The final character for Ultra Street Fighter 4 was unveiled recently and people are not happy with the results. After the lengthy amount of mystery and hype that Capcom built around a new character, people were expecting more than just Cammy in a mask. What you may not realize is that the Street Fighter series has always been bad with creating original character designs. Many of its fighters have taken heavy inspiration from celebrities and pop culture characters, and this week’s 5+ is dedicated to the most blatant copycats that the series has to offer. By the end of this article, Street Fighter’s roster will look less like a colorful array of vibrant warriors and more like an amateur DeviantArt page.
It’s common for fighting games to take inspiration for characters from real martial artists and Street Fighter has these celebrity homages in spades. The most famous one is easily Fei Long (pictured upper-left), who set the standard for the “Bruce Lee Wannabe” archetype that virtually every fighting game has included in it’s roster. I half-suspect to see Thomas from Kung Fu to appear in the next Super Smash Bros game just to give Nintendo it’s own take on the Bruceplotation genre (which, tragically, is a real thing). Aside from that, there is also Balrog (pictured upper-right), who is takes such heavy inspiration from Mike Tyson that he is actually called Mike Bison in the Japanese versions of the games. Alex (pictured bottom-left) and Hugo (pictured bottom-right) are based on wrestling legends Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant and even reenact the famous shove-off when they face off. Actually, Hugo got his start as a character in the spinoff series, Final Fight, where he bared a closer resemblance to Andre and was even called Andore. There are plenty more examples, but these are the ones that match their celebrity roots the most.
The character-designers for the Street Fighter series must be big fans of the long-running manga series Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, because several fighters bare uncanny resemblances to characters from JBA. Rose is very similar to the season 2 JBA character Lisa Lisa and Juri has the same fashion sense as season 6 protagonist Jolyne Kujo. However, the one that really takes the cake is the all-American Guile (pictured right). Anyone who sees Guile immediately wonders where the folks at Capcom got the idea for that insane haircut. The answer: They lifted it off of a vampire-slaying cyborg nazi. It’s not called a bizarre adventure for nothing, folks. Stroheim (pictured left), a major character from season 2 of JBA, not only sported the ridiculous blond flattop three years before Street Fighter 2 hit arcades, but he also has a similar facial structure and physical build to Guile. Just strip off the cybernetics, switch the S.S. uniform for army camo, and slap an American flag tattoo on his arm and you have an instant gaming icon. Admittedly, Guile is a fairly distant departure from Stroheim’s design, but we’re just getting started on this ride. Buckle up, folks, because we’re about to go a lot deeper.
A minor villain with a heavy military training, wears a bright red beret and has facial scars, and wields a baton and grenades. Am I describing Final Fight boss and Street Fighter contender Rolento (pictured right) or Fist of the North Star antagonist The Colonel (pictured left)? Fist of the North Star, also known as “The Franchise that Defined Hyper-Violent Anime”, is another series that the Street Fighter designers must be big fans of. Rolento’s design is so close to The Colonel that I always image Rolento with an eye-patch despite the fact that he has never actually been depicted with one. Try to tell me that it wouldn’t fit him perfectly.
Yes, even the main villain of the Street Fighter series, Master Bison (originally called Vega, but was involved in a game of musical names because of the Mike Tyson bit stated earlier), is not exactly dripping with originality. His design and abilities were directly based on Yasunori Kato, a popular Japanese folk character that first appeared in Hiroshi Aramata’s fantasy series Teito Mongatari, specifically his portrayal in the 1988 film adaptation. Kato is often referred to as the Demon Man and possesses supernatural powers such as teleportation and bodily possession. M. Bison’s Psycho Power is… Pretty much the exact same thing. Honestly, the only thing that sets the two apart is that M. Bison spends a lot more time at the gym (compensating, maybe?).
Russian wrestler Zangief (pictured right) is easily one of the most recognizable faces of the Street Fighter series, even receiving a good deal of screentime in Disney’s Wreck-It Ralph. It’s an impressive feat to gain so much fame when you consider that he is basically just a recolor. We once again turn to Fist of the North Star with the one-off villain Gouda (pictured left), whose design dates back to the original 1983 one-shot manga, and the folks at Capcom weren’t even trying to hide their copy-paste work this time. Even Zangief’s favorite hobby, bear wrestling, was taken directly from Gouda, whose fighting style is called “Bear Claw Bisection Fist”. All they did was lighten up his skin tone and add some splashes of red to his outfit and that was apparently enough to get past Japanese copyright laws.
So… I’m not sure what the point of this 5+ was. Maybe it’s that even rampant plagiarism can lead to massive success? Naw, that’s a terrible moral. Maybe it’s that we should be less worried about Street Fighter ripping off its own characters considering everyone else that they’ve copied from already? No, that only makes it worse. How about Street Fighter is and has always been just plain lazy when it comes to character design? Yeah, that sounds about right. Suddenly, all of those blatent Street Fighter 2 clones that popped up in the 90’s don’t seem so shocking when you consider everything that the “original” article got away with. If you’ve got any more Street Fighter characters that deserve to be called out, leave a comment below and you may see it featured on a follow-up article next week. Otherwise, I promise to finally get around to some more of those topics I promised a while back.