ESRB Rating: Teen for Alcohol Reference, Mild Suggestive Themes, Violence
Available On: Arcade, Playstation 3, Xbox 360 (version reviewed)
Number of Players: 1-2 (local and online)
Strong Points: Fantastic return of a long-loved series; great visual direction; very likable and diverse characters; extremely well-tuned fighting engine that rewards study and practice
Weak Points: That same reward system keeps the game from being something that anyone can simply pick up and play with favorable results; character stories told through sub-par anime sequences are completely lacking; online play lacks the lobby system seen in other Street Fighter releases
Hadouken! Fifteen years ago, you would likely hear a game machine screaming something just like that when entering an arcade. Though Street Fighter found its start in the late 80s, the Street Fighter II series was in full effect in the early 90s, gathering attention from masses of people who would vie for the honor of being the best player in a given arcade or region. The game series in its fast pace, heavy use of strategy, and complete removal of chance as a factor, drove competitive gaming forward. The Street Fighter name has well earned its praise and undying devotion from countless people across the world. Spanning multiple sub-series, Street Fighter IV stands as an entirely new game. With nearly ten years between us and the last title that wasn\'t a repackaging in some way, Street Fighter IV has potential to be a series reboot and an opportunity to bring competitive fighting games back to the foreground among gamers.
Before I get into what sets Street Fighter IV apart from (and above) other games in the genre, let\'s take a step back to look at some of the basics of the series in case if you\'re starting at square one. As mentioned above, the Street Fighter series is about competition. On the most basic level, you can view the game as two people trying to physically beat each other to a knock out as too many untrained eyes would see it. However, the game series is so much more than that.
When other games moved into the realm of 3D graphics and movement, Street Fighter stuck with (beautifully) hand drawn sprites on a 2D plane. When other games brought in ridiculously over-the-top special attacks and combinations, Street Fighter kept the basic options simple and direct. When other games wanted to give everyone, regardless of how long he or she had been playing a fairly equal chance of victory, Street Fighter focused on rewarding practice, strategy, and raw skill.
Indeed, Street Fighter has always been about using a combination of punches, kicks, throws, and super moves to effectively crush your opponent. Though most of the attacks are straightforward, the special moves change things up by adding in various projectile attacks and moves that can be used in the air. This basic gameplay design has remained true throughout the series, and continues to remain true in Street Fighter IV.
By no means should you think Street Fighter IV uninspired or unchanged, though. I\'ve heard it said that "if it ain\'t broke, don\'t fix it." Really, honestly, Street Fighter IV could have been yet another repackaging of an existing sub-series, and it would have been a well-tuned, highly addictive, highly competitive fighting game. Fortunately, Capcom wanted to outdo its past with Street Fighter IV.
Better yet, in nearly every respect, Capcom succeeded in this goal. Capcom decided that hardcore fighting games were getting to a point that "human beings couldn\'t play them any more," so they opted to take the series back to its roots found in Street Fighter II. To go with the game\'s return to the simpler and more accessible II series (instead of the more technical Alpha and III series) in gameplay direction, the game also pays homage to its roots by including 15 of the 17 characters found in the series by its conclusion. The game also has six completely new characters in addition to four characters from the Alpha series; sorry, III series fans, none of those exclusive characters have made the roster this time out. For those of you (like me_ who want to know how many characters that adds up to without doing the math, we\'re talking about a large roster of 25 playable characters.
Before we look into the intricacies of the new fighting system, along with its big changes, let\'s take a brief look at the roster. One of the great things about it is that every character is truly unique even if there are misleading similarities on the surface. Sure, Ryu and Ken look a lot alike and have similar movesets, but the way that they are often used varies greatly.
