Monday, September 27, 2010
Super Street Fighter IV
This was inevitable. Given the history of the series, getting an upgraded version of Street Fighter IV was a forgone conclusion. There's always something more to add. Including new characters. Rebalancing move sets. Speeding up the pacing. Anything, no matter how utterly minute, to justify re-releasing what is essentially the same game. It happens all the time in the fighting genre, and Capcom is arguably the worst offender. I'm sure I'm not the only one who took a wary glance at this and thought, “Do I really want to get this?” But once the fighting starts and you get a taste of what's being offered, any potential regret will vanish. The success of any revamped title is determined by the content it builds upon the previous version and how well it executes it. Super Street Fighter IV pulls it off almost perfectly.
You'll understand once you get to the character select screen. It's huge. There are so many characters - 35, a tally the likes of which hasn't been rivaled since the Alpha series - that you can barely make out their mug shots. Everyone is already available at the start, which means you can get right into the action without tediously playing through the story with each fighter. Every character from the first version of Street Fighter IV is present and accounted for; you've got all the World Warriors, Abel, Rufus, and the rest of the extra fighters. Super Street Fighter IV features several additional characters spanning the entirety of the series. T. Hawk and Dee Jay finally complete the lineup from The New Challengers. Cody, Guy, and Adon have returned from Alpha 3. Dudley, Ibuki and Makoto represent the best of Third Strike. That's enough cameos to leave the hardcore fans reeling in nostalgia. However, the roster would have benefited from having more original characters. Juri provides an interesting blend of sadistic villainy and Taekwondo, but Hakan's epic oil wrestling grapples and hammy voice acting are little much. Considering this is a game with a luchador chef and a guy with a perpetually flowing beer gut, that's saying something.
Regardless of who you choose, you'll have to spend plenty of time learning their movesets. The mechanics are virtually identical to those of the original Street Fighter IV; each character can perform a wide variety of punches and kicks with varying attack strength. More complex commands with the directional pad allow you to perform special moves, be they uppercuts, grapples, charged hits, flying kicks, and several other stunts. The stronger the attack, the longer it takes to perform. The trick is using all of these attacks in tandem to inflict as much damage as possible. A light jab might not do much, but it gives you just enough time to follow it up with another punch, a sweeping kick, a throw, and anything else you might be able to dish out. Everything is just as responsive and fluid (often even more so) as in the first version. With a firm grasp of the timing and mastery of the controls, you can spend hours developing your playing style. That's the cornerstone of any good fighting game, and Super Street Fighter IV utilizes it well.
As with the last game, there are a few additional systems built into the basic combat. By pressing the medium punch and kick buttons at the same time, you can charge up and release a Focus Attack. At full strength, these moves can stun opponents and send them flying. It even lets you absorb one oncoming attack without stopping the charge-up, which allows you to parry a la Third Strike and set up counter attacks. It's a godsend for defensive fighters. As you rack up damage, you'll fill an energy meter at the bottom of the screen. That can be used to perform multi-hit variants of the special moves or cancel attack animations into different combos. Or if you prefer something flashier, you can store up power and use all of it to pull off an Ultra Combo, which can be anything from a super-charged projectile and acrobatic pyrotechnics to an oily (and hilarious) slide across the stage. The game gives each fighter a completely new second Ultra, which is chosen Third Strike style during the initial character selection. The beauty of all this complex stuff is how well it balances the offensive and defensive mechanics; regardless of your strategies, the game has a way to cater to it.
If you think you've got a decent handle on everything, you can show off online. Veterans of Street Fighter IV will likely shudder at the mention of it, swooning from nightmarish visions of crappy Ken players. Back then, it was all about rankings; if you won or lost a fight, your rank would be affected accordingly. Capcom figured out a way around the problem by introducing separate point rankings for each character. Say you're good with Sagat (and who isn't?), but are having trouble using Ibuki. Your regular Player Points get docked if you lose with her, but not your earnings with Sagat. That way you're not having to scramble to find a cheap character and spend more time experimenting with the rest of the roster.
You'll have plenty of chances, too. Even when you're just messing around with different fighters, there's a ton of options for the online multiplayer. Aside from the typical Ranked Matches and the Endless Mode, you can get all your friends together and have epic 2vs2, 3vs3, and even 4vs4 Team Battles. There's also a Tournament Mode supposedly in the works, though only time will tell if it gets implemented. Meanwhile, you can tune into the Replay Channel and watch matches that have been uploaded by you and other gamers. It's broken down into categories based on which characters are fighting, which helps you narrow your searches. It's a decent way to observe and learn new strategies, though it serves little more than a distraction from the fights. With so many options and improvements, Super Street Fighter IV makes playing online fun again.
But if you want something a little more low-key, you'll probably spend the majority of the time finishing the Challenge Mode with each character. The trials start off simple, with objectives like performing special attacks or stringing basic attacks together. But as you get further along, the missions get more demanding; you'll find yourself awkwardly trying (and probably failing) to pull off some convoluted combo. You can spend as much time as you want exploring the obligatory Training Mode, though you'll probably get more out of a few dozen Versus matches with the computer on a high difficulty setting. But if you're in need of a quick nostalgia fix, you can smash through sports cars and wine barrels in the revamped 3D versions of the classic mini-games from the Street Fighter II titles. Not only are they separate challenges, but they're also featured optionally in the regular Arcade Mode. They don't add much to the game, but at least they break up the pacing long enough to keep things interesting.
It doesn't matter either way; longtime fans are going to eat them up. Super Street Fighter IV thrives on nostalgia. There are all kinds of references to the rest of the series and other Capcom titles. Cody and Guy's backstories provide several allusions to Final Fight and its mythos. Not to mention Dudley and Makoto's motives for getting into the tournament, which echo their origins from Third Strike. Even the win quotes have been changed to reflect the relationships between certain characters. Despite all these little nods, however, it's kind of disappointing how much of this is reused material. While everyone gets new animated introductory and ending cut scenes, a lot of pre-fight dialogues (the Ryu/Sagat exchange comes to mind) are taken straight out of the first version. Several of the stages, like the volcano, alleyway, and the wine brewery, are essentially unchanged. There are some new ones, like an African plain cloaked in the darkness of a solar eclipse and a bustling construction site (including a Hugo cameo), but it's not enough. It's understandable, given how this is nothing more than a facelift of an old game, but a bit more original content would have been nice.
But considering how much is already in there, it's probably too much to ask. Super Street Fighter IV is one of the best and most extensive updates to the series in a long while. It takes the old roster and adds several more characters to it, offering an incredible amount of variety that spans the best of each title. It uses the basic combat mechanics and builds upon them, offering a more polished and refined experience. All of the complex systems are back and reworked, creating a well-balanced experience. The various challenge modes let you get your strategies down perfectly, and the revamped mini-games ought to put a smile on older gamers' faces. The sheer amount of online multiplayer options and features make it so much more than just another cheap ranking-fest. It's just a shame that Capcom didn't go all-out with the rest of the game; there could have been even more moves and stages. Regardless, Super Street Fighter IV is well worth looking into. It might not be totally new, but it definitely feels like it.