Street Fighter IV Review
There are few games in history that can claim to be as iconic and important to gaming as Street Fighter 2. Alongside Super Mario Bros, Doom and R-Type, SF 2 served as a flag-bearer for an entire genre and a major influence on just about every title that followed it. Not only did it standardise things like energy bars and character types but it turned beat-em-ups into one of the most popular genres in the world. Arcades, which had slowly been getting less and less popular thanks to a resurgent home console market, were given a massive shot in the arm as school kids around the globe skipped classes to spend their hard earned quarters in SF 2’s sleek arcade cabinets. The early popularity of the SNES can be attributed to the near arcade-perfect (or so Capcom declared at the time) version on Nintendo’s home console, with gamers desperate for the chance to play the title at home.
But like so many other icons, SF 2’s brilliance has left many of its successors in the shade, and even Capcom themselves have struggled to match the refinement and balance of one of their biggest titles. Over the years the beat-em-up has become stagnant next to other genres despite some refinement in things like combos, parries and counters. After squeezing every ounce out of the SF 2 label with super, turbo, championship and HD editions, and the visually arresting Alpha/Zero series Capcom have almost gone back to basics with the latest, Street Fighter 4.
The first thing that hits you is the visual style. Capcom may have already dabbled with 3D graphics in the EX off-shoots, and games like Tekken and Virtua Fighter pulled off convincing 3D fighting systems long ago but SF 4 has an incredibly vivid and unique look to it. In a very obvious nod to its Magnus opus, Capcom have attempted to perfectly replicate the 2D sprites of the old era in glorious 3D. Each fighter has a slightly cell-shaded look to them and appear almost hand-painted when viewed close up. All the animation and moves look and feel like they did 17 years ago, and there are so many little touches in the animations that fans will notice that its just as entertaining watching the game being played as it is taking part yourself. The stages also look the part, with iconic backgrounds such as Chun-Li’s Chinese market and Guile’s US air base looking great in 3D.
So visually Street Fighter 4 very much harkens to days of old but how does it play? Well, unsurprisingly, this remains very faithful to the standard formula but Capcom have done a great job balancing the characters and move sets to make SF 4 feel as close to SF 2 as they could. Old players who haven’t played a beat-em-up since the original will feel right at home here, given a lot of the moves have stayed the same. And the combos, counters and ultra moves plucked from Alpha and given a bit a polish give an added layer of depth that the hardcore will relish practising. One of the joys of SF2 was that any two players could pick up the controller and have a decent stab at a fight – the old adage ‘easy to learn, difficult to master’ was never more appropriate, and its very pleasing to see Capcom adhering to that for this latest title. Button-bashing may get you a few cheap victories against low-level computer players but if you really want to get the best out of the game you’ll need to spend a lot of time perfecting moves and learning how and when to use them in battle, especially if you hope to compete in the online arena.
In a first for the series you can now test your skills against players around the world so you had better get some practise in. While doling out bountiful cans of ‘whupp-ass’ to the chum sitting next to you is still immensely satisfying, getting one over on a cocky Johnny foreigner is just that little bit more special. Online matches are a great addition to the series and will keep SF 4 locked firmly in your disc tray for many months to come. It’s not without problems though, as there are occasional lag issues which given the fast nature of the game can be frustrating. So too are the lobby searching options, which only seem to give you a choice of a couple of opponents at one time, by the time you’ve chosen one to fight the space is already filled up. The only way to get straight into a fight seems to be to set up one of your own, or use the rather excellent fight request feature, which can send a request to a friend if their playing through the arcade mode. Overall, online is still handled well and these few problems could be easily patched if Capcom are feeling charitable.
The only problems stopping this from being given full marks are the above mentioned online issues, the fact that console controllers can’t handle the genre (you really need to invest in an arcade controller) and two major issues of balance. Firstly, the last boss Seth is an extremely frustrating opponent because of his tendency to resort to a constant stream of cheap moves that make any fights above normal difficulty unfairly challenging. Secondly, the inclusion of Akuma’s one-hit KO may please those fans that can pull it off but for everyone else it just makes online fights against such players completely pointless. It’s also a real shame the proposed bonus games from SF 2 (the barrel, brick wall and car smashing ones) didn’t make an appearance, as they would have been the icing on a very tasty cake.
All in all it’s a fantastic conversion of the arcade game and the extra characters and modes make this the definitive version. Street Fighter 4 is not just a glowing tribute to a true classic but a fantastic game in its own right and no fan should be without it.