Some characters are designed to give emphasis to attacking from a distance with fireballs and other attacks; some characters are extremely quick, allowing you to try and overwhelm an opponent with a flurry of attacks; some characters are designed with heavy emphasis on grappling and throwing in mind; and some characters are best used attacking from the air while others are best used against foes in the air. Then again, these things are more like multi-dimensional spectrum lines that any given character falls somewhere closer to the middle of than at a complete extreme. As if these spectrums were not enough to consider deciding on who to play as, characters also range in difficulty of use. For example, Zangief, the Russian wrestler, is extremely powerful but more difficult to use effectively than many other characters. All the same, Capcom is a master at its craft, and no character guarantees victory or defeat; even the seemingly weakest characters can beat the strongest. But I can talk character specifics another time. Let\'s get back to talking about what sets Street Fighter IV apart.
The first, and arguably biggest, addition to the fighting system is the Focus Attack system. Focus Attacks serve a number of purposes on the basic level, and there are countless ways to implement them. The Focus Attack is a move that can be charged up. Depending on how long you charge, you will execute a different level of the Focus Attack; each level improves effectiveness, and the attack will break through a block at the highest charge level. Better yet, the Focus Attack allows for parrying attacks. During the charge time of the Focus Attack, you can absorb a single attack. If your opponent lands a second attack before you can release the charge for a counter attack, your guard will be broken, and you will be left extremely vulnerable. However, if you succeed in landing the counter attack, your opponent will crumple over (as is the case in most successful Focus Attacks and in all successful counter attacks) and be exposed long enough to fir off your character\'s Super or Ultra Attack.
The Super Attack and Ultra Attack are mostly original to Street Fighter IV. Super Attacks have been around in some form or another for the series for quite a while. In many cases Super Attacks are kind of like glorified, multi-hit special attacks. Super Attacks are executed by building your Super Combo Meter. This is simply done by attacking and guarding. Different attacks add different amounts to your charge meter, but it will usually take a little while to build it up enough to execute a Super Attack. The Super Combo Meter is broken up in four segments. Having at least one full segment segment will allow you to execute an EX attack, but having two segments available will allow you to use an EX Focus.
I\'ll get back to Ultra Attacks in a moment since it makes more sense to explain EX Attacks and EX Focus now instead of leaving you wondering. An EX Attack is a supercharged special attack. Typically, these attacks do more damage and hit an enemy more times. Ken\'s fireball, for instance, does a chunk of damage upon contact when used regularly. When used as an EX move, Ken will flash yellow during execution, but the attack will otherwise look like a regular fireball. It will seem normal until it hits, that is. Remember what I said about being invulnerable to a single attack during the charge portion of a Focus Attack? The EX move will blast right through a charging opponent. But even more useful for strategic purposes is that an EX fireball will cut right through a standard fireball by absorbing the opposing fireball with the first hit. Since fireball wars are all too common on Live, having this option available is a huge asset. And what about those EX Focus moves? EX Focus allows you to cancel out of a special move. If you set up for a heavy special attack only to have it blocked, you can EX Focus to hop back to a defensive state instead of leaving yourself vulnerable. On the other hand, if you have enough charge for an Ultra Attack and an EX Focus, you can special move an opponent to get a hit in and set up a combo, from there you can EX Focus, hop forward, and launch your Ultra Attack.
With that, let\'s talk about what the Ultra Attack is. The Ultra Attack is the pinnacle of Street Fighter IV\'s new Revenge system. The Revenge system is a pretty simple concept: take damage and get angry to store energy in your Revenge Gauge. Once your Revenge Gauge is at least half full, you can execute your character\'s Ultra Attack. In many cases, the Ultra is a lot like a modified Super. Control input is usually the same with the only difference being that you have to hit all three punch or kick attack buttons instead of one. Successfully pulling off an Ultra is not the easiest thing ever, and whiffing an Ultra will leave you very vulnerable with little life left. Successfully landing an Ultra is no guarantee for a comeback, but it will give you a much better chance at coming out ahead.
