Without a doubt, Street Fighter II is one of the classics. It popularized fighting games and ruled its genre like a king. Unfortunately, Capcom took a while to produce an heir to the throne, and with the absence of the original cast and fundamental changes to the fighting, Street Fighter III just didn’t feel the same. Years later, a new challenger appears. Street Fighter IV adds new faces and styles without booting out any of the original world warriors, tweaks the fighting while keeping the classic feel intact, and gives the series one more shot at immortality.
Without a doubt, Street Fighter IV has the heart of an arcade game. Everything is about the fight. You’ll either be pitting your chosen character against a single opponent or honing your skills in preparation for the real thing. If you’re looking for variety, mini-games, or anything other than one-on-one fighting, you’re going to be disappointed.
There is a practice mode where you’re free to try your skills on a training dummy, and the game does include a full moves list for every character, but there’s really nothing here that will explicitly teach you how and when to use your arsenal of attacks. The game will display advanced links and combos for you to attempt, but the name of the mode should tip you off. It’s called trial mode. You’ll find it under the challenge option.
Regardless of your skill level, you’ll have your lessons beaten into you by your rivals. If you don’t know what to expect when you jump at a patiently crouching Guile, you’re going to find out the hard way. With no air blocking and no parries, it’s wise to think before you leap. You’ll use your skills to take on a series of computer opponents in arcade mode, fight through time trials or survival mode, or play the game as it was meant to be played against another human being.
You can freely configure controls, time limit, number of rounds, difficulty of computer opponents, or set a handicap for either player in versus mode. Online play comes across as particularly well-designed, offering a smooth interface, a smart ranking system that takes the skill of your opponents into account, and a customizable player profile that lets you express your personality.
The 25-character cast is respectable. The console version lets you play as powerful boss characters from the arcade game, and adds six entirely new fighters. There aren’t any glaring omissions, and there are some interesting choices like the towel-wielding Rose from the Alpha series, but some players may find that their favorites haven’t made the cut.
The game isn’t exactly bursting with options and modes, and there’s nothing particularly new, either. Still, for a game that’s completely focused on two people beating the crap out of each other until one of them falls down, there’s more than enough variety to meet your expectations. Once you’ve found your preferences, you’ll be locked in and ready for some competition.
Street Fighter IV is a complex take on the simple idea of two characters trying to take down their opponent’s energy bar with punches, kicks, and special moves. Winning is a matter of timing and range, applying pressure, defending, and punishing your opponent when he leaves himself open. Fighting is responsive, precise, and strategic.
Bouts take place on a flat, 2D plane. While there’s no Z-axis for sidestepping, the game definitely has depth. Just like the classic Street Fighter II, there are six buttons dedicated to basic punches and kicks. Different attacks are produced based on whether you’re standing, crouching, jumping, or holding the movement controls in a particular direction. Each character has its own signature moves requiring special controller inputs, and aggressive play fills a super meter which lets you trade small chunks of energy to perform powered-up versions or cash in the whole thing for a massive super combo. Manual dexterity and mental acuity are both needed if you want to be at the top of your game.
You’ll also have to wrap your mind around the new revenge gauge, which fills up as you take damage and allows characters to unleash an even more powerful version of their super combo that can easily turn the tide of a match. The other big addition is a focus attack, a technique that’s totally optional for casual play, but can be used on offense or defense depending on when you use it and how long you charge it up.
While there’s a lot to wrap your head around, it’s the depth and complexity that make Street Fighter IV rewarding. The phrase “easy to play, hard to master” definitely applies, and that’s largely thanks to the game’s excellent balance. Each of the 25 fighters has a distinctly different play style, and while some characters have more obvious advantages, everyone stands a fighting chance in the hands of a skilled player.
The new mechanics also turn out to be interesting and well-implemented. The revenge gauge is essentially the nuclear option of fighting games. If you’re taking a beating from your opponent, you’ll have the first opportunity to launch your ultra combo. If your opponent survives, though, expect his revenge meter to be armed and ready.
For their part, focus attacks provide serious flexibility. They have obvious uses as simple counter-attacks and beefy unblockable blows, but they also open up fiendish mind games and difficult-but-highly-damaging combos in advanced play. As powerful as focus attacks can be, certain moves will break right through them, so while they’re powerful they’re not an invincible trump card.
You can always try to blame your character or your controller, but if you lose a match in Street Fighter IV, you’ll know that at least for that fight, the other guy was better than you. When you win, you know you deserve it.
It’s an old-school joint in a lot of ways, but Street Fighter IV is a beautiful and thoroughly modern-looking game. Gameplay itself is 2D, but the game’s colorful and stylized 3D graphics give the game a distinct personality that’s exemplified in the changing facial expressions and flashy ultra combos. Brief cutscenes that bookend each character’s minimal story serve as a bonus, but the spectacular fights are undoubtedly the main attraction.
The soundtrack is also in fighting shape, aside from one particularly cheesy tune you’ll be singing along to for all the wrong reasons. The new background music doesn’t feel as iconic as the remixed material, but there are some inspired sounds. As for the announcer, he’s not too bad, but you can turn him off if he bugs you.
Of course, the accomplished technical presentation would be meaningless without the impressive character design. It might take some fans time to get used to Ryu and Ken’s added bulk, but there’s no denying the appeal of these classic designs. Chun-Li once again brings the thighs and Zangief is still four-hundred pounds of raw, bear-wrestling charisma. New designs like Crimson Viper and Rufus definitely offer something different, though you may not have expected the game’s most obvious jiggle physics to apply to a male character. Just as you might be drawn to a particular fighting style, you’ll be able to find a fighter whose personality clicks with you.
Fighting games have long been out of the spotlight, and Street Fighter IV basically carries the future of the entire genre. It refuses to make itself accessible, doling out tough love in place of true tutorials or simplified control schemes, but by proving to be deep and fundamentally enjoyable, the series has once again proven itself worthy of attention. In addition to solid mechanics and a standout cast, real playability online mean the true value of the game can be realized through head-to-head competition. For fans, and anyone who has a fighting spirit, Street Fighter IV is a meaningful victory.