2023 is shaping up to be an exemplary year for fighting games, with anticipated titles like Tekken 8, Mortal Kombat 12, and of course, Street Fighter 6. In fact, we can essentially thank Capcom for the modern onslaught of excellent releases, as Street Fighter IV kick-started the fighting game resurgence back in 2008. What was once a dying genre has returned stronger than ever before, with bigger professional competitions and a wider range of casual players.
Just a few decades ago, when arcades were still hot and home consoles were widely available, Street Fighter was king. It was easy to sink dozens of dollars in quarters as you beat up on your friends and rivals alike, pulling off combos and crazy finishing moves. As Street Fighter 6 welcomes a host of new fans to the series, we’re looking back at the history of this amazing series as we list off the best retro Street Fighter games. For this subjective list, we’re only considering games that were released over 20 years ago, so keep that in mind if you don’t see your favorite listed here. With that said, let’s check out the best retro Street Fighter games that hooked us in for endless rounds of fun.
The Best Retro Street Fighter Games, Ranked
5. Street Fighter II
As we pointed out previously, without Street Fighter II, fighting games would be a far less prevalent and enjoyable genre. When the original Street Fighter II landed in arcades circa 1991, it reinvigorated the industry, launching competitors like Mortal Kombat, Virtua Fighter, and more. Much can be said about Street Fighter II‘s influence and quality, but its reputation speaks for itself.
The game was so popular, multiple updated and enhanced versions were released throughout the 1990s (more on that later), offering extra characters, stages, and gameplay balancing. Either way, thanks to the impact it had on video games, the iconic roster, and incredibly rich gameplay, Street Fighter II deserves a spot on this list.
4. Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo
By most metrics, Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo is barely a Street Fighter game. Instead of beating up your opponent in 1-on-1 fights, you match different colored tiles, flexing your pattern recognition and speed. Released in 1996 for arcades and later remade for home consoles, Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo translates the Street Fighter brand into the puzzle game genre with surprising effect.
It features many beloved characters, like Ryu, Ken, and Chun-Li, each equipped with special “attacks” and represented in a chibi art style. At higher skill levels, Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo can be just as competitive as a match of “real” Street Fighter, leading to incredible puzzle battles. Sure, it might not be a fighting game, but Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo is definitely one of the best retro Street Fighter games of all time.
3. Street Fighter Alpha 3
Street Fighter Alpha 3 was released in 1998, relatively far into the lifespan of the franchise. Despite being the third game in a spin-off series, Street Fighter Alpha 3 is widely regarded as one of the best Street Fighter games of all time, with its beautiful visuals, interesting gameplay mechanics, and excellent roster. Like many other entries in the franchise, Street Fighter Alpha 3 was a hit in arcades and on home consoles, with extra characters cropping up in various ports.
One of the best parts about Street Fighter Alpha 3 is its roster of fighters, which includes all of the Alpha series staples, as well as several new and returning faces. New fighters include Karin, R. Mika, “doll” brawlers Juni and Juli, and more. Street Fighter Alpha 3 also introduces new fighting styles, dubbed “isms”, which grant each fighter a different subset of moves and abilities. Together with its cast and gameplay improvements, Street Fighter Alpha 3 is arguably the best in the sub-series, and it’s still a blast to play over 20 years after its release.
2. Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike
For those who are unfamiliar, Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike is an updated version of the original Street Fighter III, which adds a few new characters and some very important gameplay mechanics. More so than any other updated Street Fighter game, 3rd Strike arguably boasts the greatest improvement over the original version. In truth, Street Fighter III was met with ho-hum reception upon release, but once Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike debuted in 1999, the middling reputation was flipped on its head.
First and foremost, Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike simply looks fantastic, with wonderfully detailed stages, character sprites, and animation. It’s fast, it’s fancy, and above all else, it’s a complex game that rewards patience and skill. The roster is equally fantastic, with new characters like Makoto and returning favorites like Chun-Li, but it’s within the mechanics that 3rd Strike shines. The true star is the refined parry system, which can lead to some truly insane comebacks. Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike may not have wowed the community upon release, but in retrospect, it’s hard to deny that it’s one of the best retro Street Fighter games ever made.
1. Super Street Fighter II Turbo
Super Street Fighter II Turbo is not only the best retro Street Fighter game of all time, but it’s also a worthy contender for the best fighting game ever made, full stop. This was the fourth updated iteration of Street Fighter II, and was released in 1994, 3 years after the original game hit arcades. With its slew of innovations, refined roster, and unbelievably fun and addictive gameplay, Super Street Fighter II Turbo paved the way for every subsequent game in the series.
Super Street Fighter II Turbo represents Street Fighter II at its fastest and most mechanically rewarding pace, with an adjustable fighting speed, new super combos, and more. This game also included the first “secret” character in Street Fighter history, allowing players to control the enormously overpowered villain, Akuma. Thanks to its brisk pace and snappy controls, Super Street Fighter II Turbo perfectly blends the “pick up and play” nature of the series with its ultra-competitive side. It’s no mystery why the game is still a staple in modern fighting game circuits, as it remains incredibly balanced and fun to play nearly 30 years after release. While the original Street Fighter II opened the door for the fighting game genre, Super Street Fighter II Turbo established Capcom’s dominance and quality, cementing the series’ placement in arcades for decades to come.