You must defeat Sheng Long to stand a chance.
“Street Fighter III never happened. Shadaloo was never destroyed. Alex never unseated Ryu as the main character. The final boss was never a one-half ice-blue, one-half fire-red self-proclaimed god who fought in a white cloth thong that would have made Cammy (slightly) jealous. Remy never replaced Guile, Necro never replaced Blanka and Dhalsim, Hugo never replaced Zangief, Sean never replace Dan, and Dudley never replaced Balrog. The stun gauge never existed. The parry system was never abused by hardcore players and it never made fireballs obsolete. Chun-Li’s legs were never inspired by Kung Pao chicken tenders. We have no idea what you’re talking about. We can’t hear you. La, la, la, la, la.”
[image1]So goes Capcom’s unofficial press release for Street Fighter IV… allegedly. In all my years of gaming, I have not seen a sequel so dynamically and aesthetically opposed to the previous iteration of its franchise. Where Street Fighter III is swift, light, and lean, Street Fighter IV is heavy, grounded, and muscle-bound. III focused more on parrying and confident sure-fire combos, IV on zoning and effective counterattacks. III based its animation off detailed 2D sprites, IV off 3D cel-shaded models that have seemingly hand-brushed outlines and exaggerated Ready 2 Rumble-esque facial hit animations. III is to-may-to; IV is to-mah-it-doesn’t-give-a-damn.
In the chronology of the Street Fighter series (and if you can actually understand it, you deserve a Ph.D.), Street Fighter IV comes straight after Street Fighter II but before Street Fighter III happened or existed or let’s never mention it. Apparently at the end of Street Fighter II, Shadaloo has been destroyed and M. Bison was ripped apart by the menacingly powerful Akuma. But a new threat led by Seth, the CEO of a weapons corporation named S.I.N. (come on, how can you not investigate a company with that name?), has risen in its place. This mysterious man sends news of another fighting tournament to the greatest combatants from around the world, his reasons hidden within the company’s project mysteriously entitled BLECE. And Seth needs Ryu’s power to complete it.
The storyline is told in short Japanese animation cut-scenes similar to Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie, and predictably, the dialogue is on par with a C-movie (like, say, Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li to be released on Feb. 27). After watching the prologue for your chosen character, you are pitted in a handful of matches before facing your rival, where you can watch a brief in-game scene, then confront Seth in his evil laboratory, and finally watch the ending. With multiple playthroughs with each character, you’ll eventually unlock the rest of the roster. The endings, though, usually don’t resolve anything at all, leaving you with no answers and only more questions.
In keeping with the concept that Street Fighter IV is a throwback sequel to the good ol’ Street Fighter days, the character roster will be familiar to fans of Street Fighter II and the Street Fighter Alpha series. Ryu, Ken, Guile, and Chun-Li return to the forefront once more as the heroes, while M. Bison and Akuma join Seth as power-hungry villains who can’t help but flaunt their burning neon-colored auras. And really, is any Street Fighter complete without Ryu and Ken’s quasi-yaoi bromance (while M. Bison watches)?
[image2]The character roster doesn’t feel entirely fleshed out, however, as if Capcom is waiting to roll out all of its punches for Street Fighter IV’s own inevitable ”Second Impact” or “Third Strike” sequels. Though nearly everyone from Street Fighter II made the cut, many prior Street Fighter characters have been passed over: Elena, Ibuki, Makoto, Guy, Urien, T-Hawk, Dee Jay, and Rolento (just to name a few). Oddly, there are several characters who make a cameo appearance - Adon in Sagat’s prologue, and Yun and Yang in Chun-Li’s prologue - so it feels like Capcom is intentionally holding back.
Instead, we’re treated to four new fighters, each with their own martial style: El Fuerte, a high-flyin’ lucha libre wrestler who can run like the dickens (literally); Crimson Viper, a high-tech assassination-style femme fatale; Abel, the kick-ass Frenchman whose mixed martial arts is apparently inspired by current PRIDE Heavyweight champion, 29-1-1 Fedor Emelianenko; and Rufus, an American kung fu 500-lb motorcyclist who is more a parody of obesity than a genuine character.
Okay, these Japanese developers already need to stop pushing the fat button when it comes to the Americans in fighting games: Bob from Tekken 6 and now Rufus is just one too many. I can see the joke, but if you’re laughing, you need to be examined… ha, ha, he’s fat and he’s American and he’s whooping so much ass with his fat ass, rofl, because fat people should be accepted for their ability to squash, ha, ha, it’s okay for Rufus to be there, I’m not a hater, but I’m really never going to pick him, lol, it’s like gym class… next, I should pitch Capcom my idea for Diki, the Japanese karate kid with terminal cancer and cerebral palsy because his mother was pregnant with him near Hiroshima, ha, ha, the producers are going to love it.
Regardless, the character roster follows the central premise of Street Fighter IV: Anyone who knows how to play Street Fighter II can pick up the controller and drop in without knowing anything else. They might not get very far, but that’s where experience comes into play. Everything from hadoukens and sonic booms to spinning bird kicks and one-hundred-hand slaps have retained their original controls with a few minor alterations here and there. Every punch, kick, and special move has been balance-tweaked for priority, recovery, range differences, and cancel timing, all of which hardcore players will no doubt commit to memory… now.
[image3]Beyond the simple array of special moves, there are a variety of attacks that consume energy from your fighter’s two energy gauges. The normal blue gauge, partitioned into four equal blocks, generally fills whenever you execute a special attack or land an attack successfully. As in Street Fighter III, it can be used to turn a standard special move into a stronger EX special move (say, a hadouken into a two-hit hadouken). When it’s completely filled, you can execute a Super Combo that usually dishes out a severe amount of damage in a flashy display. Even deadlier is the Ultra Combo, a stronger version of the Super Combo that is usable once the red revenge gauge, which grows as your opponent inflicts damage on you, is full. It might seem unfair that your opponent gains a comeback strike after all of your hard work, but it actually boosts the fighting spirit of the match, giving a losing opponent the tool to possibly win, while never having it be a game-breaker.
