Which Street Fighter Should I Start With?

Feeling inspired by EVO 2014 and want to get into Street Fighter? Here’s guide to ease you into the pond.

Guide by Mike Williams, .

After watching some of the great matches at EVO 2014, you may have been struck with the desire to jump in and play some Street Fighter yourself. That said, the series has a 27 year history with nearly 30 games bearing the Street Fighter name on the cover and a number of other related titles beyond that. There's a lot to take in for the neophyte, so this guide aims to help you figure what Street Fighter is, where to start, and what all those different titles mean.

What is the Core of Street Fighter?

Most of the different series in the Street Fighter franchise have their own look, playstyle, and extra features. There's the animated prequel series Street Fighter Alpha, the blocky 3D of Street Fighter EX, the crazy combos of the Versus games, or even the pro-level Street Fighter III series. They're all very different games, but they all share the same core.

The basic controls of Street Fighter include a single joystick or directional pad and six attack buttons. The joystick/D-pad handles your movement. Moving the joystick or D-Pad left or right will move your character in that direction. Moving it down crouches, while moving it upward will cause your character to jump. Combining left/right and up/down can also cause you to jump forward or backward.

The attack buttons are laid out in a 3x2 formation, with punches comprising the top row and kicks comprising the bottom row. Moving from left to right, the punches and kicks increase in power: Light, Medium, and Heavy. This terminology actually differs from series-to-series: At one point the punch row went from Jab, to Strong, to Fierce, while the Kick row was Short, Forward, and Roundhouse. If you hear those terms from players, you can be sure they've played the older Street Fighter games.

Even at this basic level, there's strategy in Street Fighter. Light Attacks move faster than their counterparts, but they do less damage or have less range. Heavy Attacks do the most damage and have the longest range, but if you miss your opponent, you leave yourself open for a counter-attack. Medium Attacks split the difference between Light and Heavy, being neither the strongest or fastest attacks in your arsenal.

Street Fighter assumes relational directions for things like blocking and performing special moves, meaning moves are dependent on your physical relation to your opponent. Holding Back (away from your opponent) or Down-Back (down and away) when your opponent attacks causes you to block. Special moves are also based on relational directions and required using a joystick combination in tandem with an attack button. Ryu's Fireball, a classic Street Fighter move, is performed by starting in Down and then rolling the joystick into the Forward position, then hitting any punch. The strength of the button used (Light, Medium, Heavy, remember?) determines the strength of the Special Move.

That may sound like a great deal to learn, but everything I just related to you above you'll probably figure out within the first 15 minutes of playing the game. That's the entire Street Fighter experience, many words for stuff you'll figure out while you're playing the game. Each Street Fighter game is based on the core gameplay above, with different tweaks and features that make the games unique.

Which Game Do I Start With?

Honestly, you'll be perfectly fine starting off with the latest release, Ultra Street Fighter IV. While Ultra is a new release, it simply builds upon the foundation laid out by the original Street Fighter IV and its successors. As a new player, there's very little reason to go back to an earlier iteration in a series; it's like looking at a completed four-story building and saying, "I only want the first and second floors." Doesn't make much sense. You can find Ultra Street Fighter IV on Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 right now, with the Steam version coming on August 8, 2014.

If you don't want to jump directly into the latest and greatest there's two great options. The first is Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix, a remastered version of the original Street Fighter II's last outing. You can get it for $9.99 on the PlayStation Store or $14.99 on Xbox Live Marketplace.

Alternatively, PlayStation owners can pick up the PSOne Classic version of Street Fighter Alpha 3 for their PlayStation 3, PlayStation Portable, or PlayStation Vita. It's only $5.99 and stands as a rather feature complete Street Fighter experience for new players. Some may mention Street Fighter III: Third Strike Online Edition as a possible jumping on point, but the entire SFIII series is built more for veteran players.

No matter which game you start with, I would not recommend online play in the beginning. Many of the players online have been playing Street Fighter for years and they hand out brutal punishments that may discourage you as a new player. Play the Arcade and Training Modes of each title for a good while before you commit to online play.

Do I Need an Arcade Stick?

Short answer: No. Long answer: Not really. You'll notice that a number of players at EVO 2014 had their own expensive arcade sticks, but many of those players also spend time in actual arcades. This year's EVO 2014 champion in Ultra Street Fighter IV won using an original PlayStation DualShock controller. You can play on whatever you feel comfortable with and since you're just starting out, there's no need to spend the money on a stick.

