The all-pervading sense of apprehension when someone throws down the gauntlet for a fight on Street Fighter is one that has always filled me with feelings of inadequacy and self-loathing. Street Fighter has a firm grip on its place amongst the pantheon of gaming’s greats, a cultural monolith whose borders exceed the niche carved out for hardcore gamers. Who knows? Perhaps even your Mother let off a hadouken or two in her day.
Given its unquestionably large footprint, it gives me great shame as a self-described ‘games journalist’ to admit a certain ignorance to the series’ finer points. So at the preview event for the latest edition of Street Fighter, looking on as a seething pool of cosplayers, fanboys and journos duked it out in RSI-defying feats of fighting genius, throwing caution to the wind and a great big middle finger up to their carpal tunnels, I could feel a rather large lump in my throat as I joined the throng.
Capcom have now presented their latest (fourth, in fact) update to 2008’s entry to the prestigious institution, Street Fighter IV, adding the illustrious and powerful adjective ‘ultra’ into the mix, perhaps to deny the naysayers that might claim that this is a cash-cow milking money-grabbing sales ploy rather than a worthwhile purchase, or perhaps just to feel their cajones ever so slightly swell as ‘ultra’ echoes around their pugnacious domes.
So Ultra Street Fighter IV is what we’re being pitched: five ‘new’ characters – four having appeared in Street Fighter X Tekken and six ‘new’ stages, all lifted directly from the same game, together with the vague promise of ‘rebalancing’. The cynical amongst us may scoff and slip into violent fits of derisory coughs and splutters at this point; it’s a rare thing to see a publisher squeeze this many versions out of a single instalment, but to do it with such gall … needless to say, I had my reservations. But such is the way of things in the idiosyncratic and mystifying world of Japanese fighting games, and with such a poverty of skill and wisdom in this particular arena, I opted to defer to the advice of my better informed acquaintances, set aside my misgivings and don the red bandana.
How wise my sensei proved. Brief dalliances with earlier instalments and previous editions of SFIV had provided a baseline and where before, uninitiated, I foundered and failed, bending and breaking beneath the pressure, sweating at the strain, Ultra made for a surprisingly refreshing experience. Logical and fluid, pleasantly responsive, this version seems to be the product of six years of refinement, from a studio having honed its art to as near perfect as possible. Making its stand in the closing chapters of the dying console cycle, Ultra is a eulogy, a swansong to the generation. Ultra is Capcom righting the wrongs of past versions and giving players (combatants?) the very best version of SFIV possible before they embark into brand new territory in the real sense of the word. Ultra has been designed with the word definitive in mind.
Not that my new found appreciation for all things Street Fighter helped my performance any; I was outclassed and outgunned, scoring victories against only those similarly out of depth. There was however ample opportunity to sample the new characters and get to grips with the modification to the Ultra Combo setup.
Elena, Hugo, Poison and Rolento are the characters to return from Street Fighter X Tekken, all balanced to fit in with the current roster, whilst Decapre is the much-hyped, brand new inclusion. One of M. Bison’s Doll-assassins and with a striking similarity in looks to Cammy, Decapre brings a teleporting kick and a host of charge attacks to the fray. Aesthetic similarities to Cammy are misleading, however, with Decapre coming out as more of an E. Honda-esque contender, able to sustain an offensive play style despite being primarily charge-focussed.
The Double Ultra feature allow the player to opt to use both of their character’s Ultra Combo moves in a single match, with the cost of reducing the damage of both moves. This comes with the benefits of making for a more unpredictable fighter, sacrificing raw power for increased versatility. Given the cost in damage, the Double Ultra may be of greatest benefit to the higher damage characters who can afford to take a hit to the damage output of their ultra-moves. Along with the option to select fighter properties from past editions of Street Fighter, this empowers the player to the point of total control over the fighter they want to use, something sure to please long-time fans of the series. Other changes included a ‘delayed wakeup’, where the player can remain knocked-down for a slightly extended period, possibly taking the momentum out of an opponent’s combos, along with Red Focus – Focus attacks absorbing an increased number of hits and costing a full super gauge.
What might initially seem a cash-in is actually a stroke of genius; a definitive and comprehensive edition that will please existing fans with its rebalancing and modifications and also one that is perfectly placed to introduce new fans to the series, ready to get their fight on for the next generation of Street Fighter games once Capcom make the leap to the next generation.
With upgrade packages available for owners of Super Street Fighter IV retail or Arcade editions, priced at £11.99 / $14.99 / €14.99 and the full retail release coming for a reasonable £19.99 / €24.99 / $39.99, there’s nothing stopping the game reaching a whole new audience. We’ll keep you posted – expect to be hearing howls of ‘SHORYUKEN’ penetrating the sticky summer evenings come release. We’ll keep you posted!