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Since the very first of its many iterations hit arcades in 1987, Street Fighter has been one of the longest running and most widely loved franchises in gaming history. With Street Fighter 4, Capcom's classic has returned with a bang and well and truly blown this former arcade fiend away.
Although I remember the furore that engulfed our local arcade when Street Fighter was first installed, I was too young at the time to be able to push my way to the front of the queue of mesmerised faces. Like many people, my dragon punching and spinning-bird kicking began in earnest with the release of the seminal Street Fighter II in 1991. Almost immediately thereafter, and for a year or so of my life, establishing and keeping my three lettered name at the top of the Street Fighter II scoreboard in our local bowling-alley-cum-pizzeria-cum-Quasar-Laser was the most important thing around.
Having giving my ten year old wrists over to arcade joystick and SNES joypad induced R.S.I. (a.k.a. Capcom Tunnel Syndrome) with SF II and a couple of its follow-ups, I have to admit that my interest in the expanding franchise waned thereafter. While I played some of them in passing, by and large the multitudinous Alpha, EX, SF III and Vs. instalments simply passed me by. Then, last year, intrigue almost led me to downloading Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix…but not quite.
I read up on it and watched some clips online, but told myself that I would probably be disappointed by revisiting the past. Nostalgia can be, after all, a cruel mistress. Then, like the short sharp shock of a bungee instructor's shove, I learned that I'd be reviewing Street Fighter 4, and the time for procrastination was over. Whatever happened, I was going to have to have to resurrect my hadoken - and…boy, am I glad that I did!
Right from the awesome intro sequences I was entranced by the rich and stylish artwork that wraps the game.
Right from the awesome intro sequences I was entranced by the rich and stylish artwork that wraps the game. While for some the muscle-frenzied appearance of the game's characters might take some getting used to, for me all the visuals hit the spot. Not only are the characters beautifully rendered and superbly animated, but the backdrops are fantastic too - my favourite being the simply beautiful Drive-in Diner stage.
Simply put, there is very little in this game to be disappointed about, it is everything that the ten year old me never even dared to dream of and more. The animation is sharp yet smooth, the pacing is superb, the sound is crisp, the roster of characters, repertoire of moves and collection of modes are all well thought out and nicely balanced, and the mix of old and new elements has been judged to perfection.
While Capcom (thankfully) decided to keep the main action in 2D, the character models are fully rendered in 3D, allowing the new 'Ultra' moves to initiate sweeping 3D sequences which dovetail seamlessly into general gameplay. The mechanics which control the new special moves - a 'revenge' meter that fills as you take hits and an EX meter that charges as you inflict them and perform combos - are a welcome inclusion that work really well. As you progress and the opposition becomes tougher, you must balance building and using your EX meter with the prospect of taking some hits in order to fill the revenge meter and unleash an Ultra Combo.
Other gameplay innovations like Focus Attack - which not only has the ability to absorb an attack while delivering a knock-down blow, but also involves an awesome calligraphic visual effect - are equally well judged. However, you do not need to master all the complex combos, cancels and finishes to get a great experience from the game. The eight difficultly levels allow for various types of arcade mode experience and in 2 player versus mode, the basic kicks, punches, grabs and throws have enough about them to make bouts enjoyable for those who (currently) wouldn't know a Tatsumaki Senpukyaku if it came over an introduced itself.
While the roster is filled with many of the crowd favourites from the past, it also contains five totally new characters and the first full appearance of Gouken, Ryu and Ken's mysterious Sensei. Although the inclusion among the new cast of an obese, yellow jump-suited, American kung-fu master and a super fast Mexican wrestler/aspiring gourmet chef might sound ridiculous, Rufus and El Fuerte (along with Abel and Crimson Viper) prove to be worthy and entertaining introductions.
I can really only take my hat off to those responsible for the treat that is SF IV.
If there is one small moan to be had, it involves the nineteenth character and new boss Seth. Setting aside his part in the predictably contrived but mercifully ignorable back-story, Seth is some kind of bio-mechanical monstrosity that utilises the moves of other characters to beat you down. In something of a departure from the stunningly rendered, stylish and well rounded opponents you fight on the way, Seth is rather disappointingly reminiscent of the blue one from Rise of the Robots and fights in a way that can only be described as cheap. Alongside this minor disappointment, I could add concerns over the ability of the 360 controller to cope with the demands of high-level play, but seeing that most people probably won't get to that point, and those that do will probably be prepared to splash on one of the several arcade sticks available, it's really no biggie.
Other than these minor quibbles, basically everything is right: the online play (setting aside the ever-present question of connection speeds), the versatile training mode, the stripped-down, quick loading menus, the detailed game options…it goes on and on. I guess when you've been making a franchise for over twenty years you develop a good understanding of what you're audience wants, but the precision and clarity of thought with which this game has been crafted is stunning.
I can really only take my hat off to those responsible for the treat that is SF IV. Whether, like me you are a former fan unsure whether to re-immerse yourself, or totally new to the SF franchise, I cannot recommend this game more highly.
With so many different perspectives it can be hard to know where to start - a little like walking into a crowded pub. Sorry about that.
But so far we've not found a way to streamline our review output - there's basically too much of it. So, rather than dilute things for newcomers we have decided to live with the hubbub while helping new readers find the columnists they will enjoy.
Our columnists each focus on a particular perspective and fall into one of the following types of gamers: