It's hard to think of a video game that gripped the world in quite the same way as Capcom's Street Fighter II.
Sure, there are titles which have sold more copies since then, but this one-on-one fighter seemed to capture the attention of the entire globe at one point, not only ensnaring players with its deep gameplay and colourful characters but also spawning albums, movies, TV shows and comics – all in a relatively short period of time. It can also be credited with giving the ailing arcade industry a much-needed shot in the arm, just as home console technology was catching up in terms of raw power. It then became the kind of game that could make or break home systems, with Nintendo gaining a brief advantage over rival Sega thanks to the SNES getting the first domestic port.
The history of Street Fighter is hardly shrouded in mystery, but few books tell its story as well as Matt Leone's Like A Hurricane: An Unofficial Oral History of Street Fighter II. Between 2014 and 2021, Leone embarked on a quest to interview as many of the key creatives involved with the series as possible, and these formed the backbone of his excellent 'oral history' series on Polygon. He then worked at compiling and expanding this series in physical form, working alongside boutique publisher Read-Only Memory. Now, the book is being taken to wider retail by Thames & Hudson – hence it falling onto our desk here at Time Extension.
Like ROM's superb GamesMaster history, this book is identical to the original, save for a different cover design. Inside, Leone speaks to more than 60 individuals about not only Street Fighter, but also some of Capcom's other related hits from this period – such as Darkstalkers and the Marvel crossover titles, like X-Men: Children of Atom and X-Men vs Street Fighter.
While certain staffers chose not to participate in Leone's interviews – including Capcom founder Kenzo Tsujimoto – it's remarkable just how many people he was able to nail down and speak to. These include Takashi Nishiyama and Hiroshi Matsumoto, who created the original Street Fighter back in 1987. Nishiyama's story is an interesting one, as he would leave Capcom with Matsumoto after the first game was released and join the company's Osaka rival SNK to create Fatal Fury, the game Nishiyama claims would have been 'his' Street Fighter II, had he remained at Capcom. Fatal Fury gets its own chapter in the book, such is the level of depth Leone goes into.
The design and conceptualisation of some of the key entries in the series is detailed within the book's pages, with interviews shining a light not only on the working practices of Capcom's Japanese and American offices, but also on the fascinating dynamics that existed between the firm's global departments. Interviews with Capcom's US coin-op division show that, even on a 2 percent commission, members of its sales team were often taking home more cash than their boss was, such was the astonishing success of Street Fighter II in North American amusement arcades. Elsewhere, Capcom's scuffle with Data East over its 'copycat' title Fighter's History also gets some coverage, as does the rise of pirate arcade boards, which would contribute to the creation of Street Fighter II's 'Champion Edition'.
The history of the entire mainline series is covered here in intense detail, shifting from Street Fighter II's iterative sequels to Darkstalkers, then the X-Men games, before looking at Street Fighter Alpha, Street Fighter EX, Street Fighter: The Movie, Street Fighter III and even Capcom Vs. SNK – the latter being an attempt by the two fierce rivals to bury the hatchet and reward both sets of fans with a truly special game. Leone wisely allows his interview subjects to do the majority of the talking, but has the skill to step in at certain points to clarify comments and set the scene; each chapter is introduced by Leone's description of what was happening at the time in the market, as well as what was taking place within the walls of Capcom.
If there's one criticism you could level at Like A Hurricane, it's the complete absence of any visual imagery outside of some bespoke portraits of the key interviewees right at the end. This is understandable when you consider the unofficial nature of the book; getting clearance from Capcom for the use of Street Fighter art would have been near-impossible, especially given the 'warts and all' recollections delivered by its former staff members. And anyway, the book is so packed with wonderful detail that images aren't really needed to set the scene; there are more than enough candid comments and amusing anecdotes to make up for the lack of artwork and screenshots.
It's highly unlikely we'll ever experience a game of Street Fighter II's magnitude again, thanks largely to the fact that the world of gaming is massively different today; arcades are no longer the vanguard of game development, and that vital social element has been lost as competitive play has moved online, where opponents can talk trash without fear of physical repercussion (perhaps that's a good thing, but we're not so sure). Capcom has changed, too; it's no longer a firm which chooses to rely on coin-op smash hits to generate billions in revenue and has transformed into a company which has much bigger properties on home hardware – Resident Evil and Monster Hunter being the two most notable examples.
The fact that things have changed so dramatically is what makes a book like this so valuable; Leone has done fans a massive service by capturing the memories of those who were vital to Street Fighter's creation and success, and has preserved them for future generations to enjoy (Street Fighter II cover artist Mick McGinty, interviewed here, sadly passed away in 2021).
Like A Hurricane is a treasure trove for any self-respecting Street Fighter fan, and comes highly recommended.
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