Still, even though the Revenge system is nice to have for times of desperation, it is far more ideal to beat out an opponent without taking enough damage to make it usable. This brings me back to the game\'s true focus: strategy. Though being able to consistently throw a fireball or use a Focus Attack is important, spamming special moves will only get you so far. Attack combos and strategies for both the next second of gameplay as well as the entire round quickly become necessary if you want to hold your own on a competitive level. So strategy-driven is the game that I even wrote a staff blog <a href="http://staff.revolve21.com/2008/12/why-i-love-street-fighter.html">comparing it to chess</a>.<br /><br />But I guess now would be as good a time as any to point out that Street Fighter IV, as amazing and deep as it is, is not a game for everyone. Even though Capcom wanted to make the game accessible to newcomers without alienating veterans, there are very high demands that you will have to meet if you want to compete seriously. Capcom did simplify the system down from the Alpha and III series, but it still rewards those who actually work to improve. Because of this, those who simply want a pick up and play game will rarely hold their own against people who play regularly. If you\'re one of those people, I\'m going to do something I rarely do and advise you to stay away from the game. Then again, as part of Capcom\'s desire to make the game more accessible, they\'ve included a very useful Challenge Mode that will walk you through a number of any character\'s special moves and powerful combos. Being able to work through these tools (which give even experienced players trouble at times) will not promise you victory in tournaments, but it will definitely help you as you develop your skills and personal fighting style.
On the subject of game modes and options, Street Fighter IV is full of them. In addition to Arcade and local and online Versus modes, there are a ton of Survival, Time Attack, and Challenge Mode options. There is also a basic Training Mode with the ability to record your own attack series to practice against and a host of other options to toy with. One nice thing about these modes is that they all reward you for progression. Beating challenges will unlock Titles and Icons that you can use to customize your presence online; they may not add a lot, but the extra bonus is nice.
On that note, there is a ridiculous amount of stuff to unlock. There are probably hundreds of Titles and Icons to unlock. There are also alternate colors to unlock for your characters and some other minor customization options, too. Though both rewarding and bothersome, a third of the game\'s characters have to be unlocked before using them. The characters in particular are unlocked in Arcade Mode. Conveniently, this can be done on the easiest game difficulty.
Inconveniently, even on the easiest difficulty, the game\'s computer opponents can occasionally be devastating. On the easy levels, beating a number of the opponent\'s won\'t be too hard. But somehow, seemingly impossible attacks will be landed on you. In my experience, this is especially true with grappling characters that seem to grab and throw me while I\'m in the middle of an attack. It\'s definitely aggravating, but it\'s not impossible. Fighting in these situations can even be good training, but it ultimately won\'t compare with playing against real opponents.
And playing against real opponents is key to Street Fighter\'s success. Thankfully for all of us, home technology is at a point that online play is note only possible, but it actually tends to work out well. Online play is by no means perfect, but Capcom\'s netcode is fairly effective at hiding lag even on my weak internet connection. Finding people to play against is pretty easy, but having friends with the game helps. The only thing that upsets me about online play is the lack of a virtual arcade/lobby system that was included in the Xbox Live version of Hyper Fighting and in both version of HD Remix. Interestingly, Capcom tried to recreate some of the arcade feel by giving you an option to accept random challenges from the internet even while playing the offline Arcade mode. Thankfully, you can turn this option off if you simply want to progress through Arcade without interruptions.
Aside from the lack of the virtual lobby/spectator option, the troubles with online play are hardly the fault of Capcom; they\'re a result of people who cannot accept a loss. On the other hand, if you play with friends, this becomes much less of an issue. Then again, even the quality netcode won\'t replace playing against friends in person, so it\'s great that Capcom included a fully featured local play option.
Before pressing on, I think now is a good time to bring up something else about the game\'s difficulty. While the AI can be brutal, and it will take training to be able to hold your own against people who do train, one of the most brutal things of all actually has nothing to do with the game code. Though the Playstation controller gets along with fighting games fairly well, the 360 controller is not very useful for fighting games at all. Due to the placement of the D-pad, it\'s uncomfortable to use. Using the analog stick is possible, and what I do when I have to play with a gamepad, but it is not as accurate and easy to use as the controls for a fighting game should be. The overall design of the controller complicates the game. Then again, I will say that Capcom made the right decision by keeping a traditional control scheme. When Capcom added "Easy Operation" controls to some of the console ports of Capcom vs. SNK 2, the game was no longer the same and not for the better. All that being said, you can play the game with the stock controller, and you can play decently, but you will probably want to pick up an arcade stick if you want to play the game seriously.
