February 27, 2009
If there was one title that stuck with me throughout my childhood, it was easily Street Fighter. Sure Duck Hunt gave it a run for his money but the fact that I couldn’t Hadoken that sniggering dog in the corner meant that it was always going to come out second for me. The Street Fighter series is largely accepted as being the kingpin of fighting games and if it wasn’t for the superb outing on the Xbox Live Arcade recently, we’d have probably collapsed in despair. Despite all that, it wasn’t the ultra next gen version of the franchise we’ve all clamoured for ... Street Fighter IV is now upon us and looks to fill that void.
Street Fighter IV, like the rest of the series, throws you knee deep in to the world’s biggest fighting tournament as any one of 25 characters, each with their own agenda and story. In other words, it’s a traditional fighting game with a cheap and cheesy story intermingled throughout. Whilst the stories aren’t essential or even sufficient enough to be classed as entertaining, they do provide a mere distraction from the frenetic gameplay with sexy cartoon style cutscenes that are a breath of fresh air.
The first thing that will strike you about Street Fighter IV is its presentation which is top notch. Everything from the opening cheesy pop tune to the artistic opening cinematic, and that’s before you even get in to the game. The game is full of interactive environments, characters with more polygons than I have hair (yes, I’m a hairy beast) and great animations of classic trademark moves from your Spinning Bird Kicks to your Sonic Booms. Throw in some visually sublime “super moves”, “ultra moves” and the entirely new “focus moves” and you're in for an audio-visual treat.
The controls are pretty much as they were 20 years ago with a few variations but that’s where we come to the game’s first major fault ... the Xbox 360 controller. I kid you not, the game is virtually unplayable with the poorly created Xbox 360 d-pad and seeing as this is an Xbox 360 review (we heart the PS3 controller d-pad by the way), it’s a pretty major factor. Other pads and joysticks work fine, in fact they’re great, except not everyone is going to have access to one especially with the lack of availability of them. What is it going to take for Microsoft to remedy this? I mean seriously!
The game’s moves are as old and untouched as the franchise itself, but you know the old saying, “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.” Street Fighter IV as well as the traditional soft, medium and hard punches, kicks and throws, has some pretty intense “ultra” and “super” moves to keep you amused and if you connect one of these bad boys, they can deal a devastating combo of blows. Your ultra moves work on the basis of damage taken, so the more damage you take, the more of these you can pull off. The super moves are very similar to the ultras but are achieved by filling your super meter through connecting attacks without taking damage. The animations and mini cutscenes that come from these moves, especially connecting with them, make them fun every time. All very simple ... yeah? Hardly ... throw in armour breaks, a three tiered focus attack system and counters and it’s not as simplistic as you'd once have thought.
As far as modes go, the single player experience is somewhat limited, as fighting games tend to be, with only the arcade story and a few challenges to keep you occupied. You’ll have a 8 tiered difficulty system to sink your teeth into for the arcade mode, but as far as I’m concerned there isn’t really much of a difference between the bottom 4, as the CPU AI seems to spam you with the same special move again and again. It really doesn’t make the game accessible to new Street Fighter players or ones with limited patience and time, especially when the CPU just seems to constantly use the same moves against you.
Speaking of spamming moves, the new grand supremo boss is ridiculously cheap in more than one way. Whether he’s using the same special move against you over and over again, or using another Street Fighter’s trademark moves or punches against you. Seeing anyone else use the Sonic Boom move other than Guile, or Dhalsim's stretchy arms attacks is sacrilegious, so why Seth gets special treatment, we're unsure. He basically seems like a lazy concoction from the Capcom guys for a final boss ... “oh we can’t think of any one new, so we’ll have a bit of everyone in there then.”
Another gripe of mine, albeit a small one, is the amount of locked characters. Since when was it acceptable to have to unlock bit part characters via the arcade? You know, the likes Dan, Cammy, Gen and a few others. Of the 9 that come already locked, only 3 of them are boss characters which aren’t particularly easy to unlock, even for the veteran players. Seems like a cheap move and one that ultimately forces you to put some time in to unlock some more characters before your mates come over for that Saturday night Street Fighter fest.
