Inside Pulse 12

Review: Street Fighter IV (Microsoft Xbox 360)

Street Fighter IV
Genre: Fighting
Developer: Capcom
Publisher: Capcom
Release Date: 02/17/09


The Street Fighter franchise is pretty much what nearly everyone who was alive in the eighties and early nineties thinks of when the words, “fighting game” are brought up in conversation. It transcends classification for many people. Street Fighter II isn’t simply A fighting game, it is THE fighting game. There have been a great many games bearing the franchise’s name over the past twenty-one years, each with its own subtle (or not so) changes to the formula, but the core concept has always remained the same: two or more people destroy one another using their fists, feet, and special attacks until only one (or one team) is left standing. The franchise has waned in popularity in recent years for a number of reasons. One of the reasons is because 2-D has simply not been the optimal technology to present fighting games in for many people. 3-D is NOW, dammit, and there’s no reason to keep making games made up of SPRITES! Another part of the problem was that Capcom, frankly, wasn’t doing the series any favors. Street Fighter 3, though beautiful, was chock-full of weird, unfriendly characters, and Capcom Fighting Evolution, which was something of a mix-and-match featuring characters from several Capcom fighting franchises, wasn’t particularly good, either. After some heavy lobbying from within the company, however, Capcom decided to give the franchise another shot at greatness with Street Fighter IV, which was intended to bring the game fully into the world of 3D while retaining the gameplay elements that made the series great.

Let’s all pretend we didn’t play Street Fighter EX and go into this fresh, shall we?

There’s a pretty involved story being told here, by way of both in-game confrontations and animated cinematics, but the gist of it is that a hugely powerful big bad by the name of Seth has apparently become a huge name in the world of crime, and has decided to host a fighting tournament to analyze fighters so as to learn their secrets and emulate them, in hopes of becoming the greatest fighter ever. This is, uh, not exactly a new and fresh concept, but it works well enough as a reason for everyone to get together and fight, so let’s go with it. The storylines presented for each of the characters are generally decent, and while some characters (Ryu, Ken, Guile, Rufus, C. Viper) have better motivations for entering the tournament than others (El Fuerte, Fei Long), by and large, the game manages to tie things together well enough that the plot is at least entertaining, if not amazing. The game modes, on the other hand, are pretty spectacular: you’re given the standard Arcade and Versus Modes you’d expect, as well as a Training Mode to learn your characters and their moves. There’s also Challenge Mode, which offers up three types of challenges: Time Attack (beat a set amount of enemies in the time limit with different rules in place), Survival (beat a set amount of enemies on one life bar, again, with different rules in place), and Trial (perform moves and combos as directed), each of which come in Normal and Hard flavors for added challenge options. You can also take the game online, in the expected Ranked and Player matches, review your unlocked artwork and movies in the Gallery, and look over your stats and the leaderboards as you desire.

Visually, Street Fighter IV is outstanding in nearly every way imaginable. The character animations are absolutely top-notch, the characters themselves are well represented and transitioned nicely to 3-D, the various locales in the game are lively and well-designed, and the various special effects, lighting effects and such are all vibrant and amazing to behold. The only complaint one could really make against the visuals is that clipping, which wasn’t really a problem in the 2-D format, is now a concern in this game when, say, Chun-Li’s knee goes through her clothes or when Zangief’s bandoleer on his downloadable costume clips through his chest. The game isn’t quite as sharp as other games on the system, either, and while it DOES look very nice, it doesn’t hold up to some of the top-tier games on the console, visually.

Aurally, Street Fighter IV is damn impressive from top to bottom for a number of reasons. The music is one part remixes of the older tunes and one part all-new tracks, and most all of the tunes in the game are fantastic and compliment the action in the game nicely. The theme song for the game is also pretty decent, if a little cheesy, and it’s nice to see that Usher is still making music after all these years. The voice acting is generally good to great across the board. In a nice touch, the game features English and Japanese voice acting as well as the ability to choose which voice track you want to use PER CHARACTER, which is basically one step closer to actually featuring voice-overs that actually feature the characters speaking in their native tongue, ALA Kakuto Chojin. Say what you will, but that was a great feature. Anyway, the sound effects are also quite nice, and really compliment the game well. The game also features little touches, aurally, that make it a good bit more interesting than it first seems (Like rivals trash-talking each other DURING a fight, for example.), and frankly, there’s nothing really bad to say about the audio that doesn’t come down to issues of personal taste, so there you go.

