If I like it this much, it must be perfect.
Back in the early to mid nineties when Capcom's revolutionary Street Fighter series spawned what seemed like hundreds of 2D "me-too" style clones from SNK (Fatal Fury, World Heroes, Samurai Showdown) to even Sega (Eternal Champions), I was blissfully uninvolved in the proceedings. While hordes of kids would crowd around the SFII cabinet, I would be content hacking away at foot soldiers or racing in my red Ferrari at the other end of the arcade. It wasn't until a version of Hyper Fighting appeared on the Genesis (dubbed "Special Champion Edition" to enable a loophole in the Capcom-Nintendo exclusivity deal) did I actually experience the game if nothing else to see what the fuss was about. Despite the Genesis' limited hardware capabilities, the experience I had with that little cartridge was enough to intrigue me to the point where I would actually start feeding quarters into a Street Fighter machine whenever I found one. After a little experimentation, I determined which of the many versions of the game was my favorite. And soon after that, I was shocked to realize that I was actually getting a lot of enjoyment out of a one on one fighting game.
Street Fighter II' Hyper Fighting was revolutionary (for me, as well as the rest of the world) because it effectively rendered all the SF games before it obsolete. After a few rounds of this game, going back to plain old Champion Edition felt like Ryu and Ken were stuck in syrup. Each match moved unbelievably quickly, those whom did not know what they were doing were staring at the "YOU LOSE" screen within 30 seconds. The games' fighting was pure and visceral, the rounds extremely intense. It was really one of the first truly open-ended games; given the plethora of combination moves available, no two fights were ever the same. Nothing was more satisfying than rattling off a custom combo to finish off an opponent that you truly never saw anyone else do. When you won a match, you really felt like you earned it through skill. If you lost, you cursed yourself for not ripping off one more fireball before going into your Hurricane Kick that was countered deftly by an E. Honda flying torpedo. Given the game's inherent difficulty, specific game endings for each character, and natural predilection towards multiplayer bouts, its value is inestimable. One could conceivably spend an entire day at the arcade standing in front of this one machine, yet the gamer never gets the impression that the game has been designed specifically to suck the quarters out of your pocket.
In terms of presentation, Street Fighter II' Hyper Fighting still impresses me today. Its graphics were rich and vibrant. The characters were well detailed and their sprites were huge for the time. Each fighter had his or her own personality that was plainly evident despite the lack of extensive voice work or anything more than still portraits between matches. The individual character backgrounds were colorful and all contained little nuggets of animation, though they were only truly noticeable when spectating and not in the heat of battle. Despite the hectic speed at which the sprites flew about the screen during a fight, flicker or slowdown was never, ever an issue. SFII:HF's MIDI-style music is so memorable, just hearing the opening theme song takes me right back to that old arcade. From Ryu's dramatic Japanese theme to Dhalsim's Eastern-infused rhythms, it all fits perfectly. No arcade would be complete without digitally sampled shouts of "Tiger uppercut!" "Shoryuken!" "Yoga fire" and all the other voice bits of SFII heard above the din.
To conclude, I still am not a fighting game fan. None of the "Super" Street Fighters nor "Alpha" permutations nor the swarm of 3D fighters which followed have come close to capturing me the way Street Fighter II' Hyper Fighting has. And in truth, it is not my favorite video game of all time. But in my opinion, if a game is so good that it transcends a genre as heavily "niched" as the one on one fighter and appeals so strongly to a gamer who never had before and may never again have any true interest in fighting games, it can only be described in one way. Perfect.