My first exposure to hacking seems fitting Street Fighter 2 Taxis would roll into the fairgrounds at my local park every summer. After all, the entire site is a legal gray area: rides adorned with airbrush depictions of Disney characters and action stars; rigged vaudeville shows for a lucky few to choose knockoff superhero plush figures; the origins of hamburger car “meat” .
As an aspiring teen, I would seek out the real star attraction in this sea of blatant copyright violations and questionable food hygiene standards: the arcade. If you’ve never had this fun, a playground arcade is usually a compact steel shack with claustrophobic low ceilings, about a billion cabochons, more coin-operated machines, fruit machines and The 2p cart machine is crammed into its modest bulk, not strictly necessary.
I would never have high hopes for its generic brand cab. If you’re lucky, you’ll find an Electrocoin Unigamer unit with the WWF Wrestlefest and two working buttons. If not, it’s a converted video poker machine with a display running BurgerTime.
One year – let’s call it 199X – I thought I’d hit gold.This is the era Street Fighter 2: Champion Edition, our dream of playing four bosses (Punchy, Slashy, Eyepatch McScar and Magic Commune) has finally come true. It’s here, in the back corner of Wilson’s Madness Casino*.
At least, that’s what I think.
From the moment I dropped my first 20p, something was clearly wrong. The Street Fighter logo color, which switches to the Champion Edition’s charming green-to-blue gradient, is instead a garish, seemingly damaged mess.
From there it gets even weirder. Within seconds of my first turn, my Ryu was in the air with homing Hadoukens, turbo-charged hurricane kicks, and dragon punches, covering the width of the arena. Meanwhile, my CPU opponents thought they’d had enough of being a Fireball E. Honda and turned into a Blanca in the middle of a fight. Actually, Dalsim. No, Ken. So Chun Li. The indecisive AI ended up on the malevolent Guile, and I was still stunned at what was going on, quickly overwhelmed by the endless torrent of sonic booms.
It all happened too quickly. It’s not so much “you get beaten up so fast” it’s “you got Benny Hill in my street fighter”. Just ridiculously fast.
“Well,” I pretended to remember thinking, “that’s bullshit.” Street Fighter 2 usually feels so refined, so balanced. It feels like every crazy idea of a five-year-old developer has been thrown out, balance be damned. Instead of spending my limited funds on it, I chose to watch several other unfortunate people suffer a similar fate. No one surpassed the first opponent.
Somehow, in an age when the internet wasn’t a thing, my more knowledgeable friends had heard about this piracy wind.Depends on who you ask Rainbow Edition or Black Belt Edition. I recommend fundamentally brokenbut was called down.
The content of this mystery game also varies. Shoryuken also releases multiple Hadoukens. Zangief can pile up in thin air, but still cause damage. Charge characters no longer need to charge, turning characters like Vega/Bison into permanent psychic shredders.
This time, none of this is a playground myth. They are all real. Over the next few months, I encountered several bizarre pirates that confirmed every crazy claim I heard. They are all as unplayable as they sound.
Street Fighter 2 Turbo: Super Fight, Capcom’s official follow-up to CE, is coming soon, with speed boosts and some familiar character movement tweaks. A mid-air hurricane is coming! Chun Li has a fireball! Blanca can scroll vertically! If you know the passphrase on the excellent SNES port, you can increase the speed to a level that even makes the Rainbow Edition feel like a pedestrian.
It feels like Capcom is panning for gold from this mess of fake byproducts. Years later, in Polygon’s excellent feature-length Street Fighter II: An Oral History, James Goddard, a former design consultant at Capcom USA and creator of Dee Jay, attests to this influence.
“I got a fax that said, ‘Look, we need to upgrade the ROM ourselves to compete with these guys. If balanced, we can kill them – it’s spectacular, but also balanced. We can absolutely kill these outlaws…”
It apparently worked. After the SFII Turbo, the rainbow versions of this world felt as if they disappeared almost as soon as they appeared. Two further official updates arrived in relatively quick succession, culminating in Super Street Fighter II Turbo, meeting various criteria to spark a fight with the debut Akuma, who was such an insane OP that he fit perfectly Rainbow crowd. (Even the nerfed playable version was permanently banned from the game.)
According to the International Arcade Museum, “Street Fighter II: Champion Edition (Rainbow)” is one of three SFII pirates created by the mysterious and apparently very short-lived hacker group Hung Hsi Enterprise TAIWAN. They are clearly not alone. Popular emulator FBNeo lists a staggering 67 bootleg variants in the Champion Edition alone, with exotic subtitles like Serpent, Magic Delta Turbo, and Alpha Magic-F.
I’d wager that these Taiwanese pirates weren’t trying to make a lasting mark on the competitive battle field, but were looking to make a quick buck from the most successful coin-operated game of the time. Even so, it’s hard not to draw a straight line from their wacky mods, through SFII Turbo, all the way to X-Men: Sons of Atom’s OTT action and beyond.
If this wave of creative fakes never existed, it’s fascinating to think about the path Street Fighter II — not to mention every fighter influenced by its subsequent turbo boost — might have gone. For now, whether Capcom admits it or not, these fascinating dysfunctional novelties will forever be a forming element of the series’ enduring legacy.
postscript: Just 28 years later, an anonymous Brazilian team released Street Fighter 2 Mix, arguably the most successful SF2 hack of all time. Unlike the old one, which is arguably an improvement on the original, it takes 30 years of genre innovations—think perfect guards, throwing escapes, backsliding, variable jumps—as well as redesigning each character and implementing new custom animation to match.
If you want to check out the Rainbow Edition or one of its many crafty counterparts, I recommend this well-crafted fan game instead.
*The name has been changed/fabricated to protect the author’s failed memory