Entertainment

Is nostalgia enough to make Ultra Street Fighter 2 a success?

Ultra Street Fighter 2 brings back one of the most popular games of all time on Nintendo's Switch. But does this remastered version justify its $50 asking price?

Arcade classic Street Fighter 2 recently inducted into Video Game Hall of Fame

Capcom's classic fighting game returns in Ultra Street Fighter 2: The Final Challengers for the Nintendo Switch. (Capcom)

Street Fighter 2 is one of the most important titles in video game history.

Launched in 1992 by Japanese studio Capcom, Street Fighter 2: The World Warrior largely defined the fighting game genre and revitalized arcade gaming.

The Super Nintendo version from 1992 holds a special place in the game's history, winning multiple game of the year awards and selling 6.3 million copies. That made it Capcom's best-selling game for 17 years — a record that wasn't surpassed until 2009's Resident Evil 5.

Earlier this month, The Strong Museum of Play inducted it into the Video Game Hall of Fame.

Street Fighter 2 was inducted into the Video Game Hall of Fame in May. This photo shows the box art from the 1992 Super Nintendo version. (Bethany Mosher/The Strong)

It's this legacy that Nintendo and Capcom surely hope to harness with Ultra Street Fighter 2: The Final Challengers, out this week, a new version that adds a handful of characters and ways to play the 26-year-old classic.

But critics are divided on whether the additions are enough to justify the relatively steep $50 ($40 USD) price tag.

Nostalgia play

Nintendo's new title appears to zero in on both longtime and lapsed gamers as its target market. Promotional pages invite players to "reconnect" with their favourite characters. Trailers show shots of players in front of arcade cabinets.

Ultra Street Fighter 2, in other words, is for players who remember the good old days.

It's notably different from the company's strategy for Street Fighter 5, which debuted on the PlayStation 4 and PC in 2016. While that game has sold a respectable 1.5 million copies since it launched, it received harsh criticism for favouring hardcore and competitive players over casual gamers.

Ultra Street Fighter 2 adds Evil Ryu and Violent Ken to the roster, but they aren't significantly different from their non-evil counterparts. (Capcom)

"I see [Ultra Street Fighter 2] as a low-risk way of supporting Switch from the off," says James Batchelor, senior editor at GamesIndustry.biz. "The cost and investment of time that would have went into developing this for Switch would be minimal compared to either making a new Street Fighter or even downgrading Street Fighter 5 for the Switch."

The decision, he says, makes more sense knowing that Capcom green-lit the game's production at a time when the Switch's future was still uncertain.

Released in stores in March, however, Nintendo's hybrid handheld-and-home console appears to have paid off far better than its flop of a predecessor, the Wii U. In an April financial report, the company said it has sold 2.74 million consoles and 5.46 million games.

According to the Guardian, Nintendo's share price jumped 102 per cent year-on-year, putting it on track for its best showing in seven years.

The system's best-selling games, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, are the latest in two long-running series with fans of all ages.

Re-release of a re-release?

At its core, Ultra Street Fighter 2 is based on Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo, the final version of the game released in arcades in 1994.

It also includes the option to play with redone, high-resolution art — drawn by Udon, the company behind the Street Fighter comic books — from 2008's Street Fighter 2: HD Remix. (Purists can use the original pixel art, if they prefer.)

It's still a superlative fighting game — arguably one of the best, even 26 years later. Controls are responsive and every character offers something different. Time hasn't eroded the thrill of mashing buttons to enable Chun-Li's lightning kicks or pick an opponent and send them crashing to the ground with Zangief's spinning piledriver.

Street Fighter 2 is still one of the best fighting games ever made, but the steep $50 price point for the Switch version might give players pause. (Capcom)

But what makes this version "ultra?" Not quite enough, it turns out. The Switch release adds a few extra game modes and two "new" characters, but none of them add anything significant to the core experience.

The new characters, Evil Ryu and Violent Ken, are minor, angrier versions of the main characters. Most egregious is the Way of the Hado mini-game, where players use the JoyCon controllers to mimic throwing Ryu's fireballs, dragon punches and hurricane kicks to fight off enemies rendered in 3D visuals cobbled together from Street Fighter 4 and5.

The unresponsive controls have earned nothing but scorn from Eurogamer's Wesley Yin-Poole. "Way of the Hado made me question not only my faith in Street Fighter, but my faith in all that is good in video games," he wrote, somewhat melodramatically.

Batchelor doesn't see the lukewarm reviews as a major obstacle for Ultra Street Fighter 2's sales, however.

"I wouldn't be surprised if it actually does quite well, because there are now enough people with a Switch, and I think there's a sense that the people who bought a Switch are either lapsed Nintendo fans or die-hard gamers who will almost certainly have memories of Street Fighter," he said. "The prospect of playing Street Fighter anywhere you go with a friend — it's a sort of thing that appeals to people."

Still, the $50 price is uncharacteristically steep for a retro game. Collections of other Capcom games — Mega Man Legacy Collection and the Disney Afternoon Collection, for example — include multiple games for $20 to $30. 

And if you're obsessed with classic fighting games, the Switch has a number of games by Capcom competitor SNK. Titles such as King of Fighters '98 and Garou: Mark of the Wolves make a strong case for being as good as Street Fighter 2 — and they each cost only a tenner on the Switch's digital store.