It was 1992 and print was still alive and well with most people relying on monthly magazines for their gaming info. As a result, a joke about a secret Street Fighter character called Sheng Long spread world wide. 25 years later, it's time we poured one out for all those tortured souls who went looking for him in vain.
It all started thanks to a translation error when the Street Fighter II arcade game arrived stateside. One of Ryu's quotes upon defeating an opponent was put in the game as "You must defeat Sheng Long to stand a chance" instead of "If you cannot overcome the Rising Dragon Punch, you cannot win!" The statement in its incorrect form suggested a mysterious character not mentioned anywhere else in the game or its supplemental marketing materials.
Image credit: Rumour Games
It was enough to encourage the writers at Electronic Gaming Monthly to make-up an elaborate story about how players could encounter the mysterious Sheng Long. In the April Fools' issue, the magazine claimed that if a player went through the game's arcade mode as Ryu without taking any damage several times in a row, Sheng Long would appear, throw M. Bison off the stage, and then fight the player in a bout with no timer. They further stated that Sheng Long had a move set consisting of things belonging to other characters, like Chun-Li's Spinning Bird Kick and Sagat's Tiger Shot, but which dealt more damage.
The urban legend only spread as a result of other publications picking it up without verifying it for themselves. EGM's December issue that year declared the entire thing a hoax, but once planted in people's imaginations, gaming myths have a knack for sticking around like hard-to-kill weeds.
It didn't help that when Street Fighter II was ported to the SNES in the summer of 92, its instruction manual incorrectly sighted Sheng Long as Ryu and Ken's martial arts teacher. Later versions scrubbed this reference, but the damage was already done.
With so much interest around the non-existent character, it wouldn't have been surprising for Capcom to run with it and include Sheng Long in later games in the series. While that turned out not to be the case, EGM nevertheless revisited the myth in the lead up to Street Fighter III five years later, claiming that Sheng Long was in the game this time and even including artwork and building out his backstory.
By this point, whether anyone truly believed Sheng Long existed or not, the myth had become larger than the man, with the character making it into versions of the game like the Street Fighter: The Movie arcade game. At the end of a run as Ken, Ryu, or Akuma, his name would be mentioned as the first two's master and the latter's brother.
According to Alan Noon, who helped design the game, Capcom approved Sheng Long's inclusion in a bid to compete with Mortal Kombat II by appealing to the myth, but time constraints trimmed the character's inclusion down to just his name.
The connection lived on, however, with Capcom itself getting in on the hoax by the time Street Fighter IV was due to release. Speaking to EGM at the start of 2008, producer Yoshinori Ono hinted that the character might be making an appearance in the upcoming game. By April 1st of that year, Capcom announced Shen Long would be an unlockable character in the game if, similar to the original hoax, the player could win every round as Ryu without taking any damage and then using the Shoryuken move to finish off the final boss.
But even if the character's name would only appear as the specter of a decades old April Fools' joke, the character's spirit did eventually make it into an actual game in the form of Gouken, first introduced in Street Fighter II Turbo but not playable until IV.
He didn't have Chun-Li's kick but he did have an exceptionally arcane set of conditions for unlocking him reminiscent of the original lore surrounding Sheng Long. Unlike a lot of video game myths, this one ended up creating its own truth over time. And unlike a lot of April Fools' jokes, it's one that still lives on over 25 years later.