How can you have a new Street Fighter game and not include Zack Morris…?

Street Fighter III: New Generation (1997)

Picture the scene: you’re a young lad on summer holidays from school and, glory be, you’ve got the house to yourself for once. That brings with it the big sitting room telly, quite a powerful thing to have bestowed unto you. You’re straight onto Nickelodeon – because when you’re blessed with a glorious afternoon like this, the best thing to do is to waste it. But all good things come to a screeching halt eventually, don’t they? You’re going through Nickelodeon, Disney, Cartoon Network, even old Boomerang, but the very best on TV is – yep, you guessed it – Saved by the Bell: The New Class.

Oh gasp, oh shudder. How did they even let that one happen? I know they had a great thing going in the original Saved by the Bell series. But come on, even that one got its share of milking – you had the College Years, which I thought was alright actually, except for Zack’s hair. Then you had the Wedding in Vegas, which was the true end of the series, sometime between OJ Simpson not committing those murders, and Elizabeth Berkely’s career getting murdered by Showgirls. How lucky are some people? I’d kill to get murdered by showgirls.

Anyway, that was the iconic SBTB gang, perhaps too iconic – such that many of them failed to get much of a career going after they left Bayside. It’ll never happen for poor old Dustin Diamond anyway, God rest him, but what a legacy he had – 200-odd episodes as Screech across all incarnations of Saved by the Bell, and a porn video that turned out to be a stunt mickey. Along with Mr. Belding, Screech was the only one to continue onto the New Class, this time as Principal Belding’s assistant, who spends most of the day running around haplessly, his brain having been thoroughly zonked, though not as zonked as yours will be watching just 5 minutes of this tripe.

Maybe I’ve got that wrong, though. Maybe he’s not Belding’s assistant? Perhaps Screech was actually enough of an idiot to get held back in class for several years. It would explain his perennially diminishing intelligence, and why he never seems to go away. A pretty terrible fate to befall anyone, though, getting trapped in school forever – I remember on my first day of 3rd class, where you’re aged about 9 or 10, and one of the other boys kept talking and messing about. Pretty standard stuff, you’d have thought.

Well, guess what, the teacher threw him out, told him to get down the corridor to a teacher of 2nd class students (1st class troublemakers) – and that was that, we ever saw him again. He repeated 2nd class, or at least that’s what it looked like to me. They say teachers are powerless these days, well what about this, I had a teacher who erased a year of her student’s life just like that.

Getting held back a year is one thing, but repeating the same class six times is quite another. I didn’t think we were ever gonna move past Street Fighter 2 you know, with all of its iterations. I started feeling a bit like Screech by the time we got to Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo. Who on earth was buying all these, or playing them at the arcades? Yes, yes, the Japanese, fine. But we fighting game buffs were wondering, where oh where is Street Fighter III? And what the hell is Alpha, or Zero, or EX, or Puzzle Fighter??

Just kidding of course, you know I’m no kind of fighting game fan. My button bashing tendencies have seen me banned from many arcades, except those with a heavy Tekken leaning, where I dominate. Hence when Street Fighter III eventually did make it to the arcades and consoles like the Dreamcast, I knew nowt about it. Most of us casuals had simply tuned out of the series by then.

This meant that the two (only two? Really?) updated rereleases of Street Fighter III completely passed me by as well. God, but what kind of a gamer am I? The strange part is, and going back to the games years later, New Generation and 2nd Impact to me play, look and sound much better than 3rd Strike. But 3rd Strike will of course have the most characters, and this is where Capcom shot themselves in the foot.

You see, the first two instances of Street Fighter III, just like Saved by the Bell: The New Class, do away almost entirely with the classic roster we’d known and loved since the early Street Fighter 2 days, in favour of an entirely new set of clowns. And I would say that many of them are forgettable, except there aren’t even many in the first place to forget, just 10 in the first release of Street Fighter III. Not much of a selling point really, is it? A new instalment in your fighting series without your old favourites and less characters overall than before.

I guess you could say the old Street Fighter II gang were like those students who get held back for five years – they’d have to go eventually, even if they were great assets to have on your school football team. And who would want to say goodbye to the likes of sexy Kelly Kapowski? Maybe the characters had become overused, but the option to use them would have been nice. I suppose this idea was kiboshed from the very start, given how much extra spritework Zangief’s would have required.

That does at least neatly bring me on to one of the most positive aspects of Street Fighter III by far, which is its beautiful spritework. Crazy how far sprite animation came in just a few years, but looking at Ryu Morris or Ken Slater’s gis billowing in the wind never gets old, and men of culture will have many, many sprites of Chun Li to place under close examination. Outside of battle however, I’m not too big a fan of the increasingly anime styled fighter portraits, although that’s irrelevant.

The fighting game casuals really are starting to get intellectually pushed out though. I’m not saying you have to be some kind of parrying, teching monster to win a match, but you might recall that famous EVO 2004 tournament moment where a poor unfortunate contender had his mind opened, read and dunked on.

But this is no longer pick-up-and-play, oh no. Even after you’ve selected a character, you’re asked to pick special move variations, and you’ve got meters to fill and really you’re just nodding your head at this stage, going along with it, patiently waiting before you can start spamming the buttons.

It’s all gotten a bit too complicated for us button mashers, us OGs. Bring it back to basics please, the old school, the school that Zack Morris used to run with a velvet fist. Let the dedicated have their new and updated show if they want it, with its fancy graphics and cool sound. But I know which one I’ll always go back to, Screech or no Screech.

29 November 2022

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