Street Fighter: The Strange Legacy of Sheng Long

Street Fighter II is not only one of the most influential fighting games ever made, it also produced the greatest hoax in gaming history.

Street Fighter 2 Sheng Long
Photo: Capcom

On June 10, 1992, Street Fighter II: The World Warrior made its home console debut on the Super Famicon in Japan, and it was a magical time for gaming. The 16-bit Street Fighter II was a major jump over its 8-bit predecessor. But cutting edge graphics weren’t all this Capcom masterpiece had to offer. Beyond its influential gameplay, what made this game the talk of the town inside arcades and at schoolyards were the many secrets waiting to be unlocked by the most skilled players.

Even in the pre-internet age, rumors and theories about secret codes that unlocked hidden features in games were a major part of gamer culture. For example, when Street Fighter II hit home consoles, Nintendo Power made a huge deal about players being able to enter a special code to unlock the ability to choose alternate color schemes for characters and to choose the same character as your opponent.

But the 1992 port gave players an even bigger white whale to chase, a hoax just believable enough to fool people. A lie that ended up changing the fighting game genre as we know it and reshaped Street Fighter for years.

It is the legend of Sheng Long, the ultra-hard hidden final boss who never actually existed.

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It started innocently enough with a translation error. Street Fighter II had post-match quotes where the winner would deliver a one-liner to their bloodied opponent. Chun-Li would call herself the strongest woman in the world. Guile would tell you to go home and be a family man (the hypocrite). Ryu would tell you that, “You must defeat Sheng Long to stand a chance.” But what he was supposed to say from the original Japanese version was “If you cannot overcome the Shoryuken, you cannot win!” As you might expect, this mistranslation left many players wondering what the hell this was supposed to mean.

Then Electronic Gaming Monthly decided to make things worse with an April Fools’ joke published in the April 1992 issue. The article in question, found in the Tips and Tricks section, claimed that Sheng Long was in fact Ryu and Ken’s badass master. In order to fight him, you had to select Ryu, get a perfect in every round, then get a draw against M. Bison for ten rounds without the two of you ever hitting each other. Then, and only then, would Sheng Long appear, throw Bison off-screen, and annihilate you with his impossible AI, insane speed, and what seemed like moves taken from various other characters.

While there were certainly readers who recognized the joke right away, there were many more who stumbled over themselves to try and find the ultimate fighter. In EGM’s defense, this infamous issue teased an April Fools’ joke on the VERY SAME PAGE as the Sheng Long article, so I guess this one’s really on us.

Needless to say, Street Fighter fans went to great lengths to try and unlock the enigmatic master. I even found this video of somebody following all of the steps in Street Fighter II for SNES. But even after the hoax was discovered Sheng Long never really went away. In fact, he became an accepted part of series canon.

The manual for the North American SNES port straight-up namedropped him as Ryu and Ken’s master, and when Malibu Comics published a short Street Fighter II comic run (infamously cancelled early by Capcom due to its brutal depiction of Ken being murdered), Sheng Long showed up in a couple scenes. M. Bison’s ending in Super Street Fighter II reveals that he’s surprised that not even “the ancient one” had appeared to challenge him. Many assumed he was talking about Sheng Long.

It wasn’t until a year after the hoax that we actually met Ryu and Ken’s canon master. In 1993, Japan’s Family Computer Magazine published a Street Fighter II manga by Masaomi Kanzaki that ran for three volumes and featured a very loose but entertaining take on the game’s story. A flashback in the series revealed Ryu’s master to be a man named Gouken, who in this continuity was murdered in a battle against M. Bison. Capcom would later adopt Gouken as an actual character in the games, but even that couldn’t truly kill Sheng Long’s legacy.

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Outside of Capcom, other fighting game designers took note of the Sheng Long secret character concept and decided to adapt it for their own titles. Midway’s John Tobias created Mortal Kombat’s Reptile, a green mix of Sub-Zero and Scorpion who actually did exist in the game. Added in version 3.0 of the arcade game, unlocking Reptile meant having to get two flawless victories on the Pit stage, plus a Fatality, and also something had to be flying past the moon in the background. Version 4.0 spelled this out a bit better, with Reptile poping up before random matches to give clues on how to fight him.