The online aspect should really be the area of Street Fighter IV that excels but it just fails to get going. On the one hand, the ability to play against friends and foes over Live is a great experience; earning battle points, medals and having fun, which is what Street Fighter should be all about, but the game lacks on so many other fronts. The ability to only have 2 person lobbies is a complete oversight from Capcom and the mode fails to deliver the frantic 4 player, winner-stays-on action that Soul Calibur 4 delivers. Not only is that a problem, but the fact that you get booted to a ready up screen before you get back to the character select in between matches seems like a pointless exercise. Oh, did I mention that you can only take you unlocked characters online as well, so if you lack the necessary skills to unlock Akuma and Gouken, prepare to get beaten out of sight if you come up against them. With so much potential, you’ve got to think that Capcom could have done so much better.
As far as the achievements go, they’re not too bad at all. Gamers are rewarded for a variety of tasks and admittedly, some are pretty hardcore, like the gold challenges and getting all icons & titles. Hell, even the unlock all characters achievement is a bitch to do, but it was always going to be a Street Fighter achievement. For the full 1,000 points, you have to question your Street Fighter ability; for some people, 20 hours is easy enough, but for others, you could play for 100 hours and still lack the necessary skills to polish this one off. The tiles are very artistic though which is another added bonus.
After the nostalgia has worn off, under the face of it, Street Fighter is the same as it was 20 years ago, but with a fresh look. The game isn’t as accessible as you would have thought for a Street Fighter game either, and it does a lot to deter new players with cheap single player AI and the like, but Street Fighter IV is about being great online, right? Right, but the online screams untapped potential and could have been so much more, especially after seeing the 4 player lobbies in Soul Calibur 4. The game controls are great (on a non default 360 pad) and the game looks even better, but after a few rounds on the single player and a lonely venture online, you’ll wonder where most of your money went. Street Fighter IV is undoubtedly a great experience to recapture memories of yesteryear, but it is a hollow and short lived one, unless you’re with your mates huddled round the screen playing winner stays on. There is all sorts of talk of new modes and what not coming in the near future, but we can’t review ideas, only actualities, and the actuality is that Street Fighter IV is great ... just not champion of the world.
The game sounds like a traditional Street Fighter title from background music, to sound effects, from the cheesy voice acting to the screams of the fighters special moves as they perform them. “Spinning bird kick!”
The game looks stunning and we’re huge fans of the new art style that Capcom have taken with the series. The animations, interactive backgrounds and flashy background finishes compliment the game perfectly. Love, absolutely love the animated cutscenes as well. Very nice.
The gameplay and controls are great, it’s just a pity about the crappy Xbox 360 d-pad that we have to put up with. If you want to play this bad boy, buy a new pad or even better, a joystick, because it’s the only way to get the most out of the game.
Short lived arcade, repetitive challenges and an online mode that lacks the killer punch to make this rule supreme. The gameplay and feel of the fights are there, it just doesn’t have substance to back up the style. Where are the big lobbies and big online interactive features? In Soul Calibur 4, that’s where.
On some levels, we’re fans of the achievement list. Yes, they are time consuming, but we don’t mind time consuming so long as there isn’t too much grinding going on and 500 online games is nothing once you get in to it. Watch out though, there are some tricky as hell ones and getting them are not only going to take incredible skills, but bucket loads of patience. Sexy tiles though.
Street Fighter IV is a more than competent fighting game, in fact, it’s great, but in order to have the package these days, you need to deliver on more than the fighting mechanism. With cheap AI, a limited online aspect and having to play on the 360’s POS d-pad pulling it back from the brink of greatness. Unfortunately, it’s not very accessible to newcomers and the single player aspect is pretty much throw away, but the fundamentals are spot on ... and that’s the fighting. If you're going to get it though, and have a PS3, get it on there for the better controller.