Street Fighter IV Review: Kickin’ It Old School
“Since this title is a direct sequel to SF II, things like air blocking and exceedingly long air combos do not exist…”
Before I begin this review I would like point out something: I don’t believe in reviews without adequate exposure to a proper title. I say “proper” because it’s almost impossible to do a review without an unlocked title these days. Indeed you can buy a game on release day, and begin your review process to submit it by your deadline for release week, but that would go against my beliefs. My point being that one can only appreciate the nuances of a title with adequate time spent with it. Even though “Street Fighter” has been around for decades, a rushed review does not make sense.
As a matter fact, it’s been about ten years since the Roman numeral in the “Street Fighter”’s title changed. With stiff competition from its predecessors, and other titles from SNK and the Guilty Gear team, “Street Fighter IV” has to bring more than just fireballs and shoryukens. Regardless, the title turns out to be pure genius for some, and bittersweet for others. What it does bring to the table is everything you know about “Street Fighter II” as well as some new mechanics. The new stuff comes in the form of a new tech move dubbed “Focus Attack” (hold medium punch and medium kick), ultra combos, and some new fighters that aren’t just fireball throwing heavies. Add that to the fact that the game runs in 3D, adheres to its 2D heritage playing field, and visually flared with a Japanese Ink brush, intense colors, decent sound effects and has a fan questioning soundtrack. All of these aspects coalesce to make one of the better fighting games to be released in a long time. Nevertheless, it is just another fighting game, but it’s one that’s done very well. At times the game clings to its roots too strongly, yet with time you come to acknowledge the conjugated old and new mechanics.
The game play in most fighting games is ancient; pummel your opponent long enough to deplete their life bar to win. The fun started back in “Street Fighter 2″ when developers pioneered the combo. That led to the introduction of super combos, and now we have ultra combos - the latter of these is simply presented better. Though they are easy to execute, you will not have the option to select from a barrage of ultra combos, a la “SF III.” What you get is situational super/ultra moves. For example, if you pull off Ken’s Shin Shoryuken on a juggled opponent, it will turn into “Street Fighter Alphas’” Super Shinryuken. When you do pull off the Ultra Move, the camera zooms into your character before, during, and after the assault for dramatic effect, making them very satisfying to watch. It’s a wonder why more fighters don’t do this.
You also get the standard super combos that charge when dishing or receiving attacks. The ultra combos are charged only by receiving attacks (even when you block) via the revenge gauge. The funny thing about the revenge meter/gauge is that it charges much faster than the standard super meter. This causes the ultra combo to become a crutch as it tends to be available way more often than the standard super. You’ll see competitors pull off over 3 ultras per round and never one regular super for the entire bout. It’s not game breaking, but it should have been thought out a bit more. This feature is tantamount to many elements of the SNK games; the difference is that it’s not pulled off as well in “Street Fighter IV.” The simple fact is, the regular super takes too long to charge. Try your hardest not to use an ultra combo for a match and you will see what I mean. Returning to the mix are EX moves, executed during special moves with more than one button of the same kind (kicks or punches). The jumping overheads introduced in “SF III” are gone, but there are still moves you can use against constantly crouching opponents. This changes the pace of the game, only before you start to explore the overhead moves. Everything else you have seen in the past with the exception of the re-animation of the characters for the new 3D models.
Since this title is a direct sequel to “SF II,” things like air blocking and exceedingly long air combos do not exist. It is only with time, patience, and an insatiable appetite for domination, gamers will gain the ability to pull off some impressive attack patterns. It doesn’t mean mind games are not possible; it’s just that you have to work at it. There are some other oddities that are worth mentioning. For example, Akuma has one super/ultra combo, the Raging Demon; Capcom must have known what they were doing because this character typically had the most supers in the series. Some super move inputs and the priorities of some moves have also been changed. The tier is also quite different this time around, with Zangief ranking in the top three spot with Sagat and Ryu leading.
