The Street Fighter franchise has had its ups and downs over the years. Ever since the series acted as the birth of the early 90s fighting game craze, Capcom has been milking the fireballs out of their costumed combatants. Saturday morning cartoons, action figures, a movie, and even lunchboxes were emblazoned with the Street Fighter name, as Capcom also ported the arcade brawler to nearly every platform known to man. By the time that Street Fighter III came out, many of the core fans of the series had moved on, leaving the game to become popular within a small niche audience that was a fraction of the size that Street Fighter II had.
Considering all of this, I had some apprehension before playing Street Fighter IV for the first time at the recent Street Fighter Fight Club event in Brooklyn, NY. Sure, it looked good, but could this game really reignite a series that has been stagnant for years? After going hands-on with both the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 versions of the game, I can safely say that yes, this game will bring back the fighting spirit in all who play it, and if you have somehow never played a Street Fighter game before, this will be the one to try.
Street Fighter IV, for those uninitiated, once again centers around a gaggle of warriors from all corners of the earth who are battling on a worldwide scale as they ascend the ranks of the Street Fighter tournament. The first thing you notice when you see the game in person is that it looks amazing. The game isn’t quite cel-shaded, nor does it look like a traditional 3D fighter. The best way that I can describe Street Fighter IV in motion is that it looks almost like a watercolor painting come-to-life, as the animation is remarkably fluid and the colors are hyper-vibrant and lively. The game is also ridiculously fast, to the point where it puts the old Hyper Ultra Championship Turbo Editions to shame. It makes the jump to 3D almost jarring, because you normally don’t see 3D fighters moving this quickly. The character animation and expressiveness has also been taken to the next level. You see eyes bulge, hair flutter in the wind, and particle bits fly after a fireball is blocked–the game is full of small yet meaningful visual touches that show how much care was put into it. No matter what I say about the visuals, nothing will prepare you for the first time you see it in motion. It’s beautiful, electric, and true to the style of the original games.
Of course, all of this wouldn’t matter if the game didn’t control as wonderfully as it looked. I got to try the game with 2 different control method–an arcade stick and the Xbox 360/PS3 controllers. The line to play the game via controller was a lot shorter, which speaks volumes. If you plan to get into Street Fighter IV seriously, you will probably need to buy an arcade stick. While the controller does work just fine, and I was able to pull off a few simple moves and combos using the standard controller, the control that you feel over the character and the assurance that you will be able to execute the moves you want, when you want is greatly improved when using an arcade controller. The problems with both the Xbox 360 and PS3 controllers are that neither offers 6 face buttons, which is what Street Fighter has always needed, and that the analog stick/D-pad are nowhere near as accurate or as fun as using as the joystick on an arcade controller. Using the shoulder buttons on both controllers for Fierce attacks was uncomfortable, yet functional. If you have no intention of upgrading to an arcade stick, the game does play fine, and you should be able to adapt to it and pull off the characters’ moves, but the comfort level and the ease of play is ramped up considerably when using an arcade controller.
Whatever your control method, the game feels and plays just like Street Fighter II Turbo, which is, of course, really good news. The old-school moves that you know and love, from Ryu’s wild Hurricane Kick to E.Honda’s disastrous Hundred-Hand Slap, are still activated the same way and carry the same function, except they look far more spectacular now than ever before. Everything regarding the original characters pretty much works the way that it did, and feels very natural in doing so. It constantly amazed me that they were able to recreate the 2D Street Fighter fighting experience in glorious 3D, something which many developers have tried to do in the past and failed miserably. The Super moves still work like they did in Super Street Fighter II Turbo, which is when they were introduced. I wasn’t able to perform many of them mid-battle, partially because I didn’t memorize the move lists before the event, but the ones I was able to do were smoothly activated and played a very important role in flow of the games. You fill up your Super-meter by doing special moves and combos, but are also able to fill up the new Focus-meter as well. Focus attacks, a new addition to IV, are activated by holding in the Med Punch and Med Kick attack buttons for a few seconds. After releasing these, your character lunges forward and attempts to grab his combatant. If you manage to grab the character with this, you would initiate a damaging throw attack. The problem is that, since you have to charge it, it’s tough to slide one of these attacks into the flow of battle successfully. I am sure that once the player adjusts to them, it becomes a lot easier, but it’s not as easily executed upon picking up the game for the first time.
In addition to all of the original characters and bosses from Street Fighter II, Capcom has added 4 completely new characters to Street Fighter IV–the grappler Abel, the sexy and mysterious Crimson Viper, the rotund and powerful Rufus, and the speedy luchadore El Fuerte–while also bringing back the console-exclusive fan favorites Akuma and Sakura from other Street Fighter titles. I tried out each of these characters and will say that, unsurprisingly, Akuma and Sakura feel very much like they have in previous titles. Akuma seemed to have some devastating attacks, but these attacks are fairly complicated to pull off and his health seems to drain much faster than other fighters. Sakura proved to be the favorite fighter of the event, as one player went on a 50+ match win streak with her before eventually walking away undefeated. She, like Akuma, plays similarly to previous Capcom titles, and seemed to win many of the fans at the event over. Abel is a slower and more powerful pugilist who uses a number of throws and holds. Rufus is an even slower character, but his grabs and special attacks do a lot of damage. Crimson Viper is quick and plays similarly in style to the soon-to-be-movie-star Chun-Li. She was very easy to adjust to for a first-time user. The same can be said of El Fuerte, who was my personal favorite character of the new pack. The masked El Fuerte bounces around at a lightning-fast pace, and has a number of air throws and grab attacks than can surprise an enemy with their quickness and power. First-time Street Fighter IV players would do well to pick El Fuerte, as his moveset and attributes were spectacular and easy to execute.
As I got to play SFIV on both Playstation 3 and Xbox 360, I will say that the differences between the two consoles, at this point, are negligible. The Playstation 3 version seemed a bit darker and the colors a bit more muted, but this could just be because the 360 edition was further along in development. Both moved at a blazing-fast 60fps and never slowed down, no matter how many effects were happening at once. The build that we played was in such great shape that I honestly wouldn’t have been surprised if they said it was shipping tomorrow. I witnessed one game crash on PS3, but other than that, the game ran perfectly on both consoles, looking arcade-perfect in every way.
Despite not shipping until this winter, Street Fighter IV is already in incredibly solid shape, and looks to be both a breath of fresh air in the somewhat stagnant 3D fighting genre as well as a ’welcome back’ to the Street Fighter series for all former fans. You can look forward to more future coverage of Street Fighter IV here at TGR, as well as a full review upon release. HADOKEN!