Really, I could talk for days about the gameplay, characters, and strategies, but I\'m guessing that you will want to go on with your life at some point. Let\'s move on and look at what makes Street Fighter IV even more special: the new graphical direction. As I\'m sure you\'ve figured out by now, Street Fighter IV has shifted the series away from the 2D sprites we\'re so familiar with over to 3D character models and stages (something that had only been done in the less popular EX sub-series of games previously).
Now, I\'ll be the first to admit that I was quite opposed to the shift in direction when I first heard about it. I probably even went so far as to say that the 3D models would kill Street Fighter. It took me until the last few weeks leading up to the release to even begin to warm up to the new visuals. As I started to pay more attention to the details of the new graphics, I began to see how amazing the result of the change was. Somehow, in spite of moving from hand-drawn images to computer-generated models, the artists were able to retain the charm of the characters. Not only are the characters charming in their own ways, but they are also extremely detailed. In tech terms, the polygon counts are high and the texture maps leave nothing lacking.
But technicality without execution doesn\'t mean much to me. It\'s one thing to have exceptionally detailed characters, and it\'s quite another thing for them to move, act, and react in a lively fashion. Fortunately, Street Fighter IV looks even better in motion than it does in screenshots. With strong attacks, your character\'s face will show the intensity going into the attack. When faced with an opponent\'s Super Attack or Ultra Attack, characters\' faces show their shock and horror of the pain that will follow if the move is not blocked.
On that note, Supers and Ultras are in some ways the height of something that the entire game oozes with: style. To highlight the personalities of the characters, and to add dramatic effect to the attacks themselves, the gameplay comes to a halt while the camera zooms in on the attacking character. Assuming that an Ultra attack connects, the camera will take dramatic twists to show off punishing effects of move.
But that\'s just one example of the style. The Focus Attack comes with style all its own. While charging, the appearance of black ink will surround your character. When releasing the attack, the ink will disperse dramatically. It may not add anything to the gameplay, but things like this add to the already strong visual appeal of the game. Of course, it helps that the ink effect bears similarity to the game\'s intro video (which was broken into parts for the sake of hype-building trailers prior to the game\'s release).
I think I should point out that the intro video is no mundane thing added merely because intros are expected. Make no mistake, this intro video is one of the most impressively stylish things I\'ve ever seen in a game. It is exceedingly dramatic and dynamic, but it\'s the combination of rival fighters doing what they do best in a ridiculously beautiful and cool animation direction. It\'s not altogether common for me to be wowed by style, so it\'s no small thing that I\'m this impressed.
I just wish that I could say the same about the anime sequences at the beginning and end of every character\'s quest through Arcade Mode. The anime quality itself isn\'t terrible, but the so-called stories are incredibly weak. If knowing the Street Fighter canon is important to you, the videos could be nice if not for the fact that some of the videos even contradict themselves. In most cases, you\'ll simply want to skip the videos since they add nothing to the game. Then again, it\'s hard to be that bothered by the lack of quality in these videos since they\'re so peripheral to the game as a whole.
Fortunately, where it matters, Street Fighter IV constantly comes through. Returning for a moment to the visual department, the regularly used special effects are quite effective. Special moves like fireballs look great as they launch, soar, and collide with an opponent or another fireball. Dust effects and the like look good, too.
To round out the visual side of things are a variety of stages to fight on. Functionally, they\'re pretty much the same. Visually, most of the stages have cheering onlookers that react to the fight. Other things, like the tearing of a sheet over a doorway and the shaking of a boat after forcefully knocking someone to the ground are also examples of how environments come to life and react to the fights. We may not be talking about interactive environments here, but these subtle things add to the overall production quality of the game.
