national tournament was put together with help from Microsoft and GameStop to provide locations and systems for the tournament and the first round was to be held on the first Saturday after the release of the game, which was February 21st, 2009 at 2PM EST. 2,419 GameStops around the nation would host 64 participants in each location with the top two from each advancing. This totaled 154,816 people competing at the same time nationwide for only 4,838 2nd round spots at another 288 locations, again with the top two advancing leaving only 576 sports for the 3rd round. From these remaining 576 spots, the top 16 players would be taken to San Francisco to compete in the final tournament for a $15,000 Street Fighter IV arcade style unit. Also, all 16 finalists would be given automatic bids into the semi-finals of the Evolution 2009 fighting game tournament in Las Vegas, Nevada, in July.

The rules were simple. Do not interfere with your opponents during gameplay. First to 3 wins would advance. The loser is eliminated. One must be at least 18 years of age to compete or over 13 and accompanied by a parent.

We put together a nice little video here showcasing some of the footage of me competing. Due to legal issues, we could not show any footage from inside the GameStop, only of the game itself.

Street Fighter IV National Tournament – Round 1 w/ Ray Carsillo
Video by Jared Bodden

The stakes were high, but I would advance to the final four of the 1st round with E. Honda before I lost to one guy playing as Balrog. I was one win away from advancing to the next round. It was my best showing in a tournament since my early days in college when I was a Madden and Super Smash Bros. Melee freak.

I had a major gripe with the tournament, though. It seemed fixed. Several of the participants did not show. Not an uncommon situation in a tournament of this size. The problem was that the managers at the GameStop failed to re-bracket the people who did show up.

Now, in situations like this, a re-bracket is expected in order to try to prevent unfair advantages as much as possible. At this particular GameStop, no re-bracketing was issued, which allowed the person who ended up winning the tournament, and defeating me as Balrog in the Final Four, not one, but two rounds worth of byes. On top of this, the participant in question was not requested to leave the room and therefore was allowed to watch all other participants compete and watch their patterns. It gave him a clear, unfair advantage over the rest of the field.

When questioned on this, the manager on duty, whose name I will not reveal to protect him, responded that the participant in question was very good to begin with since he had won a Super Smash Bros. Brawl tournament the previous year at that location, insinuating that the managers had stacked the odds in his favor because of his success in a previous tournament for a completely different game.

Since then, the 16 national finalists for the title have been chosen and are preparing for the final tournament to be held in less than two weeks from the posting of this article. It felt great to compete again for the first time in a long time. I just wish I didn’t feel that the tournament was tainted by outside sources and it makes me question the credibility of tournaments that are held by the GameStop Corporation. The reason why this article was not posted sooner was because I had to struggle with myself on whether to include this part or not. I finally came to the decision, as the Finals approach, that it is necessary to help serve as a warning for other competitive gamers in the future to know what standard tournament procedure is and to be not be fooled when told otherwise unless shown in writing by an official tournament representative.

The final aspect of the 20th anniversary was the movie Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li starring Kristen Kruek as Chun-Li, Michael Clarke Duncan as Balrog, and Neal McDonough as Bison.

Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li is a prequel to the entire Street Fighter series, taking place months before the original tournament. It gives you an interesting take on the origins of some the staples of the franchise like Bison, Vega, Balrog, Gen, and, of course, Chun-Li.

I had a chance to catch up with Kristen Kruek back in December at the SpikeTV Video Game Awards and talk to her some about the movie. I think she was scared of me.

Ray Carsillo w/ Kristen Kruek
Video by Jared Bodden

Kristen was really sweet, but I was afraid I was going to break her hand when I shook it after the interview. The girl needs to have a cheeseburger.

The basic premise of the movie is that Chun-Li is a girl born in America and that moves to Asia at a young age when her father, a hugely successful businessman, is transferred. Here, he gets involved with an unsavory character (Bison) who steals Chun-Li’s father away one night for his own diabolical purposes. Chun-Li then begins training for revenge on Bison and to find out her father’s fate.

Anyway, I have to say, even if you are a die-hard fan of the franchise, you will hate this movie. This is the most abominable thing I have ever seen on screen (and I saw Elektra with Jennifer Garner). Clearly the people at Capcom know nothing about modern cinema. I think their entire special effects budget went into Chun-Li and Gen’s fireballs and everything else had to be scraped together at the last minute. From seeing the clear seam of Bison’s pregnant wife when they show her abdomen, to the cheesy and clearly fake explosions that were added in post-production, to the overly grainy text of the entire film, this movie was beyond low-budget.

Add in that they found Chris Klein probably drinking himself into a stupor in some alley somewhere and threw him on screen and I threw up in my mouth, just a little. He played Charlie Nash, the rough-around-the-edges-but-still-a-great-cop character that was chasing Bison around the world. He read his lines like William Shatner in those Priceline.com commercials. Chris Klein has no purpose being in any kind of film. Ever.

The only positives were that Kristen Kruek and Moon Bloodstone, who played Nash’s partner Det. Maya Sunee, looked amazingly hot in the movie. That’s it. Michael Clarke Duncan’s amazing skills were wasted on three lines and a crappy fight scene with Gen. Neal McDonough was solid, as was Kruek, but the script was just so awful that there was nothing they could do to save it. If you’re smart, you’ll continue to avoid it as it probably only has a week or two left in theatres.

Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li
gets 0.5 out of 5.

So, the game was okay, the movie was awful, and the tournament was fixed. Maybe Capcom should have taken all that money they put into the movie and put it into making a better game and finding a better host for their tournament. I really hope that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Ghostbusters franchises work a little harder on their anniversary galas! (TMNT celebrates 25 years in April; Ghostbusters celebrates 25 years in June)

-Ray Carsillo