If there's a fighting game that I really connected with when I was in high school, it was Street Fighter II. I played the hell out of that game in the arcade and most of the incarnations that came afterward stopping when the Alpha series was released. I didn't play much of Street Fighter III either as most of the characters I played with weren't there. Now Capcom's going back to their roots somewhat with Street Fighter IV and it's truly a great 2D fighter that embraces the second one in the series and adds some great new features.
All the cast of characters are back from the second game as well as some new ones. If you played a lot of Street Fighter II like I did, you'll have no trouble picking up IV and going through with a familiar character. All the moves you are used to are there and with an updated look. When I first played the game at CES 2009, I was able to pick up many of the old characters and fight competently right off the bat. This will be great for those that are picking up the game after along hiatus like me or and for experienced players of the past few games. Four new characters are introduced in Street Fighter IV each with a distinct fighting style and characteristics. My favorites out of the new one are El Fuerte and Rufus. El Fuerte is such a quick luchadore with great looking moves and a variety of throws. Rufus might look like an out of shape fighter but he can do some serious damage. Different from the arcade game, several old characters make their way to the game as well as the boss Seth, Akuma, and Gouken. Cammy, Fei-Long, Dan, Rose, Gen, and Sakura also appear in the game. All in all, 25 characters are available for you to fight with giving you a nice mix of II, Alpha, and the original game.
Even with so many characters, the folks at Capcom have taken great care to play balance all the characters. Talking with Seth Killian at CES 2009, we talked about what the current breakdown of fighters being used are in Japan. Surprisingly, he said even though Sagat and Ryu are dominant, all the characters are pretty close in terms of popularity. That's great to hear while I can't really get a good grasp of every single character in the game, the general public in Japan feel that all characters are worth playing and you don't see a huge discrepancy in usage between the lot of them.
When you do begin a game, you get a very short and mostly cheesy anime intro. Now I love anime as much as the next but the ones in Street Fighter IV aren't really done that well in my opinion. Even so, I guess it's better than having still pictures or text cycling through to tell you the story. Before the match with the end boss, you'll fight your rival and there's a small animation using the game engine to show off a little more of the story. I think I would've liked to have seen more of this especially used for the beginning and end. Yes, the end sequence is another cheesy anime movie that is really short and you'll get bits and pieces from each fighter as you finish the game with them. Overall, I'm not a fan of the intro or end movie but they aren't that big of a deal compared to the rest of the game.
The end boss this time around is the genetically engineered Seth, CEO of S.I.N. If you thought bosses like Goro or Shao Kahn from the Mortal Kombat series or Alpha-152 from Dead or Alive 4 were cheap, Seth tops them all in my opinion. He has moves from various fighters and really takes cheapness to a new level. Now, I know boss fights should be tough but there's a fine line being hard to beat and downright cheap. Seth proudly steps over that line and runs a few miles from it. He's not unbeatable of course but he does cause plenty of frustration even at the easiest level. As a boss fight, Seth's not one I enjoyed after being pummeled for first dozen rounds or so but hey, he's suppose to be a bad ass I guess.
It's going to take a long time to really practice and master all of them so Capcom has included a nice training mode for you to play with. In here you can practice all your moves on a dummy in various situations. Be it standing still, crouching, blocking, or fighting back the training mode really helps get you time with a character without having to worry being dominated by someone else thereby alleviating the frustrations of learning or mastering a fighter. There are some characters you'll be able to pick up and play right off the bat but some such as El Fuerte where you'll need a lot of practice to be proficient in using the fighter. With 25 characters, there are plenty of fighters to learn so this is a great way to do it. The training mode has you covered and will make learning a new character less frustrating and devoid of quarter munching unlike the arcade counterpart.
There are now two power bars which you can fill up and I'll get into the Ultra Combo bar more in a bit. The super meter should be familiar to those that have been playing recent Street Fighter games. This meter is charged up when your attack lands or is blocked. There are multiple uses for the super meter. One of course is to perform the super combos that give you a few extra hits and some extra damage. Another use is to cancel out focus attacks which I will also delve more in a bit. You can also use it to cancel a special move into a focus attack as well. So you can see, there are multiple ways to use the built up meter and it does get transferred between rounds unlike the ultra meter.
New to Street Fighter IV is focus attacks. By pressing the medium punch and medium kick at the same time, you can absorb the attack and then dish out a counter attack. You'll lose some life this way bit you can gain it back in time if you don't get hit again. Holding down the medium punch and medium kick longer will increase the strength of the focus attack. If you hold it long enough it becomes unblockable. If you're skilled enough you can use the focus attack to setup other combos. While it's easy to perform focus attacks, the ability to use them in various situations makes the feature flexible and fun to play with. With some practice you can get a good feeling of when to use it and that time is pretty diverse. While focus attacks can absorb a hit, there are some special moves that will knock the person out of the Focus Attack. To add a little depth to the focus attack, one can cancel out of it as well. For those that love to fake others out this is something that you can take advantage of.
Ultra combos are similar to what you might see in the ole Killer Instinct game. Like the super combo, you have a meter that fills up but this ones gets powered by defending or being attacked.To execute an ultra combo, you perform the super combo motion but press three punches or kicks instead of just one. This move can really turn the tide of a fight in one shot. No longer are you at the enemies' mercy after a terrible beating. This also forces the one in the lead to be guarded as well knowing full well that at anytime, one can unleash an Ultra combo to switch the situation of who has the advantage around. When an Ultra combo is successfully performed, it's one of the few times the camera swings around showing you various angles of the various moves being performed. Some are pretty spectacular to watch making it both a great looking move and a very powerful move to execute.
One of the interesting changes is that throws are now executed by pressing the quick punch and quick kick together. Now this is coming from me where I played a lot of the ones before III so others who have played 3rd Strike will be used to this. By moving the joystick towards or away from your opponent during this, you vary the throw being executed. It was a change coming from playing a lot of Street Fighter II where a single attack button was used to perform the throw but I like the new technique as now there's a distinct difference between performing an attack and performing a throw. I'm not going to be confused now as to what I am going to do since the single buttons now don't double this type of attack.
Taunting is also in the game and that's performed by pressing the two heavy attack buttons at the same time. There are several taunts that you can choose from. Vega though is rather unique in that you can throw away your claw and even your mask. Being beaten by a weaponless or armorless Vega is pretty humiliating. Vega can always pick the items back up though in case the player changes their mind. For the most part, taunting is just a way to show off and really doesn't have that much bearing on the game.
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