And don't buy a cheap stick. They break easily. It's not worth it. If you absolutely want arcade stick, start on this thread in the Shoryuken forums.

What's the Difference Between All Those Games?

Street Fighter II Series

This is the original set of games that kicked off the entire Street Fighter phenomenon (the first Street Fighter is a curiosity at best). Most of what's considered "Street Fighter" was started here: the one-on-one fights, the lack of a block button, joystiq/button combination special moves, and even Super Combo moves in the later versions.

Games in the Series:

  • Street Fighter II: The World Warrior
  • Street Fighter II: Champion Edition
  • Street Fighter II Turbo: Hyper Fighting
  • Super Street Fighter II: The New Challengers
  • Super Street Fighter II Turbo

Street Fighter Alpha Series

Alpha was a prequel to the original Street Fighter II series, with a new look patterned off of Capcom's other fighting games at the time, Darkstalkers and X-Men: Children of the Atom. Unlike the original, the new character designs are inspired by Japanese animation and the roster ends up being pretty big with more than 30 characters. Super Combos from Street Fighter II were expanded with a larger, three-level Super Combo meter. Chain combos made it easier for new players to perform basic combos and the Alpha Counter system added some defensive options. Probably one of the easier SF series to get into.

Games in the Series:

  • Street Fighter Alpha: Warrior's Dreams
  • Street Fighter Alpha 2
  • Street Fighter Alpha 3

Street Fighter III Series

The last hurrah of detailed hand-drawn animation at Capcom, Street Fighter III takes place after SFII and introduces a host of new characters beside Ryu, Ken, and Chun-Li. The reason why Street Fighter III is considered a game for veterans is the Parry system, which allows players to completely negate attacks by tapping toward their opponent at the right time. In the hands of an expert, Parrying can lead to completely one-sided matches.

Games in the Series:

  • Street Fighter III: New Generation
  • Street Fighter III: 2nd Impact
  • Street Fighter III: Third Strike

Street Fighter IV Series

This is the currently-running Street Fighter series. The characters are rendered in 3D, but the gameplay is still from a 2D perspective. Super Combos and the Super Meter still exist in SFIV, pulled from previous series. Instead of Parrying, SFIV has the Focus System, which allows players to negate certain attacks for a bit of their Super Meter. There's also the Ultra Combo system, which has a meter that builds up as you take damage. Once it's full, you can unleash an extra strong Ultra Combo, which theoretically should even the odds.

Games in the Series:

  • Street Fighter IV
  • Super Street Fighter IV
  • Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition
  • Ultra Street Fighter IV

What About the Spin-Offs?

Street Fighter EX Series

Capcom foray into the world of fully 3D fighting games, this series is actually developed by a separate studio, Arika. In addition to classic Street Fighter staples, Arika created its own wholly-owned characters for the series, including Skullomania and Allen Snider. A bit slower-paced than other series, by EX3 the series had added a tag-team mode to the game.

Games in the Series:

  • Street Fighter EX
  • Street Fighter EX2
  • Street Fighter EX3

Cross Series

Capcom has done a number of cross-license games, pitting the Street Fighter characters against characters from another series or publisher. The Versus games in particular launched their own separate Marvel vs. Capcom series. All of these various games are different, while sharing some of the Street Fighter DNA.

Games in the Category:

  • X-Men vs. Street Fighter
  • Marvel Super Heroes vs. Street Fighter
  • Street Fighter X Tekken

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Comments 11

  • Avatar for SigurdVolsung #1 SigurdVolsung 3 years ago
    Good article. I love fighting games and it's nice to see more coverage of them. I'm about as OG as it gets with Karate Champ and Fighting Street before I even bowed down to the glory that was the original Street Fighter II: World Warriors arcade cabinet. If people are looking to go even further down the rabbit hole, feel free to check out some very complex 2D fighters to see where the games went after Third Strike. Check out some Guilty Gear XX+R or Melty Blood, or even the insanity that was the most recent Jojo's BA. Of course, that Blaze Blue top 8 of this Evo would be a good example of that as well.

    Oh, and btw, I love my MadCatz TE stick. Normally $150 but I got it on sale. It would have been worth the price even without the sale. They are of surprisingly high quality.Edited July 2014 by SigurdVolsung
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  • Avatar for Stealth20k #2 Stealth20k 3 years ago
    I am an old man who got into it via arcades in the early 90's and spent way too much money trying to prove myself against other arcade goers.
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  • Avatar for CK20XX #3 CK20XX 3 years ago
    This is well-intentioned, but the dexterity requirements of most fighting games are probably what keep a lot of new players out. Their control schemes don't seem too dissimilar from learning a real martial art, actually, which is a huge problem because no game should demand that much attention and practice for you to get anywhere unless you're a paid athlete. I myself can't go much farther than the original Street Fighter 2. It's a nice, slow game, lacking the frenzy that modern fighters revel in. Any further than that and I flub even the basic fireball input most of the time due to the heat of battle.

