Review / Street Fighter IV (PS3)

Back when Street Fighter IV was first announced in December of 2007, the crew over at 1UP (*tips forty*) traveled to Capcom headquarters to chat with Producer Yoshinori Ono about the game. The usual questions were asked: what characters will be in it? Will the fighting remain in 2D? Will there be a new gameplay system like Street Fighter III’s parries or Super Street Fighter II Turbo’s super moves? The most interesting question, though, turned out to be the most obvious one: why make Street Fighter IV now?

Ono’s answer was illuminating. Despite the unflagging popularity of Street Fighter games in the hardcore tournament scene, the series had fallen off the radar of the everyday gamer. The iterative nature of Street Fighter II (i.e., Super, Hyper, Turbo, et al) left casual players confused, and Street Fighter III’s more demanding, defensive gameplay — and lack of familiar characters — turned off all but the most dedicated 2D fighting specialists.

So when Ono was handed the reins to Street Fighter IV, he went back and looked at the series’ most popular entry, Street Fighter II, and attempted to put his finger on what it was that made the game so popular. He decided it was time to take the series back to basics. All 12 of the fan-favorite World Warriors would return, as would the offensive-oriented gameplay of old. Four brand new fighters would get tossed into the mix as well, and a versatile focus attack would evolve the fighting with new combos, counters, and techniques. In other words, Street Fighter IV was designed to be a perfect mix of old and new that would appeal equally to battle-tested tournament goers and first-time fighters alike. But can a Street Fighter game ever be all things to all people?

The short answer is “no”. No matter how beginner friendly Street Fighter IV may be, some gamers will just never be able to wrap their fingers around the timing, the button layout, and the complex move inputs. That means that if you’ve tried fighting games before and could never get into them, you should move along — there’s nothing to see here. On the other hand, if you’ve dabbled in fighters before and liked what you played, but just haven’t been fully bitten by the bug, this could be the one that takes the true bite.

At its core, Street Fighter gameplay revolves around tactical, one-on-one combat. Two fighters square off using a variety of unique normal and special moves, combos, blocks, and reversals. Each fight is a best-of-three contest, with rounds ending only when a combatant’s stamina has been drained or the timer reaches zero. The character that takes two of the three rounds is declared the winner and moves on to fight the next competitor. Sounds simple enough, right? Well, it is, especially when matches amount to button-mashing wars of attrition. Beneath the surface, though, Street Fighter IV boasts an incredibly deep and complex gameplay system.

As mentioned above, Ono wanted to bring offensive-oriented fighting back to the forefront with Street Fighter IV — a goal that drove him to devise the game’s new focus system. By pressing the medium punch and kick buttons at the same time, a player will trigger a character’s unique focus attack, which lands with three levels of ferocity depending on how long the buttons are held. A quick depression and release unleashes a normal attack that will crumple an opponent only when used as a counter strike. A lengthier depression and release triggers a level-two focus attack, which immediately crumples an opponent if it lands, allowing for a follow-up attack. The third and most powerful level of focus attack automatically triggers after a second or so of holding the buttons down. This attack is unblockable, has armor break properties, and crumples an opponent upon impact. Powerful in and of themselves, focus attacks can also be used to feint an attack or cancel special moves and chain into super or ultra combos.

If this all sounds a bit daunting, you might want to delve into the game’s Challenge Mode before jumping into some online battles (AKA, the deep end of the pool). In addition to time attack and survival challenges, Challenge Mode includes character-specific trials that help you learn special moves, combos, supers, and ultras. As you move through the various challenges, you’ll not only learn crucial tactics, you’ll also unlock new colors, taunts, and artwork for your character of choice. The trial mode isn’t perfect — some of the tougher combos would be easier to complete if they were demoed upfront — but it’s a quick way for you to acquire some muscle memory and improve your execution.

Street Fighter IV’s Arcade Mode is where you’ll fight computer-controlled opponents — or be interrupted by online competitors, if you so choose, in a great approximation of the “I got next” arcade experience — and unlock the game’s seven “hidden” characters. The A.I. is alternately dumb and unrelenting depending on the difficulty level you choose, but the mode’s final boss, Seth, is almost always infuriatingly cheap. If you’re only interested in unlocking characters, do yourself a favor and set the difficulty to “Easiest”, the rounds to “1”, and rely heavily on your jump kick/sweep combo to keep the pressure on him. Otherwise, he’ll spam his teleport and piledrive you to kingdom come.

The online experience in Street Fighter IV is largely a great one. The quickmatch option finds you potential opponents in seconds and a network strength meter helps you avoid laggy matches. In fact, if you only choose fights with a network strength of three notches or higher, lag will most likely never be a problem. You can also search for custom matches based on round counts and time limits, or prioritize the search according to network stability or the skill level of your opponents.

The game is missing some features, however, that would’ve greatly improved the online portion — the most notable being a true lobby experience. Whereas games like Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix support lobby features that allow a group of gamers to gather and watch each other’s fights as they await their turn to battle, Street Fighter IV’s lobbies amount to simple, one-on-one encounters between a host and a guest. While Capcom has planned a Championship Mode update that will include a replay mode and an enhanced tournament matching system, Street Fighter IV’s out-of-the-box online mode plays well but lacks features.

Overall, Street Fighter IV does exactly what Ono hoped it would do: it brings back the beloved gameplay of Street Fighter II and evolves it in new and exciting ways. Tournament players have already embraced the game (search “Street Fighter 4” on YouTube for proof). Now it’s time for those who haven’t played a fighting game since trading in their Genesis six-button pads long ago to do the same.

+

  • Incredibly deep, rewarding, brand-new-yet-familiar gameplay
  • Character-specific trials teach special moves, combos, and more
  • Online matches are easy to jump into and mostly lag-free

  • Focus attack system has a steep learning curve
  • Online mode lacks comprehensive lobby features
  • Pretty much requires the purchase of an arcade stick or six-button pad
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