Hello and welcome to Blanka Slate, a three-part series in which I pick up Street Fighter exactly where I left off decades ago – mashing buttons as Blanka and losing badly. But I am older, wiser and better at taking screenshots than all those years ago, so perhaps there is a chance for redemption. This is day two of my Street Fighter V journey, and I will be facing three more foes, including a character I neither know nor understand.
Here are the rules of Blanka Slate:
I can only play as Blanka.
I will fight three new opponents online each day, for three days.
I will tell you how bad I am.
Last time I was wrecked by Rashid and rattled by Ryu. But I blitzed Birdie, by using wholly honourable tactics i.e. becoming a living bug zapper while he was trapped in a corner. This time, my worst enemy is not a human player, but the global dissemination of numbers through wires at high or low speeds.
Fight 1 – Ryu
Another Ryu. Does he think I haven’t learned from my previous bout? I’ll show him what I can d-- Why is he teleporting around so much? Ouch. Hey! Ouch! We haven’t started yet!
It’s a lagfest. Ryu is blipping and bopping and blinking all over this nice Japanese peace garden. It’s obscene. But even through the lag I can see him stringing combos together competently. My groans and barks of exasperation do not go unheard. Without warning, my cat leaps on my desk and attacks my headphones with a ferocious bite, deducing that whatever problem that's vexing me must be coming from in there. I could learn a lot from her wild nature.
Fight 2 – Akuma
Ah, yes, I know this boyo. He is a guest character in Tekken 7, where his fireballs, jumps and sliding kicks give him abilities that my angry Miguel does not have. You might think this familiarity would lend me some confidence. But the robotic voice of Street Fighter V’s announcer takes this opportuinity to remind me that I have won only a third of all my online bouts. Thanks, robot.
The fight starts, the lagstorm cometh. The previous match with Ryu was a pathetic squall of latency compared to this. Squinting and grimacing through the viscous lag, I can almost make out his level of ability. A brief window of clarity lets me see him fluffing his fireball input a handful of times, perhaps turning the joystick badly, punching pointlessly from afar. I feel like crawling toward him through the red-bar tempest, stammering and offering an outstretched hand. “We are … not so diff-er-rent… you and I!”
Fight 3 – Juri
Wait, who is JURI? Let me check the Street Fighter wiki for a second… Let’s see. Aha, Juri.
She's no ordinary fighter. She is an untamed animal who seeks to destroy and consume all that enters her sight...She has altered her own body in her insatiable quest for power. She respects no law. No morality. She does whatever it takes to achieve her goals and quench her limitless thirst.
I like her.
The lag soothes a little but is still noticeable. She’s suffering too. But she holds nothing back in the second round and finishes me off with a critical art (a big colourful super move). The force of the impact smooshes me against the wall like a squashed grape.
But I am one with the wild, and like any creature I have adapted to my surroundings. By now I am suited to the sloshing lag. I live within it, I bathe in it, I am one with the red bar. Juri keeps standing still with her knee up, eye shining. I squat in the dusty Indian street, my green muscular body trembling, like a boy scout taking a poop in the forest. The clock is in the last twenty seconds and I have the advantage (I currently have more in my health bar). Let her approach me. Let her walk into my trap…
The final blow. A well-deserved victory against a lag-addled foe. I can promise no greater achievement than the glory you have just witnessed.
Next time on Blanka Slate, the lagstorm ebbs and I must face the fists and feet of my opponents head-on.
I mean that my head will get a foot in it.