The new tactic that hardcore players will have to master this time around is the Focus Attack, a flexible move that changes depending on how long you hold it. Held down for anywhere near its full duration, the Focus Attack becomes an unblockable attack, which you can spam against beginners who don’t know how to get off the floor properly. The more difficult function of the Focus Attack, which drains a block of your normal super gauge, is a parrying move as well as a canceling mediator that strings moves together to form intricate combos. Nearly every move can be canceled with the Focus Attack, which can then be canceled in turn by either a backward or forward dash, allowing you to connect most moves together into your own custom combo. The Focus Attack can also brush aside one hit of any variety (including fireballs) as recoverable damage, but since it can’t parry multi-hit attacks, it’s hardly as abusive as the parry in Street Fighter III.
Taken together, along with the inability to air-block and roll dodge (with the exception of a few characters like Abel), the fighting system is much more approachable for casual players while being a testing ground for veterans to hone their zoning and timing skills. Players can’t just button-mash their way through a match. Like the buzzer in the game show Jeopardy, pressing a button too early locks you out, so expert timing is even more important than it was before. Even so, you can expect matches to have the familiar scene of hadouken battles and the affectionately-named “corner rape”.
The issue of balance is a bit trickier, as non-hardcore players will tell you that Akuma, Gouken, Seth, and Sagat are over-powered. All four of them have an insane mastery of projectiles and anti-air moves that is nearly impossible to break on a high difficulty setting (or against a skilled opponent) unless you know the system, up and down, forwards and backwards. The A.I. for the final boss Seth (a Dr. Manhattan doppelganger that has Guile’s projectile, a three-hit shoryuken, Dhalsim’s teleportation and screen-clearing crouching high punch, Zangief’s throw, Chun-Li’s lightning kicks, and a Ultra Combo whose attack range is practically the entire screen) will give most everyone migraines. But as hardcore players will tell you, any character can be dangerous in the right hands (yes, even Dan), especially given Guile’s ridiculous Sonic Boom recovery and Balrog’s lightning fast poke moves. Of course, to casual players, that’s like advice taken from the same people who take rock-paper-scissors a little too seriously.
[image4]On the whole, Street Fighter IV elevates the presentation of the series to a new level, with the spectacular environments and character models as well as the hard-hitting sound effects. The crisp brushwork and vivid colors send the clear message that the title is indeed a revival of the Street Fighter series. It also gives the option to change the position of the HUD display and the language setting for each character. Online mode, the clear highlight above the Trial, Survival, and Time Attack modes (though completing these other modes will unlock icons, titles, and gallery artwork), will serve as the thick icing on the cake, finally allowing players to challenge their skills against another player immediately without the need of a Turbo HD Remix remake.
Where the presentation falters, though, is in some of the nitty-gritty details. The soundtrack is rather generic compared to the jazzy synthesized D.J. tracks for Street Fighter III: Third Strike, a point that is made worse by the fact that you can’t turn the music completely off. You may fall in love with the Justin Timberlake-esque introductory tune and maybe one or two of the level tracks, but if reviving Street Fighter II is the priority, then the music should have played off the nostalgic melodies much more (Where's my Guile remix?). It’s also out of character for the series to cut the mini-games (who doesn’t want to take their frustration out on a virtual car?) and nearly all of the hometown stages. Somehow, I don’t feel like Rose and Sagat should be fighting on a military airfield in Africa: That should be reserved for Guile and only for Guile, and it should be in the U.S.A.
Some options that nearly all current fighting franchises have are simply missing. There’s no way to restart a match instantly in Arcade mode as in Versus mode, which means that you’re forced to wait around for twenty seconds before you can start a rematch (usually with Seth). There’s also no way to tweak the system direction, like you could in Third Strike on the console. It’s not a necessary feature, but it would have been nice to be able to change the damage ratio and switch guard damage on and off as you please, at least outside of official match-ups and rankings. Trial mode, where players can learn the timing of the essential combos for each character, would also have been better if it showed an example of the combo being performed along with the exact timing it takes to execute every move in the string. Replay and record functions are not available either, but it will be added in the first downloadable pack free-of-charge.
[image5]Unless you already own a fight stick or somehow have the sold-out official Mad Catz Tournament Fight Stick on order (and if you do, you better hope I don’t find you), you might get annoyed by the D-pad. This is less of an issue on the D-pad for the PS3 controller, which can handle diagonals with higher consistency, but very noticable on the Xbox 360 controller, whose D-pad (and analog stick) is too floaty to handle all of the intricate charge and circular inputs. This has nothing to do with the merits of the game, though, so just know that you might have to shovel out a lot more money for a fight stick or a controller specifically designed for a fighting game.
Street Fighter IV is not what Street Fighter III should have been, but what it should have followed. Both in style and in progression, Street Fighter III was too far ahead of its curve for casual Street Fighter fans to get behind. Thankfully, Street Fighter IV gives the series the slap on the back it needs to catapult into the current and shake the fighting genre to its core. It would be easy to overlook its flaws, since it will (oh, and it will) thoroughly restore the Street Fighter name (no thanks to the Street Fighter EX Alpha series), and it will be difficult for some hardcore fans to let go of the kara-throwing, parry-heavy Street Fighter III and the “ism”-based, juggling-heavy Street Fighter Alpha 3. But by and large, this is the Street Fighter that everyone has been waiting for. Put on your headband, it’s time to fight!