Sadly, not everyone was meant to love the new soundtrack. It’s true, playing “Street Fighter” to hip-hop influenced beats is “nirvana,” but I guarantee you will find yourself humming along to the soundtrack for all the wrong reasons. It’s catchy stuff, no doubt, but it does not leave an impression the way “Street Fighter III”’s soundtrack did. Still, you can’t cry over something small like this, especially if you own an Xbox.
“If you’re not familiar with many of the tricks, and have some EVO level skills, you will most likely be spending a long time doing the Normal trials…
I’m not sure what Capcom was thinking here…”
“Street Fighter” has always been about out-witting, subjugating and finally embarrassing your opponents for making mistakes. If you are not winning then you are not having fun; plain and simple. If you need to polish your game you can spend time in the additional modes. In trial mode you are vaguely given moves and combos to pull off. Time and survival modes can speak for themselves. But, do these extra modes really matter when there’s online play?
Back when we dreamed about network play across consoles for titles like these, gamers went to Chinatown Fair (they still do), 32nd Street, Jersey City, or whatever arcade had the cabinet to bump up our skills. With the advent of network play over PSN or Xbox Live, Capcom has engineered net code that seems to work really well, so you don’t have to travel that far to get better. Unlike “Tekken HD,” you get to see someone’s connection strength from the get go. The game warns you; avoid players with red bars like the plague. If you’re not playing online to polish your skills, then you’ll want to do the trials. The trials are are hard, but that’s mostly because they are vague. If you’re not familiar with many of the EVO level tricks out there you will most likely be spending a long time doing the normal trials, much less the hard ones. I was able to complete all the normal trials after 3 weeks and it took me an additional 1 week to finish Ryu’s hard trials. I’m not sure what Capcom was thinking here, but this area is not for beginners. It definitely feels at home for the elite players though, so in a way there’s something for everyone.
Does online play compare to the arcade experience? Yes and no; think the same thing but minus the “I got next”, lost pennies and the smelly scrubs. You can also have random users jump in on you during regular arcade mode. I found this a hindrance when trying to unlock other characters though. Fortunately, you can turn it off. What is missing is a massive lobby system. This is something I’m sure Capcom thought about, so here’s hoping it makes it to “Street Fighter IV Championship Edition.”
There’s one thing though about online that surprised me: There are a lot, and I mean a lot, of Ryu, Ken, and Akuma users out there. You may get a little turned off by this, and it may kill your network experience all together. The general reason for this is BP, or battle points. Battle points are what you earn, or lose, for every ranked online battle you engage in. Since online play can be just as competitive as arcade play, I’m sure that the insane usage of Ken, Ryu, and Akuma is a result of people wanting more battle points. You can also play friends via player matches or you can just create a room to go one on one with a random user. Player matches last longer than ranked matches. With ranked matches you get only one bout with someone else. I heard someone itch about this, but it probably makes sense, especially when one user is more skilled to another so as to avoid battle point farming.
What’s missing from the network play is a Championship Mode, or some sort of tournament mode. Perhaps this would mess with the performance if more than one user was watching a fight, much like “Tekken HD.” It could encourage users to play as other characters more. Regardless, the best way to enjoy this game is at someone else’s home with several friends, who happen to have a 46″ LCD TV. Truly, the soundtrack in the game was more varied in “SF III,” but at the end of day its not so bad, minus the intro soundtrack. The new look for the game is impressive, and well done, but when you consider “Street Fighter EX,” you have to figure that it probably wasn’t that difficult for Capcom to pull off. Using the original hit detection codes was also a great way to maintain the old school “Street Fighter II” feel.
The downloadable content is nice but most people will wait for the bundle pack. Then there’s playing all those Ryu’s and Kens outside of your friends list. These gamers will actually be a detriment to your progression in the game as you become an expert on dealing with fireball characters. Sadly, that can only be remedied by playing others you know. After several hours of playing this game, I feel like Capcom held back a little. “Street Fighter IV” will draw in old and new players a like, but there’s always room for improvement.
“Street Fighter IV” was released on February 17th, for the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. This review is based on the PS3 version of the game.