The world warriors are back! In its 20th anniversary of the franchise Capcom has decided to rejoin the swarm of fighters that have established and evolved over the years, from which many have spawned countless series updates during the games’ hibernation.
Thankfully the wait hasn’t been a lonely one, with the release of online enabled ports of Street Fighter 2 Hyper Fighting on Xbox LIVE Arcade through to the resent Street Fighter 2 Turbo HD Remix, which brought the franchise on to gamers’ Hi-Definition screens. But it is now time for the 2D we all know and love to step aside for the return of the king, who comes dressed up in a glorious 3D fighting suit.
With Street Fighter IV the developers have decided to stick to the tried and trusted core 2D gameplay, while on top you will find the line-up of world warriors and their environments all recreated in a unique and vivid 3D style, with each character resembling caricature-like features of their former 2D selves. Personally I applaud this decision in taking such a bold move in a world where current beat-em-ups seem to be throwing everything but the kitchen sink into their titles these days.
Your normal choice of modes can be found within the pretty bland, generic main menu interface; from Arcade and Versus, to Challenge and Training. After firing up Arcade and selecting your difficulty, the amount of rounds and time limit you are overcome with nostalgia as you come face to face with all of your old fighting favourites. Sixteen characters are selectable from the off, twelve of these are the usual oldie but goldies; from Ryu and Ken through to Chun-Li and Sagat. The remaining four warriors are made up of some new talent for the series: El Fuerte – a masked Mexican, special agent Crimson Viper, French martial artist Abel and finally Rufus – a porky fellow who seems to have swapped his trips to the gym with frequent visits to McDonalds.
In an attempt to create a more open and approachable title for new fighters (and those that need to get warmed up) you can ease into Arcade mode by selecting the lower skill Easy, Very Easy or if you are that new (or bad) – Easiest. These simple modes are ideal if you wish to quickly unlock the six locked fighters within the game. These hidden warriors consist of more classic fighters: Cammy, Sakura, Fei Long and everyone’s average fighter – Dan. Once these fighters have been unlocked you can continue to gain a further four more characters, from the likes of the demonic fighter – Akuma and three new characters: old man – Gen, final boss – Seth, and mentor to Ryu and Ken – Gouken. So if you have been paying attention there are a total of 25 characters within the game, each with there own fighting styles and special attacks.
Arcade mode has you battling through a handful of bouts in which your opponents will do their very best in stopping you (or not at all if you are playing on anything less than medium skill). Once you have been successful in taking down a few foes you then face your characters’ rival, and once beaten you then go on to fight the final boss, Seth, in his secret laboratory. There is not much point in going in to the story or plot, as there really isn’t one. There are anime cut scenes that introduce each character’s quest in Arcade mode as well as to conclude their defeat of Seth, but they are all inconsistent and fairly pointless, some are even cringe worthy to watch. Only the scenes for the six characters required to unlock the six fighters have some consistency to them, but the rest are just plan confusing.
Puzzling intros aside the classic hardcore fighting of old is here in abundance, every character has had their classic moves and special powers reincarnated in the new colourful 3D art style whilst keeping all attacks and moves in the same 2D gameplay. As found in previous versions of the series this keeps things simple and leaves you to concentrate on your opponent’s attacks whilst executing your own handful of set moves and combos.
As well as the old Super Combo attacks there are two new special attacks to be found in SFIV, Focus attacks and Ultra Combo moves. In a Focus attack your character can absorb your opponents attack and counter it. These can be executed with the medium punch and a kick button or by assigning a single button for a Focus attack. There are many ways you can use a Focus attack on your opponent and it has become a crucial element in SFIV’s core gameplay. Although this isn’t crucial for easy levels it will become vital when playing online and when playing against the AI on harder difficulties.
Ultra Combos are your chance to get revenge on your opponent. In a twist to the Super Combo you boost your Ultra Combo meter by being hit by your opponent. Triggering an Ultra Combo gives you some breathing time as your view is transferred into a more cinematic angle for a brief second as you see your character execute his or her special move onto your opponent. When successful this results in a spectacular display of punches and kicks from your character, and if your opponent is low on health it will all end in a splash of yellow fire as you KO your victim to the floor, a move which never fails to put a smile on your face.
In Training mode you can setup a bout with any unlocked fighter and via the menu let them either stand there and take your punches, let them repeatedly do a particular set move or action or record your opponents specific actions and play them back at you.
In an attempt to boost the games’ longevity SFIV includes a Challenge mode. This is where you can put your skills to the test against up to three challenge types, each featuring two difficulty levels. First there is Time Attack Challenges, this is where you complete a certain number of fights before the total allocated time runs out. Next there are Survival Challenges, these gives you a quota of fights that you have to beat with a particular amount of heath buffer, by eating into this buffer you will reduce your vitality meter between each stage, and if this reaches zero it is game over. The third and final Challenge is Trial, this one is a little odd as it’s more about learning each characters moves to the minute detail. In Trial you are asked to pull off a number of moves in order to complete each level. The first few stages are a breeze with characters you are familiar with, but these get increasing difficult when you are asked to pull off some hardcore move in later levels that are fit for a professional tournament player.
So that pretty much sums up the offline modes in SFIV. Although harder levels do their very best in making you curse at the screen with frustration you can’t beat getting your ass handed to you in the online arena. Luckily SFIV has you covered in this area. A great feature in SFIV is its online Player Status section. Once activated by pressing the shoulder button you can customise your icon and title from unlocked items earned in the single player modes. You can also set your online preferences such as rounds, time limits, skill levels and language priorities. Once Arcade Requests are turned on anyone online who’s ready and waiting to beat you to a pulp can challenge you at any time whilst you are playing in Arcade mode. If you wish to search for your opponents then heading into Xbox LIVE Battle will be your portal to online fisticuffs, as you fight in either player matches or ranked matches and earn yourself some precious Battle Points along the way.
For all you Achievement whores out there don’t expect an easy ride in this game, as most of your rewards will be given to you once you have completed all arcade modes and challenges, through to unlocking all characters and pulling off a set number of combos, moves and finishes. This is one game that needs some serious playtime in both on and offline modes to earn all the achievements.
In conclusion Street Fighter IV has been certainly worth the wait. It ticks mostly all the boxes for a fighter, whether you are coming into this franchise with fresh fists or an old veteran from the previous series. Its gameplay is straight out of the great days of old, add the inclusion of challenges and online multiplayer into the mix and you have yourself a thoroughly enjoyable title with a sustained life cycle that will permanently fuse game’s disc into your consoles discdrive.