Street Fighter IV
And so the crown jewel in 2009’s gaming calendar is finally here. Anyone who got a sniff of a Street Fighter IV arcade machine knew that Capcom had created something special, an almost flawless love letter to the SF incarnations of old, yet featuring enough new content, both in terms of characters and gameplay, to reinvigorate the series. Ryu, Ken, Chun-Li and chums have long faced stiff competition from fight franchises like Tekken, but if there were any doubt before, SF IV clears up who really rules the roost. This is no absent-minded button basher; it may be beautifully accessible, but at its core is an intricate fight system that’ll take even the most proficient SF stalwarts serious time to master.
The awesomely rendered graphics combine 3D visuals with the Street Fighter series’ typical 2D scrolling format – a welcome relief, all resulting in gameplay so fluid you wonder how pretenders could get it quite so wrong. All the characters you know and love are back in action, along with their signature moves, with new additions like Rufus (a chop-sokey porker), Abel (a French amnesiac), El Fuerte (a Mexican wrestler and cooking enthusiast) and Crimson Viper (a discomfortingly hot female spy). Each is colourful enough to fit into the character roster with ease, and deadly if wielded by the right hand. Standing between you and ultimate glory is the Silver Surfer-esque SETH, metallic nightmare and CEO of Shadaloo (yep, that wretched hive of scum and villainy) weapons division’s subtly titled S.I.N.
The six-button button system is the same as before: three kicks and three punches of varying strength, and you’ll need to utilise them all succeed (no relying solely on the hard attacks, a la Street Fighter II. Hitting both light buttons executes a throw, both mediums the newly implemented ‘Focus Attack’ (more on that later), while other combinations allow EX special moves, super and ultra combos. The latter are certainly the most satisfying to perform, and rely on your ‘Revenge Meter’ filling up before you execute dextrous feats of varying difficulty on the pad. How do you fill the meter up exactly- Well, since it increases with each hit you receive, try getting your arse handed to you for a while. The ultra combos need careful timing to hit, but do so and you’ll be treated to cinematic display of immensely gratifying grit, relentlessly pounding your opponent as the roaming camera captures each blow in glorious 3D.
Beware though, and we can’t stress this enough: if you want to be sure you execute your desired move rather than flail miserably or unintentionally leap into the air, buy a specialist fightstick or pad. The Xbox controller is particularly criminal (read: it’s s**t, an affront to anyone half serious about playing the game well). Its D-pad is particularly disastrous, either failing to register or performing something entirely unexpected that’ll nine times out of ten see you on the receiving end of a demoralising K.O.
Get something that actually responds though and you’ll be perfectly placed to execute Street Fighter IV’s every facet, one of the most challenging being the ‘Focus Attack Dash Cancel’ method of arse-kickery. The Focus Attack, using the medium buttons pressed together, allows you to absorb a single enemy attack and counter with a move of your own, the ferocity of which depends on how long you hold the charge for. By tapping twice in either direction after a focus attack you can dash in for a follow-up, giving great potential for a combo attack. You can also use it to fake out your opponent, or even cancel out of a special move if you suddenly deem it ill-advised. It may sound complicated, and at the present time of playing we’ve only just begun to scratch the surface, but you don’t need to have perfected the assorted techniques to appreciate that once you do, they’re deadly. Certainly it adds a level of nuance and strategy to the game that other fighters lack, and is a welcome replacement for the occasionally awkward parry system in the Street Fighter III series.
The game modes aren’t exactly abundant, but certainly enough to keep you occupied. The Trial mode in particular will keep you hooked; as well as being a great way to learn the fundamentals, the latter stages will ask you to perform combinations that while sometimes infuriatingly complex, certainly don’t inspire you to quit in a hurry, and once mastered make you a foe to be reckoned with. The wealth of options more than makes amends for the limited game modes – from the ability to change between English and Japanese voice acting, to where you want the health and special meter bars to be positioned on screen. And when you factor in the multitude of unlockable characters (Gouken, Akuma and Seth being standouts, though you’ll be made to work your tail off to get ‘em) there’s so much to recommend here it’s frankly rather dizzying.
Capcom had one hell of a task in making a game that would appeal to new and faithful gamers and re-establish Street Fighter as a groundbreaking phenomenon in an advanced age in which gamers ask much, and forgive little. They had our confidence, but few could have predicted they’d exceed themselves quite like this.