Review: Super Street Fighter IV (Microsoft Xbox 360)

Super Street Fighter IV
Genre: Fighting
Developer: Capcom
Publisher: Capcom
Release Date: 04/27/10

One year and two months ago, I was given the opportunity to review what was, at the time, a fighting game I was heavily anticipating in Street Fighter IV. While I enjoyed the game on the whole, I couldn’t help but feel that the game had some notable flaws that prevented it from being all it could be. The game didn’t feel as balanced as it could have, there were minor flaws that added up to make the game feel like it wasn’t all it could have been, and in the end, while it was a fine game, it simply didn’t quite impress on the level it could have. As I noted in my original review, Street Fighter is THE fighting game franchise for many people, and a 3D revision of the series needed to be on par with the prior games, which in some respects, Street Fighter IV was not. Well, Capcom has given the game another go with the upgraded Super Street Fighter IV, with a title that harkens back to the days of eight million upgrades of one title that was the nineties, and like those titles, this is less a straight sequel and more a general upgrade. Like the name implies, it’s a massive upgrade of its predecessor, complete with new characters, new moves, new locales, and new modes of play, and as one would expect, it more than justifies its asking price if you were a fan of the original. For those looking for some notable tuning and additions to the game, well, this might not satisfy those needs, as despite the numerous additions to the experience, in many respects the game is as flawed as ever.

There’s still 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 guy 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. The concept is as new and exciting now as it was last year, which is to say not very, but it works, so whatever. The storylines are once again as good as before, and the cutscenes have, by all indications, been redone for this version of the game, which is nice for those who’ve already seen the storyline bits from the first game and want something new. Overall, the story is as good as it was before, for better or worse, and the end result is enjoyable if nothing else. The game modes, once again, are pretty outstanding, though some things have been changed around. 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 various Trials to complete, which require you to perform various moves and combos with each of the characters. Survival and Time Attack mode have been excised from this section of the game, though they are replaced, once you unlock them, with the Car Crusher and Barrel Buster mini-games that pop up in Arcade Mode should you wish to play around with those. You can also take the game online, in the expected Ranked and Player matches, though there is now the ability to review online replays of other fights as well as “Endless Battle”, which is essentially “Winner Stays” online versus, similar to how arcade battles would work back in the day. This release seems to lack the ability to review unlocked cutscenes and such, though it still allows for the ability to review the leaderboards and your own stats on and offline, should you wish.

Visually, Super Street Fighter IV is as pretty as it was last year in all respects. The character animations are still excellent, for both the existing characters and new additions, the characters themselves are well represented and transitioned nicely to 3D, the various locales in the game are as lively and well-designed as before, both new and old, and the various special effects, lighting effects and such are all vibrant and very pretty. Clipping still rears its ugly head now and again, as it did in the prior game, and the game still isn’t a top-tier release, visually, but it hasn’t noticeably suffered in the past year and still looks fine at this point. Aurally, Super Street Fighter IV is still 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. You can also swap out normal tunes and remixed tunes once the option is unlocked, which is nice, though sadly, the Usher-esque theme song from the first game has been removed. The voice acting is still generally good to great across the board, for new characters and old, and 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, once unlocked, which was great the last time around and is no less great this time. The sound effects are still 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.

For those who’ve gone their whole lives without having played a Street Fighter game, not much has changed here, so 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 is 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 Super Street Fighter IV works. Technically, those are the basics on how most 2D fighting games from the nineties work, but never mind. Super 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 Super 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), Super 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 Move, though in Super Street Fighter IV, the characters have been given two Ultra Moves, though in a Street Fighter III twist, you must select which of the two you want to use in battle before starting. There are two exceptions to the above, in Gen, because he has one Super and One Ultra per fighting style, and Dan, because he still has his Super Taunt, but this still essentially means 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 someone with FIOS internet or some other sort of high-speed connection will have an easier time in battle than someone with a low-speed internet connection. 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. Though the Challenge options have been stripped down a bit, the remaining one, Trial, teaches you various combinations and such, making it a worthwhile inclusion above the others. Further, the biggest addition to Super Street Fighter IV is the whopping TEN CHARACTERS added to the game, bringing the roster up to thirty-five characters total, both new and old, which is a good thing all around.

