Capcom has become the undisputed king of franchise reboots. The company’s hot streak began three years ago with the trio of masterful PSP remakes Mega Man Powered Up, Mega Man Maverick Hunter X and Ultimate Ghosts ‘N Goblins, continued last year with Bionic Commando Rearmed and Mega Man 9, and reaches its pinnacle this year with the new release of Street Fighter IV (and will hopefully continue on even further when Bionic Commando comes out later in the year).
Street Fighter IV achieves such brilliance because of how well it fuses new and old ideas. It has the feel of a 2D fighter and this undeniably nostalgic retro quality about it, yet also comes through strong with fresh gameplay features, a deep fighter roster starring old favorites and an interesting cast of newcomers, a robust lineup of story, versus, training, challenge and online modes that’ll keep you playing for hours, weeks and months to come, and gorgeous, meticulously detailed 3D characters, backdrops, effects and animations – all brought to life by a unique ink-splatter cel-shading art style — that will surely cause your jaw to unhinge due to constant shifting between ear-to-ear grinning and awed, open-mouthed gawking.
When I first slid the game disc into my PS3 and started my first match, fond memories of playing Street Fighter II on my best friend’s SNES for hours on end back in the day instantly rushed through my mind (played it some in arcades too of course, but I certainly remember it most on the SNES). Street Fighter IV truly is Street Fighter II reborn anew. All the classic characters and moves are back coupled with a bold mix of fresh faces and familiar venues.
Like Street Fighter II before it, Street Fighter IV excels because it is just so well balanced across the board. Thanks to a whopping eight offline difficulty settings and helpful online match filters, this game is accessible to players of all ages and skill levels. Newbies can jump in on the Easiest setting and enjoy sparring without having to learn all sorts of crazy special move commands, more middle-of-the-road fighting game players such as my self can hover around the Medium range for a stiff but reasonable challenge, and veteran players equipped with unnaturally dexterous thumbs and years of Street Fighter mastery can test their mettle on the Hard, Very Hard and Hardest difficulties – there really is a mode here for everyone.
As always, the fighters are also tightly balanced. Except for Seth and his cheap-as-all-hell abilities, all 18 other characters are evenly matched — no character has an unfair advantage over another. If played to their strengths, each fighter is fully capable of beating down any other character that stands in his/her way, which is exactly what you want from a fighting game.
In large part, Street Fighter IV’s gameplay inner workings are carried over from Street Fighter II. Guile’s ‘Sonic Boom,’ Ryu’s ‘Hadōken,’ E. Honda’s ‘Hundred Hand Slap’ and every other fighter’s signature move is performed exactly the same as they were all those years ago in the arcades and on the SNES. It’s been at least 10 years since I last played Street Fighter II, but Street Fighter IV’s initial sense of familiarity made it feel as if I had just played it yesterday.
However, Street Fighter IV isn’t all Street Fighter II retread (as if that would’ve been a bad thing). Even more nuanced fighting strategy has been introduced with new mechanics like chargeable Focus Attacks good for counter attacking and breaking through an opponent’s defenses, an EX gauge you build up for super combo attacks by dishing out damage, and a Revenge meter you build up for spectacular new ultra combo attacks by accepting damage. With these additions, long-time players certainly have some fun new toys to master.
As brilliant as Street Fighter IV is, I do have a few small bones to pick. First, I am mildly disappointed by the limited online options. Simply having the game play online and running smoothly is certainly all that is needed, but for a game of this stature it’s a bit of a letdown that Capcom didn’t go to town recreating more of an authentic arcade experience with the online suite. Basically, you can create or search for player or ranked matches, earn Battle Points for winning, win special medals for accomplishing certain feats within a match, unlock icons and titles representing your style and skill level to the community, and that’s about it. You can’t play tournaments or spectate other matches, and there is no penalty to hinder losing players from quitting a bout before it’s over. Something I think would’ve been really cool is a group lobby you could setup and play like the old days with two players squaring off at a time while the others watch via a spectator mode, then at the end of the match the loser passes the “controller” on to the next player in line and the winner plays on until he/she is dethroned. But alas, nothing of the sort is to be found.
Elsewhere, I also have a gripe with some of the new fighters. Most fit in very well — like Crimson Viper and Abel — but others not so much. The new Silver Surfer-esque boss Seth is the worst offender. His moves are cheap and his look just doesn’t mesh with the Street Fighter universe, I don’t think. I also found fat boy Rufus and the lucha libre wrestler/wannabe master chef El Fuerte to be iffy additions.
One other small issue I have is with the controls. For the most part the controls are incredibly smooth and responsive, however for anyone looking to sink serious time into mastering their favorite characters and competing online, the D-pad and analog stick of a standard game controller just don’t cut the mustard for such an input-sensitive fighter like this. To get the absolute most out of the game, you MUST own a good quality arcade fighting stick. MadCatz offers two superb fighting sticks specifically built for Street Fighter IV, but they are extremely pricey, and in the case of the Tournament Edition stick extremely limited in availability.
These nitpicks aside, Street Fighter IV pulls through like a champion against absurdly high expectations and easily backs up all its pre-fight hype. Accessibility, nuance, longevity, nostalgia, balance, precision, fluidity and beauty – Street Fighter IV is blessed with all of these virtues, perfectly rounded out with a dash of Capcom’s signature cheesy charm. You won’t find a deeper more well-rounded fighting game this generation, period.
+ Perfect blend of retro and modern, familiar and brand new
+ Flawlessly balanced gameplay
+ Spectacular graphics and buttery-smooth animations
+ Extensive mode selection
+ Smooth online play
+ Wide range of difficulty settings
– Basic online options fail to recreate an authentic arcade experience
– Some of the new characters don’t quite fit, especially Seth
– Need a high quality arcade stick to experience the game at its best
Platform: Reviewed on PS3, also available for Xbox 360
Release Date: 2/17/09
ESRB Rating: Teen