    I think fighting games need to go in the opposite direction, really. We don't need guides for new players; we need more Divekicks and Super Smash Bros. instead of more Street Fighters and BlazBlues. We need games where the controls are kept simple, enabling fresh green players to jump right in without difficulty and start learning the metagame instead of being stuck in monotonous tutorial levels for who knows how long. If Ryu's B move was a fireball and his Up + B was a Shoryuken, you'd pull in a lot more new blood for sure.
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  • Avatar for adamrasmussen39 #4 adamrasmussen39 3 years ago
    Just a quick note on Street Fighter Alpha 3, there's an enhanced version for PSP/Vita called Street Fighter Alpha 3 Max for $9.99
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  • Avatar for CK20XX #5 CK20XX 3 years ago
    @ZenRain I actually kinda agree with you. The rub though is that, based on my own research and experience, the way you describe things is how they're supposed to work in theory, while in reality most people who are on the outside looking in never get far enough to appreciate those mechanics in the first place, so they ultimately end up as a hindrance. Maybe it's a situation where a sacrifice must be made, where you have to give up some of that balance for the sake of bringing in new players, or maybe you could balance it out in other ways that aren't dependent upon the moves' inputs.

    Or there may yet be other ways. Extra Credits has a lot of constructive thoughts on the subject, as usual.
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  • Avatar for touchofkiel #6 touchofkiel 3 years ago
    Whichever game you choose to start with, I think it's most important to try out lots of different characters and moveset styles. (I'm a totally casual SF player, by the way). Most SF characters fall under three different styles of moves: traditional quarter-circle moves, up-down or back-forward charging moves, and more complex grappling moves. Some of them have projectiles, some of them have gap-closing moves. Some are fast, some slow, etc.

    It's really just a matter of giving a handful of different characters a good shake, and seeing what comes most natural to you.
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  • Avatar for Corran123 #7 Corran123 3 years ago
    David Sirlin made some great tutorial videos for beginners.
    He covers a lot of basic and advanced stuff that also apply to other 2D fighters.Edited July 2014 by Corran123
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  • Avatar for VotesForCows #8 VotesForCows 3 years ago
    I can empathise on the low-skill side of things - I can only really use the shotokan characters reliably, and haven't the tactical nous to use charge characters (never mind those with more complex input requirements).
    But anyway, purely by sticking to shotokan characters over the last 20 years I've enjoyed every iteration of Street Fighter, and been able to marvel at the skills of people who are really good at it.
    There are plenty of easy games out there. We should cherish and applaud games that have the courage to provide genuine challenge, because that's the only place you'll see competition truly flourish.
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  • Avatar for SigurdVolsung #9 SigurdVolsung 3 years ago
    While I'll never really be able to empathize with those that lack the skill or reflexes necessary to play fighting games, there are some games that take that into account and still provide a fun experience. So I'm glad that there are the really technical ones and then there are also some that are just fun for different reasons. If you just want to have relatively simple fun you can go even easier than Street Fighter and go with the Naruto or DragonBall Z games. Also I would consider going with Tekken or Soul Calibur. Some may disagree, but I consider them much less technical. Their frame links and reaction frames are much more forgiving. And while they do definitely have large potential move lists, most of that list is very much optional to just having fun with the game against friends or the PC. Also most of those moves are just input variations at the button level, not so much of the precise controller movement combined with button combinations.
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  • Avatar for Corran123 #10 Corran123 3 years ago
    Tekken Tag 2 is one of the most technical modern fighting games out there and is very difficult to learn. Frame data knowledge is essential to whiff punish or your moves will get stuffed for days by your opponent. Then there's stuff like wave dashing, parries, different stances and a complex okizeme. Tekken is also very execution heavy, especially the movement.
    I think SF4 is perfectly fine for beginners. Sure, the ingame tutorial is basically non-existent but there are enough resources online to learn from and the timing for basic combos is pretty lenient.
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  • Avatar for cldmstrsn #11 cldmstrsn 3 years ago
    Alpha Series is probably my favorite along with Gem fighter.
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