… I’m sorry, I’m being told that is not, in fact, Usher who performs the title track for the game. My apologies for the inaccuracy.

For those who’ve gone their whole lives without having played a Street Fighter game, here’s your gameplay breakdown. The game world is based entirely on a 2D plane of movement, meaning that left and right move forward and backward, up jumps and down ducks. Your characters all have three punches and three kicks to work with (Or, in the case of Balrog, six punches.), each of which are either weak, medium, or strong in power. Depending on the character, pressing these buttons in combination with different directions allows you to perform additional different moves, and these moves can be chained together in combinations, which are called “combos”. Further, every character has special moves that are done by way of performing specific motions with the control pad/stick and pressing a button. The majority of special moves are either accomplished via roll motions (Down-down forward-forward and punch to do a fireball). or charge motions (Charge back, then press forward and punch for a Sonic Boom.), though there are plenty of other types of motions for you to learn. All of the characters also have Super Moves, which are essentially powerful moves or combinations of moves that deal a sizable amount of damage. These moves are done by performing more complex controller motions and pressing a button, and these moves also require you to have a fully charged Super Bar to be used. Said bar is charged by dealing and receiving damage in battle, which means it’s charging pretty much all the time in a fight, and when it’s full, you’re free to use it as needed. Every fight in the game essentially comes down to two characters using these moves and abilities to pummel their opponents into unconsciousness as needed, over one, three or five rounds, to determine who is, in fact, the better fighter.

So, there you go. Those are the basics on how Street Fighter IV works. Technically, those are the basics on how most 2D fighting games from the nineties work, but never mind. Street Fighter IV offers a great deal more than just what was mentioned above, so let’s get into the intricacies of the game that make it more than just another sequel.

One of the biggest changes to the game is the Ultra Combo system. Basically, as you take damage in battle, your Revenge Meter (Which is located to the left or right of your Super Meter.) fills up. When it fills up about halfway, that means you can unleash your Ultra Combo, which is essentially another, more cinematic, more powerful Super Move. This is a surprisingly effective change to the flow of battle. Super Moves are essentially only available from about the second round of battle onward, while Ultra Combos can be used after only a few seconds of getting pummeled, and further, they can be used to quickly turn the tide of battle, assuming they hit. Of course, hitting an opponent with an Ultra Combo essentially means that you’ve just given THEM an Ultra Combo to use, but such is the ebb and flow of Street Fighter IV. Next up, we have Focus Attacks, which are essentially parries/counter-attacks; by pressing Medium Punch and Medium Kick together, you essentially enter into a Focus state, and should an enemy hit you, you won’t react to it (though you will take the damage from the move). By releasing the buttons, you then deal out a return strike, which regains you some life and knocks your opponent out, more or less. Then we have EX Attacks. By doing a regular move and pressing all of the punch/kick buttons, you instead perform an EX move, at the cost of one block of your Super Meter. These moves can deal more damage or carry other lovely side-effects, making them useful in most combat situations, especially if you’re not concerned about using a Super Move.

There are other, small differences and changes here and there throughout the game as well. For one, instead of offering no dashing option (as it was in older games in the series) or a full dash option (As is provided in other games.), Street Fighter IV allows you to hop backwards and forwards with a double-tap in a direction, allowing you to close the gap or put some distance between you and an opponent as needed. Grabbing opponents is no longer as simple as walking up to them and pressing forward and strong punch; instead, you now have to press both weak attacks and forward to perform said grab. Conversely, grabs are now a good bit more… powerful than they used to be as a result. Despite the fact that attempting a grab and failing will in fact leave you wide open to a counter-attack, successful grabs can interrupt Super and Ultra Moves in the most humiliating and awesome way imaginable, if you can time them right. Also, pretty much every character has been busted down to one Super and one Ultra move, with two exceptions (Gen, because he has one Super and One Ultra per fighting style, and Dan, because he still has his Super Taunt), meaning that players who used to rely on a specific Super Move will find themselves without in many cases.

