With Switch there’s a continued (and mostly understandable) leniency when it comes to critical assessment, as the prospect of playing both docked to a television and on the go makes almost any game inherently better. In cases where it doesn’t, the option serves as a convenient perk in those moments where you simply must take a game with you. Still, much like the Wii U’s GamePad or its predecessor's waggle, novelties ought not be taken for granted, and when they are one has to wonder how much development heft was really put behind them. Ultra Street Fighter II: The Final Challengers dances along that line, and while it’s absolutely worthwhile to newbies or for portability alone, the coveted double-dip is a different story entirely.
Old Game, Fresh Paint
Ultra Street Fighter II: The Final Challengers is nothing if not instantly sentimental, as familiarly-styled SNES era melodies quickly waft your way upon booting up the game. After a pre-title screen intro, the main menu yields strangely Persona-esque lounge music and a multitude of options. Arcade and Versus are present as you might expect, as well as a Gallery, Color Editor, and the all new motion-based Way of the Hado mode, something I’ll get to later in the review.
First, the good - it may ruffle the feathers of purists, but I absolutely enjoyed the new “New Style” graphics in the game, featuring fully HD, modernized 2D that looks superb in motion. The option to toggle between the familiar classic style exists as well, and while both look great in handheld mode (their respective old and new aspect ratios faithfully retained), I’d soon decided which I prefer when executing combos docked to the TV. Sound in the game has also received an overhaul, a welcome change that I actually used less - keeping classic audio while enjoying crisp, hand-drawn visuals are my perfect idea of a classic made new. Based on your own preference and past exposure, your mileage will likely vary.
The one downside here is that you can’t toggle visual and audio styles on the fly, which is a shame. As such, you’re more likely to decide on your preference and stick with it rather than actually experience both styles in equal measure, which I’m guessing is the opposite of what the developers wanted. If I’m right, then hopefully it’s something they can patch at a later date.
Unfortunately, my enamorment with this new edition in particular largely ends there: it’s fun, it’s unquestionably Street Fighter II, but it’s difficult to argue it offers much more than continuous, subsequent download edition of the quintessential fighter always have.
Buddy Battle stands out as something new, amounting to a 2-on-1 mode that lets you team up with a friend against formidable CPUs or team up with the CPU itself. The mode isn’t terribly challenging, nor is it terribly fun; what it is, though, is great for co-op for fighting-game newbies. As such I can understand the appeal, but at $40 for the new-fangled Final Challengers, there needs to be more.
To be fair, when it comes to checkbox-ticking there are new characters in the form of Violent Ken and Evil Ryu respectively, and while they are essentially clones, they’ve been tweaked enough to feel interesting. New characters are the component of the game that attracts the die-hards far more so than the newcomers, and if you have your heart set on mastering Violent Ken solely because you’ve mastered every other character up to this point, I doubt I can stop you. If you simply remember Street Fighter II fondly yet still own an original or downloadable copy on another console, though, these additions aren’t really Switch system sellers.
Last is Way of the Hado mode, a first-person experience designed exclusively for the Joy-Cons’ motion controls. It truly pains me to condemn this mode, and as an uncommon proponent of motion controls who was deeply relieved when Nintendo announced Switch would retain them, I want developers to continue exploring their many creative applications. And yet, Way of the Hado really does feel like the Nintendo Wii shovelware everyone used to complain about. It’s not quite Chicken Shoot, but it does feel awkward, unresponsive, and worst of all, half-baked. We know Joy-Cons are essentially miniaturized Wii Motion Pluses, and we know from late-era Wii titles (and the upcoming Arms) that far better is possible. There’s a Training mode where you can hone your skills and admittedly begin to get the hang of Way of the Hado’s finer (or perhaps stranger) points, but by then you’ll likely have lost interest. Kids might somehow enjoy it, but otherwise this is not at all a selling point.
At the end of the day it’s unfair to penalize The Final Challengers too much, because it’s still Street Fighter II, which is still an impeccable game. Nintendo consoles are often owned by children, and if such owners have never played Street Fighter, then what better place to start? The game’s redone 2D graphics are a quality achievement, and the same goes for the subtle but felt sound and music toggle options as well.
Beyond its core, though, The Final Challengers’ value prop is pretty bad, and with no real modes outside of Arcade to makes this edition particularly appealing, there’s little reason to need it. It’s true there’s online play, which does feature a clever point-based ranking system, but the former is not new and the latter is not so compelling as to drive player investment. Ultra Street Fighter II: The Final Challengers will make a fine gift for a youngster or acquaintance Street Fighter celibate, but it’s probably not worth your time until the price goes down otherwise.