Street Fighter. It’s a series that took up most of my college years. Actually I should refer to Street Fighter II, as I never really played the first one at all (when I saw it listed in a magazine I thought originally it was going to be a sequel to Final Fight. How stupid of me.) But yes the series took over all of my spare time.
My first experiences with the series came with Champion Edition, and I spent so much time on it that I was finally able to beat the game without even losing a single round. Learning each of the character’s weaknesses (such as Ken getting too aggressive with his Shouryukens or having to weave through Sagat’s Tiger Shots to strike his exposed arm,) I was able to move my skills to head on head action and did quite well.
That skill took me on towards all of the upgrades, including Turbo, Super, and of course, Super Turbo (which I played at home on the 3DO with an amazing soundtrack, at the cost of a decent gamepad. I never even considered getting the Capcom Fighting Pad which was released.) Just getting to face Akuma was a challenge, let alone beating him.
It would take a while until I finally caught a glimpse of Street Fighter III (or simply "Three," as its marquee stated, and how this review will refer to it.) While it was vastly improved on the graphics side, with animation that defunct magazine Gamefan stated rivaled that of classic Disney, the gameplay was somewhat of a letdown, as it felt way too simplistic. And don’t even get me started on the final boss, Gill, who to this day I consider one of the most frustrating end bosses ever, sandwiched between the final boss in Soul Calibur IV and Jinpachi Mishima from Tekken 5 in terms of cheapness.
Another series that came out at the same time was Street Fighter Alpha, which looked back at the characters before SF II and turned into a series of its own. Its final release, Alpha 3, ended up being so good that it was my favorite title of the SF franchise for the longest time.
And then of course there was the bastard stepchild of the whole SF lineage, Street Fighter EX, which was Capcom’s attempt to turn SF into a 3D game. I could go on and on about how much I hated this series, and how I do not consider it part of the whole SF canon, but by the time I’m done, this review would end up being about 5,000 words long, way beyond our usual amount.
(And yes, I know I’m not mentioning Street Fighter: the Movie, but again, the less I say, the better.)
But since Alpha 3 there hasn’t been a new SF title available as of course the whole gaming industry jumped on the 3D bandwagon. Classic 2D gamers like myself had to evolve as well and we ended up playing such series as Soul Calibur, Tekken, and Dead or Alive to get our fighting fix, but despite some of them being good (my fondness for Tekken 5 is legendary,) I still wanted another SF title, and whatever you do, please don’t make it 3D!
When SF producer Yoshinori Ono announced that he was working on Street Fighter IV, he vowed to keep the fast, yet deep gameplay of Street Fighter II, but give the visuals a 3D polish. While hearing the classic gameplay returning caught my eye, the concern of making the game 3D hurt it. We’ve already went through this with EX and I didn’t want to see SF IV be just as bad.
Even worse, after the disappointment I had with Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix on Xbox Live Arcade, with its botched up controls, choppy animation and inferior gameplay, I was expecting another round of letdown.
Man, was I wrong.
As if Street Fighter IV did not make up for all the disappointment that I suffered from Turbo HDR, it has become the best Street Fighter title I played since Alpha 3. Taking place between SF II and Three, SF IV brings back all twelve characters from the first game, as well as three from Super SFII (Akuma, Fei Long and Cammy,) four from the Alpha series (Gen, Dan, Rose, and Sakura,) and six brand new characters.
Abel is a French mixed martial artist suffering from amnesia and searching for past members of M. Bison’s Shadowloo organization. Crimson Viper is a mysterious American super spy. El Fuerte is a Mexican based lucha libre wrestler who aspires to be a top chef. Rufus is an American based Karate fighter obsessed with defeating Ken Masters and whose body can give a whole new meaning to jiggle physics.
Hidden character Gouken is also available. Sensei to both Ken and Ryu (and possibly the mysterious Sheng Long,) and brother of the evil Akuma, finally makes his Street Fighter debut.
In addition, there is the final boss character, known only as Seth. As the CEO of the organization S.I.N., the weapons division of Shadowloo, his special moves are taken from all of those who have fought against him. When fighting Seth in the last stage, he starts off as an easy character, but then his true intents are shown, and turns into a challenge for even the most hardened Street Fighter player. (And considering this takes place before Three, we now can see the evolution of insanely difficult final bosses.)
Those who were worried that the 3D design would ruin the classic Street Fighter gameplay will be in for a surprise, as the deep gameplay is back and better than ever. While most of the mechanics are taken from Super Street Fighter II Turbo (right down to the Super meters,) there are additional EX moves. Executed with a control motion and two punch/kick buttons simultaneously, EX moves dish out additional damage, at the cost of one Super gauge segment.
Focus attacks are now added into the mix. By charging up a Focus move, an attack can possibly stun an opponent, and even break through a block. Focus can also be used to absorb and attack and cause a counter.
In addition, there is a Revenge gauge. As damage is taken, Revenge will increase. When filled to at least halfway, an Ultra Combo attack can be unleashed, featuring a cinematic style flurry of punishment that puts the game’s visuals to full effect.
And what amazing effects they are. While played in a 2D plane, all of the graphics are in 3D and animate very smoothly. Simple artistic effects such as calligraphic strokes and ink smudges/streaks give the game an amazing anime style look and a style all its own. The art style is done compliments of Daigo Ikeno, who designs were previously seen in Street Fighter III: Third Strike.
SF IV is also the first SF title available to feature full English dialogue. It was quite strange at first to hear even Ken speaking in English but it is great to see the series come to age. For most of the effort the voice acting is quite good, equal to that of current anime. I will admit there was some voice work that just cracked me up. Case in point, the character of Abel, who is supposed to be French. For some reason he reminded me a bit of Jean Claude Van Damme. During an in game cutscene with Guile, the conversation they had presented a stroke of irony. Considering that Van Damme played Guile in that awful Street Fighter live action movie, having his opponent speak in that same manner just came off as hilarious. And speaking of anime, the main arcade mode features anime segments to open and close the game. They do, however, appear a bit limited in scale compared to the game’s visuals, and I feel they should have used the game’s engine to tell the story.
Street Fighter fans will also love the soundtrack, as many of the songs feature tributes to the tracks found in SF II. However, the main theme, called "THE NEXT DOOR -Indestructible" by J-Pop band EXILE, is so cheesy that it will actually be stuck in your head for a long time. In fact, I found the instrumental version that plays during the character select is much better.
Online the game plays quite well. On a good Internet connection, SF IV flows quite smoothly without any break up at all. The only problem comes when trying to join in a game, as most of the time it fails to join a session or states the room is already full. I found it worked out a lot more to create a session myself and have others join in. But when the game starts, it is near flawless.
Flawless is just about the way to describe Street Fighter IV. Seeing as how it has been twelve years since the last numbered release, it is definitely a long time coming. Not only will hardcore fans of the series love it, but I will have to quote the marquee to Three again. This game will definitely appeal to "a new generation of Street Fighter."
PROS: The best Street Fighter game since Alpha 3! Drop dead gorgeous anime style. Classic 2D gameplay the way Street Fighter was meant to be played. Perfect blend of new characters as well as classics from SF I, II, and Alpha. Runs quite well online when in game. First Street Fighter game with full English dialogue that doesn’t sound hokey at all.
CONS: That theme song will be stuck in your head for weeks! Some problems when joining into a game on Live. Anime cut scenes are lacking. Final boss (Seth) frustrating, but thankfully nowhere near as bad as Gill from Three.