Street Fighter IV
Everyone knows that the Street Fighter IV series set the standard for what fighting games are today. The commands for Ryu’s fireball, Ken’s Dragon punch, and Guile’s sonic boom became staples in so many fighters that followed. I must admit that I was quite skeptical when another Street Fighter game was announced. Like so many people who lived and breathed the fighter in their youth, I had had my doubts that the magic of 15 or so years ago could really be recreated. Was this going to be another attempt at adding new lame characters and experimenting with 3D? Oh boy…we’ve seen that get screwed up before. Luckily, Capcom has proven many of its doubters wrong with a fighter that not only matches the fluid action of years past, but actually surpasses it in many ways.
If you’ve played Street Fighter games in the past the change that will smack you in the face as soon as your first match begins is the upgraded cel-shaded visuals. The character models look absolutely stunning in 3D with a visual style and flair that is as impressive as anything I’ve seen before in gaming. One of most impressive graphical examples is the “inky black” animations exhibited when performing Focus Attacks (more on those later). These do a great job of giving off a real sense of power when executed but more than anything, they are gorgeous and incredibly cool looking add-ons. The stages, in true Street Fighter IV style, are varied and for the most part absolutely beautiful as well. While some levels could certainly use a bit more detail, this will only be noticeable to the true nit-pickers out there as most of your attention will likely be drawn to the foreground anyway. At the end of the day Capcom has managed to keep the 2D fighting style of the series in tact while tremendously upgrading everything visually…except for the cutscenes in the Arcade Mode that is. Instead of sticking with the aforementioned art style, someone apparently thought it was a good idea to have poorly animated, badly voice-acted anime rubbish for each character’s opening scene and ending. Jumping from these scenes into the actual game is really a night and day difference but luckily this is only in a very small portion of the title.
“A great job has been done on keeping the basic gameplay as familiar as ever.”Street Fighter IV isn’t overwhelmingly impressive with its variety of game modes but it still manages to provide enough to keep gamers busy for quite a while. Of course there’s the bread and butter Arcade Mode whose main appeal to most people will be in unlocking the various hidden characters from Street Fighter’s past. The story, like most fighting games these days, is pretty much negligible. Let’s get real. Most people will end up spending their time in the Online Multiplayer mode as that is where most of the action is. The mode for the most part doesn’t disappoint with options for Ranked and Unranked matches, leaderboards, and most importantly very little lag and no graphical degradation in the vast majority of fights. Newcomers will want to spend their time brushing up on their skills in the Training Mode or in the Trial Challenge Mode which rewards you for executing special moves and combos with each of the game’s characters. There are also Time Attack and Survival modes which are pretty common offerings in fighting games these days. To make going through these modes more desirable and addictive, Capcom wisely has milestones in each of them tied to the unlocking of avatars and titles that can be used online.
Alright so the game looks great overall and has a number of modes but does the core gameplay live up to the standard of previous Street Fighter offerings? The answer is a resounding yes. I would even dare to say that in many ways it bests all of its predecessors with the new features that have been added. However sometimes familiarity breeds affection and in this case a great job has been done on keeping the basic gameplay as familiar as ever. Fireballs, dragon punches, flash kicks and the like are all pleasantly recognizable in their appearance and execution. Combos follow suit as well, even down to the timeless jumping Fierce/crouching attack/special move mixture. The most impactful of the new add-ons are the aforementioned Focus Attacks. This is basically a new way of attacking your opponent (by holding down the medium punch and kick at the same time) that allows you to absorb a hit and launch a counter attack that, if strong enough, can break through their blocks. The longer the buttons are held, the more damage that is done. The strongest Focus Attack not only breaks through your foe’s defenses, but also leaves them in a brief daze that sets them up for further attacks. On top of this there is the ability to “dash-cancel” out of a Focus Attack by hitting forward twice while the attack is charging which opens up an assortment of combos and counters that are new to the Street Fighter series. Finally, as if the glitz of Super Combos wasn’t enough already, Capcom thankfully decided to add the super-flashy Ultra Combo system. Ultra combos are basically glorified Super Combos with many more damaging hits, devastating throws, and in some cases some very comical sections. Since these combos can only be executed after getting pummeled for a bit (thus filling up your “Revenge Meter”), it’s a ton of fun executing something flashy and damaging to make a fierce comeback or to finish off an enemy in a match that comes down to the wire.
While the game is undoubtedly a classic, it is certainly not flawless. The most heinous crime that was committed with Street Fighter IV is forcing players to have to deal with one of the most annoying and undeniably cheap final bosses in video game history. Seth’s constant teleporting, throw spamming, and unrealistic penchant for knowing what you’re doing before you do it will have even more experienced Street Fighter players ready to hurl their controllers across the room. It also doesn’t help that he is nothing more than a generic-looking blue caricature devoid of any real personality or style. He has very few of his own unique moves, using mostly Guile’s sonic boom, Dhalsim’s low stretch punch, and a variation of Zangief’s spinning piledriver. Certainly a title as impressive as this deserves a final boss that’s at least a little more original and a lot less “cheesy”.
The next most egregious offense is the lack of a tournament mode or at least the ability to have more than two players in an online multiplayer lobby. Note to Capcom: If your goal was to recreate the feeling of competitiveness of playing on an “old school” arcade machine (and it should have been), allowing multiple players to compete, talk trash, and be spectators as others play would have really put the multiplayer over the top. There is talk of a Championship Mode Expansion Pack but I can only judge the game on what it was released with as of this date. A bit more minor of an infraction, but still an offense nonetheless, is the God-awful opening theme music. Normally something like this could just be overlooked but it really is so bad that I felt I had to provide this public service announcement to all gamers. Through most of your journey through Street Fighter IV’s menus, you will be subjected to listening to a guy who is clearly a reject from a 90’s boy band tryout (think Backstreet Boys/’N Sync) sing something about being indestructible. Simply put, fighting games are supposed to have cool music, and this is possibly the most lame theme I’ve ever heard in a game.
Despite its flaws, Street Fighter IV is essentially a renaissance for the fighting game genre. Its style and core game mechanics are so incredibly strong that they outshine the few missteps that the title contains. It’s familiar enough for someone who hasn’t played it in 10 years to pick it up and execute the same special moves they grew up with. Yet it also offers up enough fresh content, new characters, and revamped graphics to prevent it from feeling like a basic retread of its predecessors. New and old players alike will find an incredibly deep and immersive fighting experience that you’d be a fool not to take a run through. Street Fighter is back!