Shoryuken!!! Few videogame series have made such a strong impact on their respective genres in the way that Street Fighter has over its 20 year lifespan. My memories take me back to the early-Nineties and Street Fighter II, which was heralded as being the catalyst that ignited the fighting game boom of that decade. I remember sneaking out of the schoolyard at lunch times to play mini-tournaments on the arcade machine in our local chip shop. The machine was used so often by school kids that the punch and kick buttons had been worn down from teenage sweat and frantic button-mashing.
It was Street Fighter II that spawned the iconic roster of virtual fighters which are now firmly etched into the memories of fans, and remembered with great fondness by all who were lucky enough to have spent time in its company. Blanka, Chun-Li, Ryu, Ken and Guile are just a few of the names that immediately trigger nostalgic flashbacks to epic SNES battles that would keep my brother and I locked away happily for hours in our bedroom without any need for food, drink or conversation.
It was with Street Fighter II that the series’ six-button configuration was born, giving us a deep fighting experience that required skill to master, but could still be enjoyed by anyone. From Blanka’s Lighting Cannonball to E.Honda’s Killer Head Ram to Ken’s Hadoken, the character-specific special moves were all impressive to watch, yet tricky to pull off in the heat of the flurrying battles, which were brilliantly orchestrated through a range of carefully traded blows, head butts, slaps, throws, fireballs and dragon punches.
Street Fighter IV has brought these memories flooding back to me with a tidal wave of affection, but more importantly, it has given us, fans of the series, a chance to re-live them all over again. Furthermore, a new legion of gamers now has the opportunity to see what all the fuss was about, and I have no doubt that they’ll absolutely love it. Street Fighter IV encapsulates the glory days of Street Fighter II by bringing back the iconic list of fighters and their familiar move sets, but it also flings some new fighters into the arena, most of whom fit seamlessly into the roster and feel like they’ve always been part of the furniture. Street Fighter is back, looking better than ever, with some superb enhancements that make it just as much fun, if not more, than I remember. This is virtual sparring at its very best and a glorious return to the quintessential fighter of this generation.
The character roster in Street Fighter IV boasts all of the recognizable figures from Street Fighter II. The mystical Indian Yogi, Dhalsim, returns, who fights well from long range thanks to his elasticized arms and legs, alongside “chunky-thighs” Chun-Li with her face-slapping Spinning Bird Kick, and the Russian Wrestler, Zangief, with his hugely powerful frame and devastating Spinning Piledriver move. The four bosses also reappear -– Vega, Sagat, M Bison and Balrog bring their blend of hard-hitting moves into the arena and all look suitably ‘next-gen’, rendered impressively in stylized 3D computer graphics. The characters look like they’ve always done, but have now blossomed into crisper, sharper and more vivid figures on screen and represent a true evolution of the series.
Backdrops have also been given a much needed lick of virtual paint. Some of them are still familiar. Guile’s home base of The United States Air Force airbase with an F-16 fighter jet in the background, for example, makes a return, but has been given a shot of next-gen sheen and now has so much more depth and detail to it. Similarly, other locations, including the likes of the Rundown Back Alley, Volcanic Rim, Beautiful Bay, and Cruise Ship Storm boast impressive animations and weather affects that breath life into them.
While it’s certainly nice to have a good mix of suitably impressive and opulently decorated arenas to battle in, it’s still the fighting that shines brightest and makes Street Fighter IV so addictive and entertaining. The games takes place on a 2D plane, which means that each battle is a tug-of-war match, a finely balanced tactical fight where you have to try and second guess your opponent’s next move. The set-up is a familiar one, with the game’s Arcade mode bringing you on a trip around the world taking on each character in a series of timed rounds, right up until you face Seth in the final battle.
If you’ve played Street Fighter before then the majority of the moves will be instantly and reassuringly familiar. Quarter circle and punch still executes Ken’s Hadoken, whereas Guile still uses the same ‘charge style’ gameplay of old, where you need to hold the thumbstick to the left for a couple of seconds to charge it up before shifting it to the right and pressing punch to pull off a Sonic Boom. To veterans it means that you can instantly, and probably very quickly, battle through arcade mode on the lower to medium difficulty settings, but if you’re new to the series, it’s going to take some effort to master the timing and skill needed to pull off the likes of a Ryu’s Metsu Hadoken or Chun-Li’s Hokyokusen.
