The opponent pushes forward as your character backpedals. It's unrelenting pressure. Your life bar screams that it's running out of gas. Then, your mind clears up. The nervous energy floats away and you can do no wrong. Every decision is the right one. Your opponent fumbles the lead. The crowd noise bounces around the walls as you can feel the moment in slow motion. One more attack to complete the masterpiece. One hit to seal the choke.
The comeback is the most exciting moment for fighting games. Some of the best in competitive fighting game history have taken place within the iconic Street Fighter franchise.
No matter the stage for the fight, the narrative that the unthinkable could happen is one that anyone can get behind. The memorable comebacks, however, need to fall under certain criteria.
1. It must be a comeback from a significant life differential.
2. There must be something large at stake -- a big stage, a qualifier or the last match to stay alive in a tournament.
3. It's remembered as a highlight of the event.
4. It is something that will probably never happen again in the same situation.
The list, compiled with help from David "UltraDavid" Graham, James "JChensor" Chen, Eduardo "EG PR Rog" Perez, and Justin "EG JWong" Wong, provides an idea of how difficult a truly memorable comeback is. UltraDavid and Chen are two of the premier commentators for the fighting game community and both boast impressive tournament résumés. JWong and PR Rog are two of North America's finest fighting game players under the team banner Evil Geniuses (EG); their gaming accomplishments would cover the entire page.
Street Fighter II Turbo -- Daigo Umehara (Ryu) vs. Muteki (Guile)
In a game where large comebacks are rare, UltraDavid's favorite one pits the legendary Daigo against Muteki's impressive Guile in the late stages of the 2003 Tougeki Super Battle Opera tournament.
On paper, Ryu and Guile fight each other on arguably even terms, but this particular round started off with just Muteki's great fireball spacing and neutral game. "Daigo was down in life and Guile was near full-life. He had to avoid any hit," Graham said. "He somehow seals it by empty jumping and using his super. The best part was when the camera went to his [Umehara's] face and it was [stone]. It was like nothing had happened. After seeing the hype in the video, it stood out to me."
Ultra Street Fighter IV -- Darryl "Snake Eyez" Lewis (Zangief) vs. Ricki Ortiz (Rufus)
The background: Snake Eyez needed to reverse-sweep the entire five-man team of Northern California to win the exhibition. This particular matchup, chosen by JChensor, was notable because it was just impossible read after impossible read. The story could not be written better. It was one man against five players in a battle of region pride.
Despite mismatches, insane pressure and plenty of comebacks within the final comeback, Snake Eyez delivered one of the greatest moments in the game's history. "He baited out 'EX Messiah kick' and punished with his own ultra," Chen recalled. "I thought he couldn't do anything. But not only did he escape from the death situation, he empty jumped and baited it out for the ultra. Everyone knew Ricki was going to win except for Snake Eyez."
Street Fighter III: Third Strike -- Justin Wong (Chun Li) vs. Daigo Umehara (Ken)
It is perhaps the most iconic and memorable moment, let alone comeback, in fighting game history and the one JWong lists as his favorite. You have got to hand JWong a sportsmanship award for listing his own loss as his favorite comeback, but it's hard not to expect this particular moment on this list.
Without the context of the rest of the tournament, this moment transcends the fighting game community for several reasons: the excitement in the crowd is electric, the panic of Wong's buttons portray the perfect emotion for the losing end, and the degree of difficulty that Umehara accomplished to finish the comeback was a fitting end. It's even dubbed "Moment 37." "It's 'Moment 37,'" Wong said. "It revolutionized the fighting game community and gave everyone the opportunity that we have today."
Ultra Street Fighter IV -- PR Rog (Balrog) vs. Daigo Umehara (Evil Ryu)
Because it's a match that Perez went through rather recently, he broke it down into three stages (in his words).
The beating: "Daigo destroyed me the first three rounds. In my head, I didn't understand what was going on because I couldn't even think of something that could work against him."
The change of plans: "Everyone knew me because of my aggressive play style and, clearly, that had to change. On the fourth round, and on the brink of elimination, I decided to just stay back and let Daigo make the mistakes instead. This granted me three straight rounds in my favor with Daigo taking one round in the last game."
And, the comeback: "In that last round, I decided to change my play style back to aggression because I knew Daigo would get confused. In my head I was telling myself, 'Daigo must think I'm dumb. Why would I risk everything on the last round and not play safe?' During the last moments of the match, I did something that shouldn't work but I knew he wasn't expecting it -- the red focus that was heard around the world."
All four players, in their respective playing days, experienced the highs of a memorable comeback. "My mindset was free. Either way, this was it -- it was going to be over in the next seconds," Graham said. "You have to throw hesitancy out of the window."
"There was no desperation or frustration, but a sense of calm," Chen said. "It was an out-of-body experience that you need to do what you need to do."
As for those who want to experience their own comeback moment, JWong offered up some words of encouragement. "The most important thing to remember if you want to make a comeback is to believe in yourself," Wong said to me. "Never give up and start thinking outside the box to prevent your last bit of life from depleting."