My interest in Street Fighter IV is purely out of nostalgia stemming from countless hours wasted pounding out combos on Street Fighter II at the local arcade so many years ago. Though my generation was raised on 2-D fighters, today's youth live and breathe in a high definition 3-D pixilated world. The biggest challenge for Capcom with Street Fighter IV is effectively taking a classic 2-D fighting concept and reinventing it to resonate with today's more demanding gaming audience without alienating the old school fans.
Rather than skew one gaming style versus another, Capcom has embraced the Street Fighter legacy and injected something "new" without compromise to "old." Combatants and level design in Street Fighter IV are drawn in a cell-shaded/watercolor animated style placed on what looks like a 2-D plane. During combat, objects and shadows adjust to the movement to provide a 3-D effect even though all the fighting never leaves the 2-D plane.
The aesthetic design is so fluent running at 60FPS and colorful to view that it's entirely possible to accidentally take a beating because you took a split second to soak in the surroundings. An opponent's facial expression grimaces in pain as you unleash your fury upon them. Projectile attacks such as with fireballs are some of the best you'll catch on any fighting game. And you can enjoy this visual splendor without nary a frame-rate hiccup or graphical glitch.
Most games boast cut-scenes far superior to their in-game companions but such it not the case with Street Fighter IV. I'm only a mild fan of Japanese anime but these scenes are some of the worst art direction and quality to hit a next-gen console. Low budget TV cartoons have beefier production values. Skip these scenes at all cost.
Street Fighter IV at a glance is a direct sequel to Street Fighter II rather than III. The original twelve fighters have returned to the roster as well as new characters and a new brooding antagonist. Battling once again with the classic Chun-li, Guile, Ryu and the others triggers fond memories of yesteryear, while the new characters round out a welcome robust roster of 25 characters should all mystery fighters be successfully freed from their locked status.
There's no need to completely learn every combo move from scratch as a nearly identical Combo System returns from previous installments. The "Super Combo" system remains intact, along with the newly added "Ultra Combo" moves and new counter-attacking techniques dubbed "Focus Attacks." Ultra Combo moves are devastating special attacks that should you actually manage to pull off will knock at least 30% off of your opponent's health bar.
There's a reason I used the deliberate language "actually pull off" to describe "Ultra Combos." Any Ultra or Super moves are an absolute frustration to execute successfully on an Xbox 360 or PS3 controller. Maybe a quick sprint through the training sessions will help, right? Even entering the training mode to practice these special moves yields poor results.
New to the Street Fighter series are "Focus Attacks" that allow players a multitude of possibilities when it comes to defensive and even offensive strategies. While using "Focus" you can absorb a single oncoming strike without interruption, knock your opponent down or even perform unblockable attacks. "Focus" is a change that really opens up the ability to drastically affect a match's outcome.
Where Capcom can giveth they can also taketh away. Airborne blocks and parries that played an integral role in Street Fighter III's combat strategy have been removed altogether. This is an odd exclusion as either could have been integrated without affecting the new moves' effectiveness.
Street Fighter IV features a decent line up game modes to test out your fighting skills and previously mentioned "Ultra Combo" attacks. Standard Arcade and Vs. modes are present as well as Network Battle, Challenge and Training modes. The Challenge mode is one of the more interesting areas to spend time in, with Time Attack, Survival and Trial. Survival is always a favorite in fighters to see how many CPU opponents can be put down with a single bar of health.
Capcom's Street Fighter IV leaves me satisfied but with the overwhelming sensation that this latest installment is merely Street Fighter II prettied up for next generation gamers. Not much has changed which may be a good thing for some, but others like me were expecting a bit more than a prettier re-dux. If that's good enough for you, at least track down an arcade controller as either standard console controller is near useless for tapping into all the moves.
- Jason Krahn