Friday, August 22, 2008

"I don't care what the critics say. Violence is a beautiful thing!!!" The Street Fighter IV (ARC) Review

Note: This review is for the Arcade version of Street Fighter IV. When the console versions come out, the review then will be slightly altered if any changes or additions happen. Also, this is the first time I post match videos in the review instead of screenshots.

Street Fighter IV felt like a dream that became a reality when it was announced last fall. After years of waiting and waiting, it is finally out over at Japanese arcades and certain locations of the United States. The last significant Street Fighter game, 3rd Strike had, was a success among the tournament crowd of fans, but it failed to reach the mainstream audience the way the Street Fighter II games did back in the 1990s. This fourth game Capcom is putting out hopes to recapture that magic SF II while keeping the depth 3rd Strike, and I truly believe they succeeded. It feels like Street Fighter II for the 21st century in terms of fun gameplay, gorgeous graphics under a new engine, and amazing depth with its new saving attack system. There are a handful of games I can't stop playing and looking at because it is still amazing. That is how I feel with Street Fighter IV and it is an early contender of mine for game of the year even though it is the arcade version.

Capcom wanted players that skipped the Street Fighter III series of games to come back to this fourth game by bringing back the simplicity and the familiarity from Street Fighter II and it worked. In terms of familiarity, all twelve characters from Street Fighter II are back in this game since the storyline takes place between II and III. Ryu, Ken, Chun-Li, Guile, Zangief, E. Honda, Blanka, Dhalsim, Balrog, Vega, Sagat, and M. Bison are all in SF IV with the same signature moves with some new tricks. Other than those twelve fighters, four new ones are introduced in Street Fighter IV. Crimson Viper is the new female in the game with electric moves, flying flame kicks, and a ground pound attack. Abel is a mixed martial arts expert that plays like a combination of Fei Long and Zangief in terms of grappling skills. El Fuerte is the masked wrestler with high flying acrobatics and speed moves. Lastly, Rufus is a fat American who has a nasty beef with Ken. The final boss in Street Fighter IV is Seth, who reminds me of Urien's appearance wise that has most of the characters' special moves and some of Urien's attacks from 3rd Strike. There are also secret bosses such as fighting Akuma or Gouken (Akuma is playable, but Gouken will be in the console versions as will Seth) in the end if you performed well in the single player game. As of now, there are nineteen characters in the arcade version Street Fighter IV. The lack of female characters (Chun-Li and Viper are the only ones) is a little disappointing, but there are plans for more characters in the console versions with Sakura, Gen, Cammy, Dan, and Fei Long.

In the arcade version, there are three playable modes. The arcade mode is the standard eight stage run through of fighting various characters and then culminating against Seth. Before fighting Seth, there is a rival battle pending on which character you use such as Sagat fighting Ryu and Guile facing Abel. With my time on the arcade mode, the difficulty is not that bad as the computer A.I. can give you a fight at times especially when you're in the later stages. Of course, the difficulty can change pending on the machine. There are endings for each character after you beat the game, but they will be in anime for the console versions. Beginner mode is an easier version of arcade mode designed for newcomers to the game who want an easy start towards getting good. Trial mode is basically a practice mode in which you have a time limit against characters to try out some combos and learning some of the supers (As of November 2008, beginner and trial modes are out of the arcade versions I played). Every Street Fighter IV arcade setup so far has two machines for two players that link up for versus matches which is at least a better experience other than being stuck with one machine causing players to be too close to each other.

The fighting mechanics for Street Fighter IV is divided as it is 60% Street Fighter II and 40% 3rd Strike. As long as players have Street Fighter II skills, they can still pump out wins using specials, supers, and simple three or four-hit combos of a jump kick, low punch, to a special move. The 40% being 3rd Strike resorts to the spacing, pro tactics, and mastering the saving attack system. Throws are done the same way as 3rd Strike by pressing both jab and short kick. The saving attack system is the most important addition to Street Fighter IV being both simple and deep with multiple uses. The focus attack is an ink strike that if fully charged and hits your opponent, they get stunned allowing for a free hit or two(demonstrations of it are in these videos I put up). It also a parry of avoiding attacks like 3rd Strike when timed right against projectiles and other moves. Parrying moves does your health meter to heal slowly if you're already damaged, but you will lose that ability if you get hit and try it again. It is also used to cancel special moves which could lead to devastating combos. The focus attack is a great example of being easy to learn, but difficult to master and if mastered, you can truly own the competition.

There are two meters on the bottom of the game screen during fights. First is the EX meter in blue and when maxed out, you can do a normal super move like Ken's Shoryu Reppa and Bison's Knee Press Nightmare. The EX meter is also used for EX specials, which return from 3rd Strike. These EX specials are better versions of special moves for multiple hits such as fireballs hitting twice. The green meter is called the revenge meter. This thing works like K-Groove from Capcom vs. SNK 2 in which the more you get hit, the meter glows up in red or orange in which you can do Ultra Combos. The Ultras are basically more devastating versions of the normal supers that add some dramatic effects and also deal tons of damage. Once you're caught by them, you're pretty much screwed especially when they're used in a Focus Attack combo seen in these match videos I posted. Each character has one normal super and one ultra combo which is good enough since most of the Ultras are pretty cool to look at and used with good priorities. Add those two meters and the saving attack system and you got a surprisingly deep fighting game with Street Fighter IV even though you can still get away with Street Fighter II tactics.

