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.
What the folks at Capcom done though is design a fighting game that can easily be picked up by newcomers as well as veterans and all will have a good time. Unlike games like Virtua Fighter where the learning curve can be steep, Street Fighter IV gives you all the tools available to let newbies fight without much hassle but there are also techniques that masters will use to their advantage. It's not as button mashing heavy as say Dead or Alive but the controls aren't overly complicated. I don't have as much time as I used to to dedicate myself to practicing a fighting game so it's nice to see that Capcom produced a game that can span a wide range of skills while still being enjoyable by all. Also, while the game is in 3D, the action is still in a 2D plane so you don't have to worry about dodging in a 3D arena like in Dead or Alive 3 and Soul Calibur IV. This also helps pare down the difficulty for newcomers or casual fighters allowing you to concentrate on attacks on a flat plane. This can be a good and bad thing. Those looking for something new will be a little disappointed. Sure there are some new features such as Focus Attacks and Ultra Combos but for the most part it's Street Fighter II. For me, it takes a classic tried and true formula and mixes in some new non-complicated features and updated graphics making for a solid experience. If you didn't like Street Fighter II or III there's nothing here that will really change your mind. If you love the series, you'll love the fourth one for sure.
Now I played this game on the Xbox 360 and I didn't have too much trouble performing any of the special moves. I know the Xbox 360 controller isn't the ideal fighting game controller as the Mad Catz products are indeed high quality sticks to get for the game but if you are stuck with the gamepad it isn't all that bad. I didn't pull of dragon punches, fireballs, and wall throws as well as I did with a stick but I say I was within 90% of my full ability using the gamepad. I'm really looking forward to the PC release so I can use my Tankstick though which will make the experience a lot better. Saying that, I highly recommend picking up an arcade stick to use with Street Fighter IV to both get the full experience in achieving an arcade feel as well as being more consistent in performing special moves.
To say Street Fighter IV looks great is a bit of an understatement. The game's updated graphics takes all your characters you know and don't know and moves them into the 3D realm but keeps the 2D fighting style as mentioned earlier. Blanka's not as huge but has a great animalistic look. Ryu and Ken have a thicker look while Guile exhibits that military attitude. Rufus' bouncing belly is hypnotic and reminiscent of that one Simpsons episode where Homer is running on a treadmill in front of Mulder and Skully of X-Files. All the fighter's updated looks still exhibit that cartoon style but add a lot more detail. Animations are incredibly smooth as every fighter looks beautiful when performing moves and moving around. One thing that really helps convey the power of some of the attacks is the reaction the fighters show when being hit. You can really see it on some of the gut punches where the face of your opponent becomes a picture of pain with their mouths wide open and eyes bulging out. While the older titles had something like this, the new art and high definition graphics really brings it out making it almost like you can feel the hit yourself when you witness their expressions. The developers have done a wonderful job in making Street Fighter IV visually impressive in both design and movement.
Some stages will look familiar while there are a few new ones. The old familiar stages look great in the update and move to 3D. The backgrounds are active but don't divert your attention from the action at hand. Like past Street Fighter games, you'll have a certain amount of area to move back and forth and no ring-outs in the game. There aren't any barrel or car bonus stages though unfortunately. While I can understand keeping the feature out from the arcade game, having it on the home version would've been a nice homage to the second game.
Like most fighters out these days, Street Fighter IV features online play. For some odd reason though, I wasn't able to find anyone to fight against as I was playing on a review build in a closed network with other journalists. Once I pick up the final version, I'll be able to judge this more but from what my peers have said the online component works very well for the most part with the occasional hiccup. That said, you'll always have a variety of experiences when playing online unless there's something inherently wrong with the network code but like I said, I've heard the online portion of Street Fighter IV does indeed play well.
One thing I don't like as much as some others is the unlockable portions of games. But, it seems that a lot of fighters do it this way so I'm not surprised that Street Fighter IV is the same way. You won't have access to all fighters initially as you'll have to unlock them by finishing the game with certain characters. There are also various movies and artwork to unlock as well. Speaking of movies, each fighter has a beginning and ending anime short that for the most part aren't all that well done. They are better than static pictures and I think if there were more work put in them as well as more content in general, the movies would've been better. Once you beat the game with a fighter though their beginning and ending movie is unlocked for you to view again but I haven't seen one yet that I would view again based on my opinion of their quality.
Street Fighter IV is a solid fighting game that plays well for Street Fighter fans. It's not hard to pick up for new people and it's deep enough for veterans to master and enjoy. Because of the somewhat simplistic nature of the game on the surface, it's a great fighter to start playing if you are new to the genre. The graphics and animation are top notch while the controls aren't complicated. Online play will ensure many diverse competition while there's a solid training mode for you to practice with. Capcom's really done well in continuing the series with a high quality product and should be a great seller for them.