SNK’s Fatal Fury Special featured its own secret boss fight. By winning every single round, you would get to face Art of Fighting’s protagonist Ryo Sakazaki. This Fatal Fury vs. Art of Fighting crossover later inspired the company to create the King of Fighters series.

Finally, in 1994, Capcom decided to play EGM’s game. Super Street Fighter II: Turbo was released as the final update of Street Fighter II at the time and its big selling point was newcomer Akuma. While Super Street Fighter II made a big deal about having four new fighters in it, the follow-up was just about one. There were several ways to unlock this boss, such as winning every round, getting to M. Bison extremely fast, having a high enough score, etc. Akuma would appear and murder M. Bison with his ultimate attack, the Raging Demon. Then you would have to face what amounts to a nigh-unbeatable version of Ryu, who would cut through you within seconds. Good luck.

At last, Street Fighter fans had their Sheng Long, at least in spirit.

Things get stranger, though. 1994 saw the release of the Street Fighter live-action movie. It notably led to a video game spinoff that used digitized actors from the movie to replace the hand-drawn sprites. Certain aspects of the game are crazy in the sense that they give us the “expanded universe” of the movie, such as the reveal that the character Blade is this world’s version of Gunloc from Saturday Night Slam Masters. Then there’s the inclusion of a live-action Akuma, whose ending namedrops Sheng Long.

In fact, the developers of 1995’s Street Fighter: The Movie almost included Sheng Long as a playable character. They got Capcom to sign off on the concept and even filmed plenty of footage of an actor in the Sheng Long getup performing moves for the game. The only reason he didn’t make it into the final product was because they ran out of time. Had Incredible Technologies finished work on Sheng Long, he was going to be depicted as so advanced a fighter that instead of blocking, he would simply dodge projectiles. His devotion to dragon-based martial arts would have also mutated him into a human/dragon hybrid to the point that he would have dragons for hands.

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That this never made it to arcades breaks my heart.

Meanwhile, the Street Fighter Alpha series fleshed out a bit more of the franchise’s backstory. Not only did it give us an official look at Gouken in one of Akuma’s endings but it revealed that Akuma killed Gouken in battle. It was one of several reasons why Ryu wanted to face Akuma in battle.

That leads us to EGM’s April 1997 issue. The magazine decided to play up the five-year anniversary of the old gag. The initial version of Street Fighter III had just released, and EGM doctored screenshots with their own take of Sheng Long as depicted in the new game’s art style. Explaining that “Sheng Long” is just what they call Gouken in the US, they talked up how he somehow survived his battle with Akuma and returned as the new game’s secret boss. He could even do Hadokens with one hand!

Then 11 years later, when Street Fighter IV came out, Capcom decided to bring back Gouken. Just like that 1997 article suggested, Gouken had somehow returned from the brink of death, could do one-handed Hadokens, and was available to fight as a hidden boss.

Even Disney has fallen victim to Sheng Long’s power. In Wreck-It Ralph, during the scene where Fix-It Felix and Sergeant Calhoun enter the Sugar Rush game, you can see graffiti in the background saying, “SHENG LONG WAS HERE!”

Sheng Long’s final appearance (for now), is sadly no longer around, but it’s a great one to go out on. To promote the release of Street Fighter V, Capcom put up a website called the Shadaloo Combat Research Institute. This was a gigantic series of profiles for not only Street Fighter characters but even the obscure parts of Street Fighter lore, such as the guys brawling at the beginning of Street Fighter II’s intro or the people in Balrog’s Las Vegas background.

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The inexplicable “800th” profile belonged to Sheng Long. His tendency to be overpowered was joked about here, including his one-hit-kill throw and his ability to morph into different characters (a sly reference to the illegal arcade hack Street Fighter II: Rainbow Edition, which allowed you to switch characters mid-match). While the profile was eventually taken down, it’s nice to see Capcom keeping the dream alive so many years later.