Monday, March 9, 2009
Street Fighter IV is the best fighting game in the last ten years, and without a doubt one of the best of all time. More than mere nostalgia or fan service, it takes everything that made SFII such a classic and updates and reinvents itself to be exactly what you'd hope for the series to be in 2009. It's intense, beautiful, deep, and rewarding in a way the genre hasn't seen since Soul Calibur on the Dreamcast.
2D fighting has been reduced to a niche in the recent history of fighting games, but SFIV embraces the flat plane of motion. While Tekken, Virtua Fighter, Mortal Kombat, and Dead Or Alive all feature side-stepping and/or multiple levels and surfaces to fight on, SFIV takes us right back to the simpler perspective of the SNES days. You're only going to be moving forwards, backwards, and up, but don't let that trick you into thinking the combat is any less deep than the aforementioned series. Rather, SFIV features a veritable arsenal of combos, projectiles, and devastating Ultra moves. It's not as simple as learning a few button combinations, you'll need to truly master the intricacies of the fighting engine if you hope to survive against the higher levels of online opponents.
For those that are looking for a bit of nostalgia, you'll be able to find it despite all the new additions. All of the 12 original World Warriors are present, and those moves you memorized back on your SNES and at the mall arcade are still going to work here. This isn't just a flashy new exterior on a nearly 20-year old game, however, as this entry brings some exciting new abilities to the series. At the bottom of the screen is a blue bar that fills up in four different segments. Each time a segment fills up, you're able to perform one of your standard special moves in a new way using the EX system. With EX, fireballs will travel through other projectiles, hurricane kicks will be more powerful and hit multiple times, and additional strikes will be added to combos. It essentially adds another tier to the majority of your standard special moves, and is great for mixing up the action.
If you choose to forgo the EX moves, you can fill the bar up all the way to get ready for a Super move. These are powerful attacks with some great animations, but they pale in comparison to their more powerful alternative, the Ultra move. These can be obtained by taking enough damage to fill a "Revenge" meter in the corner of the screen. Once it's ready, you can perform a specific action (such as quarter circle forward 2x, followed by all three punch buttons) to unleash an absurdly powerful and over-the-top move that is sure to devastate your opponent.
SF IV's roster will be welcomed with open arms for the many fans that didn't quite warm to III's selections. While only series favorites Ken and Ryu returned for that game (at least initially), the whole gang is back in 2009 with some new faces. Some of them are awful and nearly useless (El Fuerte, I'm looking at you), and a couple can be very dangerous if utilized correctly (Crimson Viper, Gouken). Online play may make you think the roster is smaller than it actually is because of the inevitable onslaught of Kens you'll face, but some of the less-popular characters like Zangief and Balrog can dominate the competition if properly trained with.
On top of the standard Arcade and Online modes, there are a variety of challenges to complete. You can do Time Attack, Survival, and Training challenges that all become incredibly hard near the end. Many of the achievements and trophies in the game are earned by finishing these, so good luck landing that near-impossible Sagat combo that you've tried 4,000 times but no matter how hard you try, the fucking game won't recognize that you're pressing the fucking buttons exactly how you're supposed to, and you've asked message boards and watched YouTube videos of how to do it but you still can't complete the motherfucking thing no matter how many times you fucking do it. Hypothetically, of course...not that this happened to me or anything.
All of the fighting may be strictly 2D, but that doesn't mean it's visually dated in the slightest. Every character is animated beautifully, complete with incredible special moves and great facial expressions. Ultra moves will cause the camera to zoom and pan dramatically, and you can see the fear in Blanka's face when he knows he's about to get hit with the biggest fireball he's seen in his life. Backgrounds are vivid and interesting, and they'll occasionally feature some minor interaction (just wait until the first time you shear the wing off a plane with a huge Shoryuken uppercut). The soundtrack is fast-paced and fits the gameplay well, although it's not as instantly memorable as the SNES tunes. Be warned, however, as you're bound to get the hilariously awful "Indestructible" theme song stuck in your head on a near-daily basis.
It may be damn near perfect, but Street Fighter IV isn't for everyone. If you're not already familiar with how the series handles special moves, you might find a steep learning curve with all the charge attacks and QCF+QCF+PPP inputs. This isn't Dead or Alive, you won't be able to button mash and somehow pull off Guile's Ultra attack. However, if you're already familiar or willing to learn, you'll find it to be an incredibly rewarding fighter as you invest time in it and learn all the quirks and intricacies of the engine. It's simultaneously a blast from the past and a breath of fresh air, and is sure to please fans of the genre for a long time to come.
First Play: 9.5
Replay Value: 10.0