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, of course, 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. For those who owned the original game, you’ll also be able to use your downloaded costumes if you had any in this game, and you’ll even get some custom character colors for being a loyal fan, which is always a nice addition, even if it’s a small one.

That all said, Super Street Fighter IV does suffer from a few notable issues, and unfortunately, they’re pretty much the EXACT SAME issues its predecessor had. The biggest one is, as one might expect, character balance. On the plus side, since Capcom completely removed the Time Attack and Survival Modes and the Arcade Mode high score leaderboard, you’re no longer left staring at leaderboards filled with Zangief and Seth, and the metrics now reflect overall player skill against players and not skill against the CPU. On the minus side, Zangief and Seth are no less broken this time around, and as before, 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 (Zangief and T. Hawk come to mind). 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. I mean, I get that Dan is a joke character, and while he was at one point mildly usable Capcom has made it their mission in life to completely make him useless, but characters like Makoto, Deejay and Hakan aren’t really in the same league as the top-tier characters and the game doesn’t even seem a little bit ashamed of this fact. The fact that Capcom added in a bunch of great all-around choices to the roster doesn’t excuse the massive gap in playability between some characters, and more time spent on balancing the game would have been fantastic, especially since balance was a somewhat spotty issue in the first game. The CPU is also as much of a grapple whore as it was in the last game, though you don’t really have to deal with it since everything comes unlocked from the get-go, at least.

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, there’s nothing new to the game save the added characters and a couple new modes. 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 III, and the rest of the game is classic Street Fighter. Endless Battle is a nice addition to online play, sure, and bringing the mini-games back from Street Fighter II is great, but did we have to remove Survival and Time Attack for these additions? Further, those Ultra Moves? Why do they do more damage than regular Super Moves, still? That STILL 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 still 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, as many other fighting games have begun to learn, instead of forcing players to own fighting pads and sticks. Finally, the loading times have been increased a little when starting battles, and while this isn’t noticeable at first, you’ll end up noticing it sooner or later as you spend time with the game.

The bottom line is that while Super Street Fighter IV is still worth its asking price, this is because the game was released at a reduced price more than because of anything it does, as it’s essentially the same game with ten new characters popped in, for better or worse. The visuals, audio and gameplay are still as solid as they were last year, and the new additions to these elements fit well and are rather nice all around. There are plenty of gameplay modes to work with, as well as some new ones this time around, the online play is stable and well designed, and the game features plenty of little touches that make it well worth owning for anyone who likes fighting games. The character roster is still somewhat unbalanced here and there, the game once again features virtually nothing we haven’t seen before, the control design isn’t super intuitive unless you’re the sort of person who drops lots of cash for fighting game based controllers, some game modes have been removed and some minor technical issues raise their head here and there, unfortunately. That said, the reduced price point and massive character roster more or less make the game worth owning if you liked the original, or fighting games in general, really, and once again, 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: GREAT
Sound: UNPARALLELED
Control/Gameplay: GOOD
Replayability: GOOD
Balance: ABOVE AVERAGE
Originality: DREADFUL
Addictiveness: GREAT
Appeal: GREAT
Miscellaneous: GOOD

Final Score: GOOD GAME.

Short Attention Span Summary:
Super Street Fighter IV is pretty much as good as its predecessor and features more characters and new modes to boot, and while it doesn’t impress as much as its predecessor, it’s still a fun time that’s worth owning if you’re a fan of the series or fighting games in general. The presentation is as good as ever, there are plenty of fun and involved things to see and do, the gameplay is still quite solid, and the game is challenging enough for veterans while still being accessible to new players. Combine this with an improved online component and a ton of challenges to tear through and it’s a safe bet this will be a fighting game you come back to more than a few times. The character roster has been increased dramatically, though the overall character balance isn’t as strong as it could or should have been, the gameplay balance isn’t quite as solid as it should be, the controls aren’t as intuitive as one might hope, the game is missing a few things it ought to include, and there are some mild technical issues here and there (both old and new) that hurt the game somewhat overall. That said, between the increased content and reduced price, Super Street Fighter IV is pretty much worth checking out for fans of the series and the genre, and while it isn’t as impressive as its predecessor, it’s still a good time all around.

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