Street Fighter IV
Down, down-forward, forward, punch: Hadoken. 360 spin, punch: Spinning Piledriver. Backwards, charge, forward: Sonic Boom. Combinations so intrinsic; so burned into the mind of every gamer that has ever picked up a pad with serious intent, or spent their weekend afternoons and monthly pocket money in a dank arcade - that it’s almost as natural as knowing that two-plus-two equals four, or that ABC starts off the alphabet. Over the years, the series has progressed and developed terms and phrases that have alienated those who had not programmed muscle memory or encyclopaedic knowledge of all the series’ abbreviations. But fast-forward twenty years, and Capcom has brought back your old sparring friend for one more round of fisticuffs, in a language that has been carefully translated for everyone to understand, to appreciate and most importantly, to love.
And that’s all there is to it ultimately. Street Fighter IV is a game that wants you to adore it with everything you’ve got. Be you seasoned veteran or ignorant ‘scrub’. The latter, more than ever, now permitted to join this once elusive club of people that appreciate Street Fighter way beyond throwing out nonsensical, arbitrary Supers. And the scrub-patented ‘combo’: jump in, kick/punch, land, leg sweep can be but a distant memory, partly thanks to Street Fighter IV’s generous and forgiving input windows that are as wide as Zangief’s wingspan, allowing anyone to grasp the bare essentials from the get-go.
Case in point: if you and a friend frequently spent – or still do spend - most bouts in the opposite corners of the screen, twitching up and down manically at each other in some malformed attempt at a Hadoken. Street Fighter IV will lend a helping, but never over-obtrusive or denigrating hand; your once embarrassingly dull fight is now a glorious light show of fireballs tearing their way through the screen. Dragon Punches (performed with a Z motion) can now be executed with a double tap of down-towards, which will give anyone that likes to jump in a lot something to think about even against someone that panics at the mere sight of an aerial assault.
Don’t be mistaken, Street Fighter IV doesn’t make players good; it provides them with a chance. Hardcore, frame-counting, data-collating players groomed on the granite-based Third Strike will no doubt cry out in lament that it’s been too simplified, or that it takes away the challenge (or frustration whichever way you choose to look at it). Their screams, however, will be drowned out entirely amongst the loud and proud bellows of successful “Hadoken!” and “Sonic Boom!” commands emanating from the television sets of thousands having too much fun to care.
But of course, if Street Fighter IV really is the game for everyone then it’d be rude to shun those fans that stuck by the series even when most left in disgust when Balrog was axed off and replaced by Dudley. Or when all American hero Guile found himself on the sidelines, watching on as the peculiar Remy threw out his trademark Sonic Boom at even more bizarre looking opponents. The much divisive parry system has been tossed aside in favour of Street Fighter’s newest wild card: the Focus Attack. Performed simply by pressing and/or holding the medium punch and kick buttons together. Your character will physically tense up as ink seeps from their every pour before unleashing a quick attack. Depending on how long you hold this for, it can range from being a quick knee-jerk counter attack or an unblockable strike that will leave an opponent crumpled and dazed for just a second; more than enough time to punish them with a fierce combo, with left over seconds to spare for the taunt as they lumber back to their feet.
A New Warrior Has Entered The RingNostalgia-nuts will be pleased to see most of their favourite World Warriors back in the saddle for IV. Well, except Deejay and T-Hawk, although for some reason I can’t imagine there will be any big funerals for their absence. But along with reappearances from Rose, Dan, Sakura and Gen of Alpha fame - Street Fighter IV has a few new fighters that aren’t simply amalgamations of other characters in the form of Crimson Viper, El Fuerte, Rufus, personal favourite Abel (based on MMA legend, Fedor Emelianenko), and even Gouken – Ryu and Ken’s teacher and master in the ways of the Shoto. It’s a nicely rounded roster although don’t expect it to be fully explored online. Hadoken!
