Monday, March 2, 2009

I don't care what the critics say. Violence is a beauuuttifful thing!!! The Street Fighter IV (PS3) Review

Note: This review is a revised cut of the arcade version of Street Fighter IV as I'm adding in the stuff included only in the console versions and more. Some videos I have posted will showcase both console and arcade versions with middle to tournament level gameplay.

Street Fighter IV felt like a dream that became a reality when it was announced in late 2007. After years of waiting and waiting, it is finally out on the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360. The last significant Street Fighter game, 3rd Strike, 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 had, 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 focus 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 and perhaps my favorite.

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 if you performed well in the single player arcade mode as they are unlocked when you beat them the first time. The console versions have exclusive characters that the arcade versions never had such as Cammy, Rose, Sakura, Dan, Fei Long, and Gen. These characters are pretty fun to play as making the transition well from previous games they appeared in.

In the console versions, there are four playable modes. The arcade mode is the standard eight stage run through of fighting various characters and then culminating against Seth. New to the console versions are anime prologues and endings as they act as cutscenes to tell characters' storylines. Before fighting Seth, there is a rival battle pending on which character you use such as Sagat fighting Ryu and Guile facing Abel. From the normal difficulty and harder, the computer A.I. can give you a fight at times especially when you're in the later stages. Challenge mode consists of time attack, survival, and trial modes as different stipulations change in increasing levels. The time attack and survival modes are quite different from other fighting games as time attack game gives you a certain limit to finish the level and time increases for winning stages, doing super and ultra combos, and perfects. Getting a gold medal depends on how fast you're able to beat a certain level. Survival mode gives you a set of stage wins to earn at least a bronze medal with various stipulations. Trial mode is an unique mode that players can learn the basics and then expert level combos. It is a nice way for new players to learn characters and their basic mechanics. These challenge modes are the only way to unlock more colors and taunts for the characters. There's also your training mode for players to practice their skills and master their character. Then there's the online play, which I'll mention later.

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 focus attack system. Throws are done the same way as 3rd Strike by pressing both jab and short kick. The focus 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. It also a parry of avoiding attacks like 3rd Strike when timed right against projectiles and other moves. Parrying moves does affect your health meter to heal slowly if you're already damaged, but you will lose that ability if you get hit. 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 with more properties like parrying and armor breaking through a focus attack 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 and cinematic effects that 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. Each character has one normal super and one ultra combo (Gen being an exception with his two fighting styles) 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.

The online play of Street Fighter IV is the console versions' most anticipated feature that follows a similar formula of the arcade version's card system to track wins and losses. As long you keep winning, you gain more Battle Points for better ranking. In terms of lag, the gameplay flows smoothly as long as the connection bar is at three bars or more. If less than that, then the action would lag and significantly affect gameplay timing. The online modes are your basic quick and custom matches either ranked or not like most games out today even though a lobby feature will be added in a later patch. As you keep playing the online, you earn more titles and icons to customize your reputation in the online world of Street Fighter IV. More of these titles and icons are unlocked by playing the challenge modes. The online experience as a whole can be a mixed bag in terms of skill level as you will likely face a minefield of Ryu, Ken, and Sagat players who don't know what they're doing, but at times you can still face stiff competition of other players using various characters. Of course there's also local multiplayer with your friends on the same screen if online is not your thing. As of downloadable content, the alternate costumes as seen in Japanese arcades are available to buy and a free update that includes lobbies and replays will be out soon.

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 games with fireballs looking like fireballs, and so on. 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. The arcade version had a lack of stages, but that changed in the console versions with a remixed version of the stages like the Chinatown and jungle stages at night. 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, which also features a dude falling off his bike. 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 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, even though the blocking sound has changed for the console versions. 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. The game's popularity at the arcade will die down once the console versions are played more, 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 focus 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 = 10/10

  • 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 focus 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.
  • Some nit picky ones like the blocking sound getting changed and the online competition being mostly being a minefield of shoto players (Ryu, Ken, Sagat, Akuma)
  • Otherwise, this game is pretty much perfect for fans of fighting games and gaming in general.

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