May 04, 2010
Achievement in Super Street Fighter IV comes from within. It’s obtained by doing things like nailing the combo that’s been eating at you for days, taking down a vociferous opponent or recalling important bouts from your personal history. At its best, Capcom’s latest fighter makes regular achievements seem like little more than gaudy baubles and useless trinkets.
Let’s take a step back. When internet superstar Dan Webb reviewed Street Fighter IV last year, he said it was “great, just not champion of the world”. This year’s budget-priced instalment might just change his mind: last year’s entry may have put the series, and arguably the genre, back into the spotlight but this is Street Fighter at its very best, the whole game tweaked and polished to a blinding lustre.
Firstly, the netcode has been given a strict diet and exercise regime and can now ferry data across the internet much faster than before – poor stability being a predicament which routinely blighted the original game. It’s still not quite up to par as having two players wired into the same device, but that’s more the fault of the internet itself rather than Capcom’s respectable effort.
Alongside Ranked Matches are Endless and Team Battles, which allow 8-person winner stays on lobbies and two team round-robin eliminations, respectively. There’s also an extensive replay channel, which allows you to both watch former bouts to analyse your own play style and download replays of others to pick up new tactics. Without a customisable search filter, however, you’ll still be sticking to YouTube if you want to watch well-known top-tier players duke it out.
Unless you’re already invested into the tournament scene (which is unlikely for the majority of players, I’d wager) or your entire peer group are dabhands at the game and also live nearby, it’s safe to say the online mode will make up the bulk of your experience with the game. The fact it’s much less shabby, then, becomes a major selling point. But there’s still the odd issue here and there, and the age-old problem of being unable to connect to about a third of your online games if you go direct from the Ranked Match tab (I prefer the Arcade Fight Request system) is still very much in existence.
People with less than optimal router configurations might find themselves having a nightmare, too, but I’d argue it’s more their fault for having purchased a duff bit of kit in the first place.
For your money – and the game is so cheap it might as well just be free – you’re also getting 10 new fighters, which brings Street Fighter IV’s roster up to a hefty 35. The new challengers are a mixed bunch, each adding something new to the game, and there’s not a dud in the pack. Two of them, Turkish cooking oil purveyor Hakan and nymphomaniac baddie Juri, make their first appearances in the series. The other 8 are distilled from two decades of Street Fighter history.
Each new character requires a different approach and a reassessment of individual play style – with no recognisable shotoken moulds, it’s all about learning from scratch if you’re not familiar with the original incarnations. Working backwards through the chronology, the game welcomes back Dudley, Makoto and Ibuki from Street Fighter III. fame
Dudley’s an aristocratic tea-sipping boxer from England who plays like Balrog after going on a diet and taking lessons in ballroom dancing. He’s very different to Makoto, the slow and tempered karate expert who relies on special moves to dart around at speed. Rounding out the pack is ninja girl Ibuki, who zips around the arena like a dart shot out of a cannon.
Then there’s Dee Jay and T. Hawk from Super Street Fighter II, both riding in on a wave of nostalgia but proving deadly in the right hands. They’re probably the most recognisable characters for the average gamer, harking back to Street Fighter’s mid-90’s heyday.
Rounding out the list is Muay Thai pugilist Adon, convict-garb donning Cody and perpetually dour-faced Guy from Street Fighter prequel series, Street Fighter Alpha. They’re perhaps the most technical trio of the new batch, offering up advanced play styles and tricky techniques. Few things are more terrifying than seeing a competent Guy player flash up as your opponent.
The new characters don’t simply slot in to an existing game, and the most dramatic change to the formula for seasoned Street Fighter IV players will be the across-the-board rebalancing of the existing cast. Damage output has generally been lowered across the board, and some characters will find certain tricks have been disabled. Sagat is still very powerful, however.
A rather significant nerf to the damage output of Ultras - those extravagant combos that each character can deploy after soaking up enough damage - is as noticeable a change to the formula as the addition of a second Ultra to each character. Some are more fantastic than others, such as Ryu’s sensationally flashy and incredibly effective Metsu Shoryuken, but all have an easily discernable purpose.
The effect is that offensive play is now rewarded as opposed to horribly punished, giving players a chance to be more creative and less timid. Street Fighter IV was all too often a solely defensive game, and it wasn’t uncommon to have matches consisting of two Guile’s ducking down on opposite corners of the screen. Now, however, desperately offensive rush downs can yield superb dividends.
I’ve not really mentioned the single-player thus far, though that’s for a good reason: it’s terrible. Street Fighter has never been modelled around it, and the whole mode is awkward and jarring. The whole game simply feels off without a human opponent, and Capcom have thankfully made it so all characters are unlocked by default. They’ve also added in the car-busting and barrel-smashing mini-games from Street Fighter II, but apart from a quick nostalgic blast from the past, they’re completely unnecessary diversions from the meat of the game.
It’s not a game you can just pick up and play. Unlike, say, Call of Duty or Halo, coming into the game with no knowledge of the genre will put you on an indeterminably long losing streak. Expect it to last weeks. Playing Street Fighter means a firm dedication to the long haul, setting mental targets and allowing your skills to develop over months instead of hours. But allowing yourself to overcome the difficulty struggle will put you on the path to one of gaming’s most rewarding and entertaining experiences. Commit yourself, and your sense of achievement will come from within.
In terms of actual achievements, many of them are just Street Fighter IV’s ported over and rewritten with tongue-in-cheek descriptions. New achievements revolve largely around the game’s new online modes, doling out the odd 20 or 30 points for sticking with Team and Endless Battles. They’re nothing spectacular to obtain – legitimately getting Tenpeat for winning 10 Ranked matches in a row would evoke a magnificent feeling if it wasn’t for the fact most people who’ve got it have clearly just boosted – but at least the tiles are gorgeous.
Few will find themselves longing for things to return to the way they used to be, and Super Street Fighter IV updates the already winning formula in a logical, progressive manner to create an end product entirely deserving of its superlative moniker. Others will eventually follow, but for now Super Street Fighter IV is the undisputed fighting game champion of the world.
Iconic themes and recognisable move names help the game stand out as a recognisable Street Fighter property. Both Japanese and English voices can be selected on a character basis, and remixed background music from former games can now be toggled.
Street Fighter IV’s distinct looks are just as gorgeous in 2010 as they were in 2009. Bright, bold colours, slick animations and amusingly expressive faces still go down a treat.
An extensive rebalancing helps tweak the issues with last year’s instalment. Offensive play is now more actively rewarded, which helps break zoning stalemates and keeps matches fast and dramatic. You still need an arcade stick to get the most from the game, but prices on these have significantly dropped over the last year.
Even the most passionate Street Fighter fanatic will admit that this is a niche product if there ever was one. It eschews almost everything about modern games to deliver a rock-hard online brawler that demands countless hours of time investment to see real results – so probably not for everyone, then.
A fairly standard set of accolades which will eat up hundreds of hours if you’re looking to get them all, and many are also recycled from Street Fighter IV. You’ll also need to be supremely skilled to get the whole set.
Super Street Fighter IV might not be the best fighting game of all time but it’s definitely the best present day example of the genre. A beautifully handled and competently executed series of updates manage to patch up almost everything wrong with Street Fighter IV. Want to play it in single-player, or you don’t have an arcade stick? You’re just playing it wrong, and you should be ashamed of yourself.