At the most basic level, the Focus Attack proves a very useful tool against those aforementioned players that like to sweep whenever they can, and they’ll soon learn through harsh conditioning and repetition to seek different, more varied avenues of offence. For the high level players, the surface has only just been scratched in regards to what this function is capable of. Not just there to look good (because it really does), the dexterously gifted can use the Focus Attack to interrupt (or cancel) commands before moving on to more devastating retorts like an Ultra to pile on yet more damage - (affectionately called Focus Attack dash cancelling). Couple this (for the most part) defensive tool with the Revenge gauge – that builds up as you take more punishment – and it gives even the most toothless of players an opportunity for their very own Daigo comeback–or at the worst, just one last stand of defiance before being battered into the floor.
And the Training and Challenge mode will facilitate any burning desire players may have; after all, what you get out of Street Fighter IV is all down to how much you’re willing to put in – even if it means a blister or two for those without an arcade stick. The latter mode in particular, a useful tool for learning techniques that in past iterations would have only been found in the dark corners of the Internet. It’ll walk you through the very basic of basics; not long before teaching players all manner of expert techniques the gaming masses could only gawp in awe at on video websites before now. For anyone truly serious about becoming a bona-fide world warrior, then the practice room with its almost scientific appearance is a place you’ll be spending many a late night perfecting that Focus Attack dash cancel (FADC) into Ultra attack. It’s always harder to pull off in the heat of battle isn’t it?
But of course sooner or later every bird has to learn how to fly; every child needs to learn to ride their bike without its stabilisers, and in Street Fighter IV, every would-be world-beater needs to take their challenge to the online circuit against real people. And thankfully, it’s everything you could want it to be performance wise. In over 50 encounters, I could count the bad-eggs on no more than one hand - input is nigh on indistinguishable from offline and with the integration of the Battle Points system (which increases and subtracts depending if you win or lose), players can breathe a sigh of relief that they’ll seldom find themselves pitted against an opponent that’s leagues ahead of them.
If, on the other hand, online is too scary a prospect. Arcade Mode proves a decent (if distant second) alternative to hone any skills against something other than a prone dummy. It works as it always has: players take a character through a series of fights until they come up against the last boss. And in what has become Street Fighter tradition, this iteration’s final boss, Seth is (excuse my French) an utter bastard of the worst kind (and we shall leave it at that). It is worth persevering, though, as completing it with certain characters is the only way to unlock the full roster. And if fighting Seth means being able to play as Dan then so be it. He’s worth every strained finger muscle. Just be prepared (out of the box anyway), to find yourself pulled out of Arcade Mode for a online battle with a human opponent, seemingly in an attempt to recreate an authentic arcade experience. Although I imagine in a real arcade, the person would kindly ask first – especially if you’re just a few hard blows away from beating Mr. Bastard for the first time.
So while Street Fighter IV plays an expectedly brilliant game, the real surprise stems from its direction from a visual point of view that is nothing short of astounding. I’m not quite sure what kind of paint Capcom has been using, but Street Fighter IV is unquestionably the finest reimagining and modernisation of a classic series to date. Fans were understandably anxious when it was revealed that their beloved had been given a 3D makeover, as the series’ last attempt at polygons was a bit of a disaster – not this time. Every one of this iconic ensemble cast has been lovingly crafted, moulded and brought into the present day, with a precision that only a company conscious of what these characters mean to the fans that made them who they are today, could do.
And if every blow to the chin or solar plexus looks like it hurts, then Ryu and co are more than aware of it. Hurl a fist at E. Honda’s ribs and he’ll bend over in agony, face contorted and eyeballs set to leave their sockets. Shoryuken Dan square in the kisser and gaze on as he cringes – almost tearfully – to then be scorched ablaze. David Jaffe may have waxed lyrical about the latest entry into the God of War series looking like a painting come to life, but Capcom has done more than just talking and days, weeks, months and years will only age Street Fighter IV for the better. The core gameplay has always held up consummately, but now finally, its art style is just as timeless.
It’s hard to believe that over ten years have passed since the last ‘proper’ sequel to a series so legendary in its quality and importance to the industry. As good as past Street Fighter games have been (and they’ll continue to be played, such is the beauty of the series), you just know deep down that IV is how it has always meant to be experienced. The arcade scene may not ever revert back to how it used to be, and beat-‘em-ups will always have an incongruous place within our industry suffocated by shooters. But if nothing else, Street Fighter IV proves that down, down-forward, forward, punch is not just a distant memory.
Nine out of ten