As noted above, the game offers up plenty of play modes to keep players interested, aside from the normal Arcade and local Versus Modes. Online play is mostly stable, though players of differing connection speeds will have a problem. As Alex noted, a player with a FIOS (AKA Fiber-Optic Internet, meaning it’s exceptionally fast) will have a better time of things when playing against someone using, say, low-speed DSL or cable internet. This is, of course, entirely common with these sorts of games (Or nearly ALL online games, come to that.), but you should probably be aware of it all the same. It’s also interesting to see that the game offers what essentially amounts to a “New Challenger” mode, where players can jump in against you at random while you’re playing Arcade mode. You can disable this if you want, of course, but it’s not a bad idea and brings the whole arcade feeling home, which some players will appreciate quite a bit. The various Trial options are good for building your skills, as they increase in difficulty as they go, and you’ll unlock new Icons and Titles for your profile (which mean nothing but are fun all the same) as well as character colors and taunts as you beat them.

The CPU difficulty is also reasonably balanced, surprisingly enough. Playing through the game on the easiest difficulty setting, while not exactly a cakewalk when playing with characters you are unskilled with or don’t like, is surprisingly not all that bad, and it’s not hard to get through Medium with a character you’re skilled with, even without mastering all of the intricacies of the game. Anything beyond Medium is liable to beat you like you stole something, but at that point, you’re kind of asking for it. The game also, by and large, still FEELS like Street Fighter, which is about the highest praise I can really give it. A player who knows and likes the series should be able to slip right into the game and start playing with their favorite characters with little to no difficulty, and should be able to do quite well even WITHOUT learning all of the intricacies of the product. New players should also be able to pick the game up nicely, thanks to the Training and Challenge modes and the ability to find players online based on their skill levels relative to your own.

That all said, Street Fighter IV does suffer from a few notable issues. The biggest one is, as one might expect, character balance. Okay, so, the final boss of this game, Seth, is a playable character. I’m going to come out and say right now that wasn’t a good idea. A quick perusal of the online leaderboards, based on Arcade Mode High Score, shows that of the top fifty players, forty made their highest score with Seth (The other ten are mostly comprised of Ryu/Ken/Akuma players, except for one Zangief entry and one entry, inexplicably, of El Fuerte.). This by itself isn’t particularly bad, but let’s go in a different direction here. Moving on to Time Attack scores, the top fifty scores? All but one were earned with Zangief. No, seriously. Same with the Survival rankings. Zangief. Yes, seriously.

The point here? Some characters are DISGUSTINGLY overpowered in this game, either because the characters themselves are rather overpowered (Seth) or because the changes to the mechanics, specifically the throw mechanics, have made some characters far better than they used to be (ANY character with powerful throws.). Now, yes, it’s good that some characters have been given new life, and that’s great, but it also means that many characters are simply far-and-away better than others, which is frankly kind of unfortunate. Now, sure, Ryu/Ken characters are generally going to be popular because they’re easy to learn and play as, and Zangief and Abel aren’t particularly lacking in most cases, but many of the characters in the game are simply not in the same league as the most popular choices mentioned above. Now, EVERYONE is going to have complaints about “MY FAVORITE CHARACTER WAS CRIPPLED WAH” but the thing is, a lot of the characters, disregarding any sorts of tier listings, simply don’t OFFER much to the average player:

Chun-Li – With her major anti-air move gone and her effectiveness having been cut down to around Street Fighter 2 levels, she’s not as useful or exciting as she used to be.

Rufus – Yes, a skilled player can do some damage with him. A skilled player can do damage with Dan, too. That doesn’t mean Rufus’ lack of range is GOOD or anything. And speaking of,

Dan – Dan has zero priority. None. Now, yes, he’s a joke character. We get it. Ha ha. But he was, at one point, mostly tolerable and even usable. Here? His moveset is nice, but he has zero priority, meaning nearly everything hits before anything he does. This thing? It doesn’t go down well.

El Fuerte – Guy from Street Fighter Alpha, lacking most of the useful moves Guy actually had. Not even bad, just disappointing.