For the arcade version, there is a card system like other recent fighting games of using a certain character to track wins and losses. As long you keep winning, you gain more money towards buying new outfits, which is the customizable element for Street Fighter IV. As of now, no U.S. arcades that have the arcade use the card system yet, so it is only for Japan. Usually these new outfits are basically alternate colors for their signature outfits that don't detract from the overall performance (This ain't no Tekken 6 or Soul Calibur IV-like customization). Capcom keeps it nice and simple since these characters are very iconic to gamers' eyes. However, each character has one alternate outfit that slightly alters their appearance, but keeps it faithful to the character. Examples are shirtless Ryu, Guile wearing Charlie's clothes (or Nash from the Street Fighter Alpha games), battle damaged M. Bison, and my personal favorite Zangief as Haggar from Final Fight (At least there's a Final Fight reference in this game like previous Street Fighter games with Guy, Cody, and Hugo). These customizable elements are also likely making it to the console versions, so U.S. players don't need to worry about missing that feature.

On the graphics side, Street Fighter IV looks amazing. The new engine is excellent especially for the animations. Speaking of the animations, all the special moves are what you know and love from previous game with fireballs looking like fireballs, and son. What is specifically amazing about the animations are the facial expressions. If you have been looking at screenshots and videos for the game, most of the characters truly feel the pain when they get hit and most of them are pretty funny too especially when a character starts an ultra and the opponent has an "Oh Crap" look on their face. The stages themselves look amazing too from jungles, temples, airports, and seaports. It is kind of unfortunate that there are not enough stages thinking that Capcom might bring it back the number of stages to each character having one, but 3rd Strike also had a lack of stages to fight at too. While the fights are going on at these locales, stuff also happens on the backgrounds with low riders going up and down, to people shopping at the China shop level. The characters themselves look great despite the art style being criticized by fans when the game was first shown. The art style truly works in the game fitting to the theme along with the whole notion of ink when doing focus attacks. Graphically, Street Fighter IV is one of the better looking fighting games now with 2D gameplay and 3D backgrounds despite full 3D fighting games looking better, but on an artistic end, Street Fighter IV beats them on that end.

On the sound department, Street Fighter IV delivers as well. The Japanese voices sound great compared to the English voices heard on some trailers because it just fits their personality more and most fans are used to their voices by now in previous games. On the music side, the soundtrack is another good one with themes that fit to each stage. For the rival battles, your opponent's signature music gets played such as Ryu's when fighting him as Sagat, which is a nice touch. These signature tunes are remixed versions of the original game's versions especially Akuma's new theme when you fight him. The other sound effects are also great with hits sounding like they truly hurt, specifically the Ultra Combos. Then again, the announcer is better than previous games, but he can be annoying at times, which reminds me of Alpha 3. Other than that, Street Fighter IV has great sounds to satisfy even the hardcore crowd.

Is Street Fighter IV truly the second coming of the fighting genre and a stepping stone for the arcade scene to return? I truly believe so for being a second coming for the genre and the series going back to its SF II roots. As for bringing back arcades, it is for now at Japan and the certain spots of the United States have sparking up crowds of 20 to even 40 people waiting to play the game or just watching something crazy happen. Sure, the game's popularity at the arcade will die down once the console versions are closer to release, but if you really want the true competition against the best and not any scrubs that would spam moves, the arcades are there for that to happen. Even though it plays more like Street Fighter II, there is enough depth for 3rd Strike players to jump in and enjoy. The saving attack system is a great concept for a fighting game like this with tons of uses from parrying to cancelling. Using that system to your advantage can lead to devastating and amazing looking combos that look like they can't be done, but they can especially leading towards Ultra combos. The new graphics engine is amazing on both a technical and artistic aspect with funny facial expressions and great animations for the moves. All of this was a dream a couple years ago, but it is now a reality and Street Fighter IV is truly the second coming of Street Fighter II for the modern era of gaming.

Score = 9.5/10

  • Gameplay feels more like Street Fighter II, but still has some 3rd Strike in it that appeals to both the casual and hardcore crowd.
  • The saving attack system is an amazing addition with tons of depth.
  • Amazing graphics both technically and artistically.
  • Great soundtrack with signature tunes at certain moments
  • Has that addiction of being amazing every time you play it and watch it in action.
  • Lack of female characters (only two in the arcade version), but more characters will be added in console versions.
  • Lack of stages as not of all of them are in rotation for versus mode (More could be added in revisions or console versions).
  • High tier characters like Sagat can dominate, but check Street Fighter related sites like the Shoryuken forums for a tier list.

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