The fighting system in Street Fighter IV has depth and a number of layers to it, new and old, that will offer a challenge to new and veteran players alike who hope to master the techniques and rise to the top of online leaderboards. Light, medium, and hard punches and kicks used in combination with thumbstick movement give you access the brilliant range of special moves and super and ultra combos, which when mastered will really sort the men out from the boys. Luckily, Capcom has thought of everything and has included a brilliant Training mode, which takes you by the hand and guides you through each character’s move set and then teaches you how to string attacks together. Training mode is a great new addition to the series. It allows you to get to grips with some of the new game mechanics and gives everyone a fighting chance.
One of the newest mechanics is the Focus system, which adds another dimension to combat by allowing players to absorb a hit and then counter-attack. You pull off this maneuver by holding down the middle kick and punch buttons simultaneously. It’s a great way to stop those players who consistently try and use the same moves to break you down. Got a barrage of fireballs coming your way? Use Focus, absorb the attack, and then dash through it to rain a series of blows on your opponent. The two meters displayed on-screen also add a deeper element to each battle. The Super Meter fills when you attack opponents and the Revenge meter fills when you get attacked. When full, the first meter allows you to pull off Super Combos, while the Revenge meter allows you to pull off the cinematic Ultra moves, such as as M Bison’s Nightmare Booster (Ultra Scissor Kick). Combine these tactical elements with new EX and special moves, in addition to the extension of the character roster and their expanded moveset, and you’ve got so much variety and replay value its unfathomable.
By completing arcade mode with certain characters you will unlock others in the roster. For example, beating it as Ryu allows you to play as Sakura, while completing it as C. Viper means you can step into the role of the pigtailed blond, Cammy. New to the list are Abel, Crimson Viper, Rufus and El Fuerte, and they all bring something new to the table in terms of design and fighting style. Crimson Viper is probably my favorite so far. In a tight, figure-hugging suit she delivers seismic shocks with her right hand and bolts of electricity with her left. Add the fact that she sports a pair of jet-propelled boots and you’ve got an exciting new character, who not only looks great, but has some impressive moves to master. The masked Mexican luchador, El Fuerte, also has a range of lightning quick moves that will also prove to be a handful against some of the sparring regulars. It’s worth noting that he’s the only character in the game who has a combo that can be looped repeatedly, which can cause massive damage to your opponent. It’s clear that a lot of thought has gone into the design and the move sets of each of the new fighters, and it shows. I’d expect some of them to become firm favorites among the online crowd.
And it’s online where we can expect to have the most fun with Street Fighter IV. Offline, there’s a Versus mode, as well as a set of challenges, which tasks you with the likes of seeing how many opponents you can take down in a row without losing all of your vitality. There’s also the aforementioned Training and Arcade modes, but it’s the Network battles that add infinite replay value, and it’s here, fighting against human opponents, that Street Fighter IV really shines and becomes a supreme battle of wits and skill. Even if you get your ass kicked time and time again, it’s the sort of fighter that somehow manages to hook you in from the outset and tempt you into having just one more fight before quitting.
There’s not much to point fault at with Street Fighter IV, but there were a couple of small things that I’m going to mention for sake of competition. Fighting Seth in the final boss battle is a pain in the neck. He’s a really tough boss to beat as he tends to warp constantly, which makes him tricky to hit. It’s probably the only time that I’ve become frustrated with the game as it took me more than a dozen attempts to beat him on medium level. Also, I’d have liked the option to be able to immediately restart a fight with the same character after losing, rather than having to go back to the character selection screen and then wait for it to load up again.
These are two very small issues when I take into account the fun I’ve had playing Street Fighter IV. Since it arrived last week, I’ve found it hard to put the game to the back of my mind. I woke up this morning and all I could think about was jumping online for a blast. Unfortunately, I couldn’t because I had to write this rather lengthy review to let you know as soon as I possibly could that Street Fighter IV is everything you wanted it to be and more. I could sing the praises of Street Fighter IV all day long, hence the long review, but I’m not going to. I’m off to practice my Hyakuretsukyakus, Kikokens and my Hadokens for the online ranking matches. See you online! You’d be mad to miss it.