Look, all I’m saying is that, while tier lists will constantly change and mutate, frankly, more than a few characters in this game are simply not very good, and either deserved to have more time spent working on them or should have been subbed out for other, more playable characters. I mean, yeah, I’m happy Cammy and Sakura are in the game, but I liked Dudley and Elena too, and they would have been better selections than some of the characters we actually got. Also, in an unrelated but also balance-oriented issue, it also bears noting that the CPU, while mostly balanced nicely, is flat-out abhorrent with its abuse of grapple attacks, and while that’s fine if you want to learn how to avoid this sort of thing online, it’s really insulting when you’re just trying to unlock things and move on.

Aside from the (partially subjective, I admit) balance issues, there are a few other things that simply don’t sit right in most respects. For one, while I love me some Street Fighter, aside from the Ultra Moves, there’s not really anything new here. The various challenges are things Capcom and SNK have done before, EX moves were something Darkstalkers did years ago, the Focus Attack system is similar to the Parry system from Street Fighter 3, and the rest of the game is classic Street Fighter II. I’m not saying reinvent the wheel here, but this is hardly new and different. Further, those Ultra Moves? Why do they do more damage than regular Super Moves? That seems counter-productive. They’re desperation moves meant for turning the tide of battle, so why are they MORE powerful than the moves that take longer to earn and are generally more strategic in their design? It would seem to me that the opposite would be true, and yet, such is not the case. The control design also isn’t friendly to anyone who ISN’T using an arcade stick or a six-button controller, since you really NEED to have all six buttons available to you at any one time, and sacrificing controller real estate to, say, a button dedicated to Focus Attacks takes away a spot that could be used for, say, 3x Punch or whatever. It would have made more sense to require LESS pushing of multiple buttons at once, or alternately, to have made more of the Mad Catz controllers that were being sold as a tie-in available for release (Because no way in hell am I paying one hundred dollars for an effing controller.). Also, as a final aside, while I understand Capcom’s need to make money off of the product beyond its initial sale, stripping the hidden costumes from the arcade game and uploading them as DLC? Not cool. I’d pay money for MORE costumes, sure, and perhaps some additional characters, but why are you REMOVING features and charging the player to use them? Aside from the obvious reason, of course.

Bottom line, though? Street Fighter IV is worth the asking price, and it’s honestly flat-out awesome to play and mostly exceptional. The visuals, audio and gameplay are all solid, well done, and just reminiscent enough of the older games while still bringing in a modern flair that newer fans can appreciate and enjoy. There are plenty of gameplay modes to work with, the online play is stable and well designed, and the game features plenty of little touches that make it an outstanding piece of work across the board. Granted, the character roster is a little shaky in certain aspects, the game features virtually nothing we haven’t seen before, and the control design isn’t super intuitive unless you’re the sort of person who drops lots of cash for fighting game based controllers, but frankly, these are small complaints when compared to the product as a whole. Old fans of the series can come into this game without losing a step, and new players can have plenty of fun with the product, and in the end, the fact that the game is as accessible and enjoyable as it is means a lot more than anything else.

The Scores:
Story/Game Modes: GREAT
Graphics: CLASSIC
Sound: UNPARALLELED
Control/Gameplay: GREAT
Replayability: GREAT
Balance: GOOD
Originality: BAD
Addictiveness: CLASSIC
Appeal: GREAT
Miscellaneous: GREAT

Final Score: GREAT.

Short Attention Span Summary:
Street Fighter IV, in simple terms, is the sort of game the franchise needed to move into the next generation of gaming. While it’s not the 2-D masterpiece I imagine many of us were hoping for, the game is good enough in most respects that it’s easy to forgive the product for that. The presentation is stellar, there are plenty of awesome things to see and do, the gameplay is as good as it ever was, and the game is challenging enough for veterans while still being accessible to new players. Combine this with a solid online component and a ton of challenges to tear through and it’s a safe bet this will spend a large amount of time in your console. The character roster isn’t as strong as it could be (though there are still plenty of good characters all around), the balance isn’t quite as solid as it should be, the controls aren’t as intuitive as one might hope, and the game is missing a few things it ought to include, but at the end of the day, it’s worth the asking price. It’s fun, well designed and generally good across the board. Whether you’re an old arcade veteran or an inexperienced newbie, you’ll have a ton of fun regardless.