Street Fighter X Tekken X Street Fighter.
It's only natural to feel conflicted about Ultra Street Fighter IV. On one hand, this third major update to the series that began in Japanese arcades in 2008 is by and large a value buy. For merely $15, the digital upgrade includes more than enough new characters, stages, and gameplay enhancements to justify the price. The game's multiple tweaks to the combat system have already placed the pro fighting community on edge in anticipation.
But on the other hand, a good portion of the additions is merely roll-over content from Street Fighter X Tekken and, well, this is the third major update. How many times does Capcom expect people to continue paying for the same game with better bells and whistles? What's next? A next-gen definitive edition? (Don't give them ideas, Nick!)
At this point, I think Capcom enjoys instigating fighting communities with extensive patch notes detailing the numerous buffs and nerfs for existing characters, stoking the fires of highly opinionated tier lists and technical jargon on FADCs and vortex-play. The general consensus, despite the severity of differing opinions, is that Sagat, Yun, and Rose will be closer to the top of the heap. But ultimately almost any character can be dangerous so long as you understand his or her links, combo strings, spacing, and mix-up game. I have no complaints with the changes made to my main, the grappler Abel, with his moveset given an overall general reduction in frames.
Casual players may not care for the intricacies of recovery frames and the like, but they will have plenty to admire in Ultra Street Fighter IV. Five new characters have been added to the roster—the gargantuan wrestler Hugo, the spirited capoiera-inspired dancer Elena, the militant grenadier Rolento, the whip-tastic dominatrix Poison, and the psycho cyborg Decapre who mimics Cammy in appearance but has charged attacks and a diagonal Spiral Arrow. Though the first four on that list have already been featured in SFxT, this brings the total number of characters to a mighty 44. And for good measure, the bulk of the stages from SFxT have been slipped in as well.
More significant is the three-pronged approach to making the core fighting system less predictable. Delayed Standing allows players to remain on the ground after knockdown a little longer, which can throw off an opponent's mix-up game. Red Focus, at the cost of an additional energy segment, enhances the standard Focus Attack with a shield that absorbs multiple hits, providing an additional window for general offensive play and giving grapplers a bit of an edge since throws can still penetrate the shield. Ultra Combo Double gives characters access to both their ultras at the cost of reduced damage. The versatility in setups and punish counters offered by this selection will give pro players pause before making their choice.
Several advancements to the online modes round out the package, including a Team Battle Mode that has two variations for 3v3 battles, one strictly head-to-head and the other elimination-based. Players can also open an online session of training mode with a friend, and upload replays straight from the Battle Log. Last but not least, every edition variant of a character can be selected in limited modes, allowing players to create fantasy matchups across different SFIV installments.
That said, some lingering, long-standing issues should have been resolved. There's still no way to turn down the music volume completely, and there should be an option for quick rematches in arcade mode without having to head back to the character selection menu. Trial Mode surprisingly isn't fully compatible yet with the five new characters, with a promised patch to come soon. Though optional, a gallery of unlockable artwork and a preview for trials, taunts, costumes, and quotes would also have been decent additions.
For barefaced bang-for-buck value, Ultra Street Fighter IV can't be denied. Any self-described Street Fighter IV fan can't ignore the expansion of characters nor the enhancements to the core combat, especially for the mere price of $15 for the digital upgrade on PS3 and Xbox 360. If you've been waiting to enter the franchise, this is the time to pay the price of admission, though it must be said that the $30-40 full digital and disc bundles available in early August will come packaged with all the DLC costume content for the existing 39 characters. Regardless of the differing packages, Ultra Street Fighter IV is unequivocally the best of the lot, though the series is showing its wear after six years. Whether that means yet another SFIV installment will be arriving in the pipeline remains to be seen.