Super Street Fighter IV
In March of 2009 Street Fighter IV dragon punched its way into the homes of millions of gamers. Along the way it single handedly reignited fighting games as a viable mainstream genre – sorry Soul Calibur and Tekken. A year later, Capcom is back to keep the hype alive with the release of Super Street Fighter IV. Like the follow ups to previous numbered Street Fighter entries, Super is not a full blown sequel but rather an update – a fairly substantial one at that.
With the overwhelmingly positive critical and mainstream reception to Street Fighter IV, it’s little surprise that Capcom left the core gameplay mostly unchanged. Hardcore players will certainly notice the various balance tweaks to the returning roster, but for many the changes will go largely unnoticed. However, this doesn’t mean there isn’t any reason to take your old character out for a spin, as every character now has two Ultra Combos to choose from. Alternate Ultras provide each character with a new move for existing players to build fresh strategies around.
Of course there are also ten ‘new’ characters to try out as well. In an effort to appease as many fans as possible, Super pulls characters in from each of the previous Street Fighter series, minus EX. In addition to these classic characters, Korean femme fatale Juri and the Turkish oil wrestler Hakan have joined the street fighting circuit. Juri, a Taekwando fighter, is an agile character with a ton of quick and damaging special moves, plus a custom combo Ultra, which will no doubt be exploited at the higher levels of play. Hakan on the other hand is a slow cornball of a character. When he isn’t landing one of his absurd looking command grabs he’ll be oiling up to remain lubricated. Both characters have a unique design that might not have fit in with the old Street Fighter aesthetics, but given the precedent set with characters like Rufus and Crimson Viper, they fit nicely into the Street Fighter IV universe. More importantly, each play in a genuinely unique manner and are worth experimenting with.
Other than familiar faces, Super brings back the ‘classic’ bonus stages of the Street Fighter II days. Honestly it was disappointing that there were no bonus stages in the original Street Fighter IV, but it’s hard to believe anyone was too broken up over the omission. The real issue is these bonus stages are now twenty years old and it shows. Sure they’ve been given the 2.5D HD treatment, but the gameplay is quaint by today’s standards, and that isn’t a compliment. Frankly it feels lazy that Capcom couldn’t create a pair of new bonus stages fitting of the times or catering to new mechanics. Street Fighter III had its own bonus stages that helped teach parrying and perhaps something could have been devised utilizing focus attacks. Hell even Mortal Kombat went out on a limb with the cheeky ‘Test your Sight,’ back in Deadly Alliance.
Where Super has seen its greatest evolution is definitely within the online functionality. While Street Fighter IV’s online play was generally lag free, it lacked a lot of meat and was conspicuously devoid of two key features, lobbies and tournaments (see info box). Addressing the need for lobbies is the new Endless Battle mode which allows up to eight players to join up, with two players fighting while the rest spectate. During the match everyone is free to converse over voice chat and save replays (more on that later). In typical arcade fashion the victor stays on until they’ve been bested, then are dropped to the back of the line. This ‘pass the controller’ style of play is how Street Fighter is meant to be played – outside of an arcade – and was sorely missing last year. Although you may spend a greater time not playing, the time you’re watching and discussing matches can be an invaluable learning tool.
On June 15th Super Street Fighter IV will be receiving a batch of free DLC that finally provides IV with the online bracket functionality fans have been asking for. Brackets can host either four or eight players; unfortunately it will only support single elimination tournaments.
Another great new feature for the community is the online Team Battle mode. There isn’t anything particularly fancy about it, up to eight players are split up into two teams and face off against one another. Like Endless Battle if you win you stay on until someone from the opposing team has bested you. Where Team Battle will hopefully succeed is in fostering a greater sense of community between online players. Many of the random opponents you’ll face via Quick Match you’ll never hear from or play with again, but you’ll be invested in the matches of your new teammates. Ideally from there you’ll find players willing to help you with your game and those that could use a little of your own advice – assuming they’ll hear it.
The last major addition to Super’s online suite is the brand new Replay Channel. Within the fighting game community it’s extremely useful to watch high level match videos and combo videos to learn pointers, strategies and just get a better sense of what is possible. Having a built-in place to watch and upload match videos is really an ingenious move by Capcom and the ability to get a group of friends to watch them together online is truly awesome. Perhaps the most impressive feature of the Replay Channel is your own personal Battle Log which caches all of your recent fights, so if you decide after a lengthy online session that you want to review some of your matches they’ll all be there waiting for you. From there you can save them, rate them or upload them. Sadly, there is one major problem with the channel, and that’s finding quality match videos. No doubt there are thousands of videos of high level play floating around, but as it stands the only way to sort replays are by arbitrary character groupings. There needs to be some way to filter match videos via user ratings, BP or PP levels of the players involved or some sort of tag system, otherwise you’re bound to watch a pair of novice players trade wake up dragon punches and spam Ultras for a minute plus.
Perhaps most significant of the improvements, the online point system has seen a wonderful overhaul. Players now earn BP and PP, the first accumulate on a character to character base while the latter reflects your overall player skill rating. Having BP added to the equation creates a brilliant motivation for players to use a variety of characters online rather than default back to Ken over and over again. As BP is accumulated your skill rating for a specific character will gradually improve from the rather mediocre starting grade of D. Given the grades, BP and PP levels, players should be able to gather a more accurate idea of the skill level of an opponent prior to match time.
With all the improvements in Super Street Fighter IV, it’s obvious Capcom has been listening to the complaints of the community. In addition to addressing major issues like the balance and online functionality, a number of smaller changes can be found that are no less welcome. Gone is the tragically annoying – and catchy – “Indestructible” theme song from the original, while in is the handy ability to turn off Arcade Fight Requests while you’re already in the middle of an Arcade mode run through.
No matter how you may personally feel about Street Fighter IV in general, Super is a marked improvement over last year’s solid iteration; there’s no question that this is the definitive version of Street Fighter IV. With a ton of ‘new’ characters and a vastly improved online component there are a number of great reasons to get back into Street Fighter. With that said, if you’re primarily interested in playing alone (who are you?), there are no longer Survival or Time Attack modes to occupy you. For everyone else, Super Street Fighter IV is a wonderful addition to anyone’s fighting game library and a fitting conclusion to the Street Fighter IV ‘series.’