Street Fighter IV
Here comes a new challenger, as Street Fighter IV strides confidently into the ring sizing up the competiton. If you're anything like us - rabid Street Fighter fans - you'll have been salivating over the slew of screens and videos that have been drip-fed over the past year or so, feverishly waiting for the game to be released. Well, now it's finally here, fresh out of the arcade and onto your home console of choice. It feels as though it has been a long wait for Capcom's fighting opus to make its triumphant return, so it is with an immeasurable degree of excitement that we delve right into Street Fighter IV to see if it can meet our exceedingly high expectations. Does it live up to the hype and is it as deserving of the high praise that's been heaped upon it thus far?
Anyone familiar with the series will immediately feel right at home with Street Fighter IV, rolling quarter circles on their D-Pads to hurl fireballs across the screen and pulling dragon punches with aplomb just like the old days when Street Fighter II ruled the arcades. While Street Fighter IV retains a comfortable sense of familiarity and remains riveted to the traditional 2D plane, it never feels anything less than an energetic and electrifying beat 'em up title. This isn't just any beat 'em up though. It's Street Fighter IV, the spiritual successor to Street Fighter II that does away with the resolutely hardcore trimmings of Street Fighter III and emerges as a startling revival of a game that is as eminently playable now as it was almost 20 years ago.
Featuring a roster of 25 characters - five of which are new faces - Street Fighter IV will keep you playing and experimenting with different fighters for some time. You'll always inevitably return to your favourites, but SF IV boasts the most eclectic cast of brawlers yet seen in a Street Fighter title. The core twelve characters from Street Fighter II make up the bulk of the numbers with Super SF favourites Fei-Long and Cammy making a welcome return to the fold. For some the absence of T. Hawk and Dee Jay may gall, but there are still plenty of fighters to choose from that it seems somewhat churlish to complain. Of the new challengers - Abel, C. Viper, Rufus, El Fuerte and cheap, rubbish boss character Seth - you'll undoubtedly have a preference, as they fit in neatly without ever seeming inconsistent with the rest of the Street Fighter universe. Naturally, the likes of Ken, Ryu, Blanka and Chun-Li still reign supreme, but it's nice to see some new blood.
Every character is not only fantastically chunky and impeccably rendered, but they possess a real weight to them, lending a real heft to their kicks and punches, which connect with a spark of electricity or an incendiary flash. Dressed in a bold new art style that boasts a visually arresting painterly quality that recalls Capcom's own Okami with it's flecks of watercolour and expressive strokes of colour; Street Fighter IV is not only one of the best looking fighting games available, it's also one of the most stylistically unique titles around. Each character is so lovingly drawn, well animated and drenched in high detail that every single one feels brand new again. All of the backdrops have been completely redesigned too with some paying homage to old locations while others are entirely original. Our favourite background has you fighting mere inches from a fiery flow of lava while an active volcano unleashes its molten fury in the distance. Both overly dramatic and highly improbable - its brilliant.
Of course, none of this stuff matters a jot if the fighting mechanics don't work the way they should, but then did you ever expect Capcom to screw up the Street Fighter fundamentals that have stood them in such good stead for so long? On the surface, SF IV delivers more of the same kind of fireball hurling, blocking, evading and hurricane kicking action that we all know and love, with the normally complex special combo moves made manageable enough for the less experienced fight fan. Not only have things been tightened up with special moves refined to the point that they're now easier to pull off than ever before, there's enough here to satisfy every Street Fighter fanatic on the scale. For the casual brawler, there's the simplicity of the EX Focus moves that can be pulled off by holding down medium punch and kick simultaneously. Your Focus move can break through one offensive strike and will floor an opponent instantaneously, so knowing when to pull one out of the bag adds an extra degree of strategy to your repertoire. Doing so results in a trail of splashing ink and a guard breaking impact that can prove to be an invaluable way to push a dangerous opponent back.
For the slightly more advanced SF aficionado, there's the distillation of every super special meter from the third game and the Alpha series in the more accessible form of two distinct gauges. When full your EX Gauge enables you to execute Ultra moves whereas the Super Meter grants you the ability to perform counters and stylish Super Combos. Each of these devastating combos requires the same motion on the D-pad with the heavy kick or punch buttons activating your Super while your assigned LK+MK+HK or LP+MP+HP button is used to pull off a valuable Ultra Combo. Knowing when best to utilise these combos quickly becomes second nature, as they'll increase depending on how you're performing during a fight. Your Super Combo bar will fill with each hit you deal out to your rival and carries over to the next round. Unleashing your Super is the ideal finisher, setting the screen ablaze in a blinding orange glow, which is incidentally the ideal way to humiliate your opponent. Your Ultra on the other hand serves as a way to turn the tide of a fight that's going awry; with each hit you receive building up your meter. Should you mount a comeback, a full Ultra meter is the perfect way to turn things on their head and rescue a round you may have previously been in danger of losing. Lose the round with a full meter however, and it's back to square one. Learning when to use your combos becomes an integral part of fighting in SF IV and brings an element of strategic risk and reward to the mix.
Is Street Fighter IV is perfect then? Well, not quite. Some of the music is fairly weak with the title theme in particular sounds like the work of a boyband reject warbling some tosh about being invincible. Not good. And although we've mentioned it once already, we have to reiterate that Seth is one of the lamest and cheapest final boss characters in the history of one-on-one brawlers. With his uninspired design, plagiarised move set and stretchy arms, we can't help but hate him. The unashamedly cheesy tactics adopted by Seth only serve to exacerbate the frustration of the already unforgiving arcade mode when you've spent ages slogging through the rest of the challengers. Sometimes single-player arcade mode can be a brutal ordeal with the AI proving utterly relentless on any difficulty setting above medium. Even the very easiest difficulty setting refuses to let you get too comfortable. It'll take you hours before you unlock every character too with some requiring specific conditions that can make the whole task a time-consuming endeavour.
If things do begin to grow a little wearisome during the arcade campaign, you can always retreat to a host of single-player trials and challenges, the bite-size nature of which make for great instant action that unlock minor rewards such as extra costume colours as you progress. Survival, Time Attack and Trials where you must successfully perform combos and special moves, round out the single-player package injecting some extra longevity into proceedings. There's also a comprehensive Training Mode where you can hone your skills to perfection should you feel the need. Online and offline versus modes complete the experience with the ability to monitor your statistics and online ranking from the main menu screen. Online battles also succeed in being fairly stable and lag-free for the most part with the option to search for matches where the host connection is strongest for the smoothest fight possible.
Despite a few incredibly minor niggles, Street Fighter IV arguably represents a new zenith for the series and puts every other beat 'em up in the shade. Visually and technically superior in every conceivable way, Street Fighter IV revives a much loved franchise and is unquestionably something genuinely special that will be appreciated for many years to come, much like its hallowed forebear. Accessible enough for newbies, unfathomably deep for the dedicated veteran, Street Fighter IV is the only beat 'em up you really need.