In case if this theme of high production qualities (anime sequences notwithstanding) hasn\'t been obvious enough, I\'ll say it again: Capcom\'s production qualities for Street Fighter IV are ridiculously high. As you have seen, this is true of the gameplay and visual directions, and it is also true of the sound department.
All of the characters are fully voiced, and most of the voice acting is decent. However, Capcom saw fit to give us a very nice feature. Not only did they choose to give us access to the Japanese voices, but they also gave us the ability to pick and choose which characters are given which region\'s voices. A nice gift to those of us who are particular about our voice actors. Basic attack and defense sound effects are effective in their roles, but there\'s not much more to be said about that.
The music is an interesting like it or love it affair. With the partial exception of the opening/main theme, the soundtrack pays homage to the series\' roots much like everything else in the game. Most of the songs range from soaring guitar leads to techno beats to traditional Chinese music. The opening theme, which begins like a classic Street Fighter theme, quickly turns into a catchy pop anthem that can get stuck in your head for hours. The majority of the songs are well written. Whether or not you like the songs will be a matter of preference, but Capcom\'s choosing to continue paying tribute to the series\' origins in the music direction was the right decision.
Also true to the game\'s origins is the unashamedly violent nature of the gameplay. While bones don\'t break, and wounds don\'t bleed, fighters take a lot of abuse. Some attacks would kill a real person if they could somehow be done, but at least those attacks are portrayed as being over-the-top. Still, everything from strong punches and kicks to backbreaking throws to supernatural energy attacks is put to use while trying to knock out (there are no deaths) opponents. No matter how you slice it, though, the gameplay revolves around constant combat. Beyond the violence, there is some usage of mild profanities (some characters say "dang" and "crap," and the announcer often says before a match that it "is going to be one hell of a show"). The ESRB refers to "alcohol reference," but it must be small since I can\'t recall it. Supernatural elements are in effect, but are pretty tame. Many characters have a rather undefined source of energy used for fireballs and the like. Akuma is a character consumed by a dark form of this energy. Rose has attacks loosely based in magic and soul power. Seth, the final boss, is a part of S.I.N. and has a sphere resembling a Yin-Yang symbol in place of his stomach. Finally, some of the female characters wear revealing clothing. The most extreme examples of this would be Cammy\'s costume resembling a one-piece bathing suit and Crimson Viper\'s modified suit that reveals both cleavage and midriff. Additionally, there are female stand-ins in some of the stages that wear revealing clothing. Fortunately, in contrast to many other fighting games, sex-appeal is hardly a point of focus here.
If you\'ve actually read this whole review, I\'m pretty impressed. Street Fighter IV is a ridiculously deep game, and to try and do justice to the game in any less detail can\'t really be done. But, all things must come to an end, and this review is no exception. At this point, I\'m going to hazard a guess and say that you fall into one of three groups. You could find the game\'s surface emphasis on violence to be off-putting, and avoid the game because of that. Otherwise, the game\'s extremely deep fighting system with heavy focus on strategy and competitive play will send you in the direction of loving or hating the game. There is a lot to love, and the depth of the system along with the variety of characters can give the game a ridiculous amount of replay value for those who do love it and can put the time into the game to get good. However, those who have no desire to work at a game in order to hold their own in competition will probably hate the game because of its way of rewarding those who do practice.
Still, a game should not be criticized for rewarding those who work hard to gain their skills. With that in mind, Street Fighter IV is an absolutely fantastic game in nearly every respect. Whether or not it is able to bring serious competitive fighting games to the foreground of the industry can\'t be seen just yet, but the potential is here. If, by chance, you\'re still on the fence about the game, I would highly recommend a rental to find out what you think for yourself. If you land more clearly in any of the above groupings, I recommend you either waste no more time and buy the game or stay far, far away from it for the sake of your sanity.
Gameplay - 19/20
Graphics - 10/10
Sound - 8/10
Controls - 5/5
Stability - 5/5
Moral Ratings - 39/50
Violence - 5/10
Language - 8.5/10
Sexual Content - 7/10
Supernatural - 8.5/10
Ethical - 10/10
Overall - 86/100