Name: Street Fighter IV
Platform: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC, Arcade (Reviewed on Xbox 360)
It’s been 12 years since we’ve seen a new numbered Street Fighter Game. Street Fighter III: New Generation hit arcades back in 1997, and though it received 2 major updates in 97 and 99, and the series has been the subject of countless spin-offs, compilations, crossovers, EX Alpha titles and remakes (including the brilliant Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix), we haven’t seen a true Street Fighter sequel since the beginning of Bill Clinton’s second term in office. With all the anticipation surrounding Street Fighter IV, Capcom had an unenviable task on their hands; recapturing the hearts of 3D gamers with a 2D fighting game. Not only does Street Fighter IV live up to its hallowed name, it might be the best fighting game to come around in years.
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Drawing the majority of its inspiration from Super Street Fighter II Turbo (considered by many to be the defining Street Fighter game), Street Fighter IV feels as faithful to the Street Fighter formula as any of us hoped. Despite the new dimension, most of the game’s characters maintain the movesets so many of us are used to; Ken and Ryu’s Hadouken is still down-to-forward and punch, Guile’s Flash Kick is still down, up and kick, and E. Honda’s Hundred Hand slap is still accomplished by pounding on the punch button. The four new playable characters offer a variety of fighting styles, all of which fit into the Street Fighter universe perfectly; Crimson Viper is the most traditional of the new warriors, Abel relies on chained attack sequences, Rufus uses his strength and surprising quickness to wear down opponents, and Mexican luchadore, El Fuerte, is a Rey Mysterio clone who overwhelms with pure speed. Regardless which of the 29 characters you use (16 available immediately, 13 unlockable), the feeling of weight and responsiveness found in each fighter is truly satisfying, and offers a connection to you to your chosen warrior in a way that few fighters can match.
In addition to standard and special attacks, every character in the game can alos utilize more advanced techniques, like EX Attacks, Super Combos, Ultra Combos, and Focus Attacks. EX Attacks are essentially the same as Super Attacks, but using two attack buttons instead of one to create more powerful effects. Super Combos and Ultra Combos double up the controller movements to perform devastating strikes, meaning that “down-to-forward” moves become “down-to-forward, down-to-forward” attacks. Focus Attacks utilize both medium attack buttons to provide a combined offensive/defensive move that adds considerable depth to the game. The Super and Ultra Combos can be difficult to pull off on the Xbox 360 controller, but they can be perfected with practice, and many gamers will use an arcade-style joystick, alleviating the issue completely. Unfortunately, each character has only one Super Combo and one Ultra Combo, and there's not a ton of difference between the two types of moves for each fighter. One extra Ultra Combo per World Warrior would have been a welcome inclusion, increasing the game's depth and strategic elements.
When it comes to presentation, Street Fighter IV may just be the slickest looking and sounding fighter of this generation. The move from 2D to 3D has been kinder to the Street Fighter series than it ever was to franchises like Mortal Kombat or King of Fighters, and, despite a completely new cartoony, watercolor-inspired art style and all new character models and backgrounds, the game maintains and even enhances the established Street Fighter “look.” In motion, the 3D fighters look better ever, flawlessly transitioning from one fluid animation to the next without the slightest hint of awkwardness or stiffness. Many of the series’ classic backgrounds are recreated here, most for the first time in 3D, and they look nice enough. They are, however, overshadowed by the game’s gorgeous particle effects. Super Attacks produce beautiful explosions of color, light and some of the best looking fire in any game, period, and Ultra Attacks unleash spectacular effects that do a magnificent job of conveying the raw power of these characters and their deadliest moves. Street Fighter IV is no slouch in the sound department, either, offering excellent sound effects and the series’ best voice work. Cammy, in particular, is perfectly captured by her voice actor. There’s even an unlockable feature that allows you to set each character’s in-game voice to either English or Japanese. Everything down to the big, full color instruction book screams high quality production.
Street Fighter IV was designed to feel like an arcade game, even on the home consoles. To this effect, the standard Arcade Mode has been altered to allow online competitors to jump in and challenge you. Think of it as an online version of putting our quarters on the machine and calling “Next!” This feature is optional, and can be turned off for those who want to get through the Arcade Mode without interruption. Unfortunately, Arcade Mode is where the game suffers the most, largely because of the game’s boss, Seth. Rarely has a boss featured such a set of cheap moves and tactics, or made unlocking characters such a chore. Even on the easiest setting, expect Seth to teleport grab to his heart’s content, ignore most of your projectiles, and even make your character face the wrong way as he wipes the floor with you. If Seth was at least an interesting character with a striking design and fascinating backstory, this might be excusable, but he’s basically just a big, featureless, blue robot who looks like Dr. Mahnhattan with a beach ball for an abdomen. Playing against him is an absolute chore, and he’s not even interesting enough for people to want to play as him; his inclusion accounts for the game’s largest flaw. Fortunately, there are quite a few Challenge Modes to satisfy the single player.
In addition to the jump-in Arcade Mode, there is, or course, online ranked and player matches. While there’s not much variety to the match types (you can change the time limit, amount of rounds, and player handicap), competing online unlocks new titles, badges and medals that can be displayed to any online opponents. Playing against fighters from across the world feels no different than fighting friends in your living room, with no noticeable slowdown or lag, even when connecting to gamers with less than perfect internet connections. It can take quite a few tries to connect with another fighter, and even creating your own lobby often results in a one-person room. Hopefully, this is something that is addressed by Capcom soon, because once you do get a connection and get to play online, you’ll find yourself frustrated any time you can’t.
Street Fighter IV might be the best fighting game of the generation. Many purists consider Street Fighter III Third Strike to be the definitive game in the series, but Street Fighter IV is a game with far broader appeal, offers an experience that is perfectly suited to button mashers and technical wizards alike. It’s an extremely tight, well-paced fighter that allows for widely varied fighting styles, but also serves as a fair and definitive test of skills for long-time fighters. Seth, the game’s biggest drawback, along with some long load times and a lack of variety in the Super and Ultra Combos are the only things keeping the game from receiving a perfect score Still, this is the Street Fighter we’ve all been hoping to play for over a decade, and anyone who considers themselves even a passing fan of fighting games owes it to themselves to pick it up.