Monday, March 16, 2009

Street Fighter IV Impressions

I could write a review, because I don't think there's a lot of difference between running through Arcade as Ken or running through it as Fei Long. But I'm feeling kinda lazy (even though I haven't posted here in a week), and I do want to play it a bit more before I pass final judgment.

So... as I'm sure you've heard, despite the slick new 3D character models, the game is 2D fighter. The characters cannot move in a 3D plane, and if you've played one of the previous Street Fighter games, you're actually familiar with the game mechanics of SFIV already.

Indeed, SFIV feels more like Street Fighter II than Street Fighter III. All of the characters from The World Warrior and SFII Turbo are there. Cammy and Fei Long are both unlockable, but Dee Jay and T. Hawk are gone. There are some new characters, and a few characters from the Alpha series, but aside from cameos in the characters' movies, none of the new characters from Street Fighter III.

Fans of SFIII might complain, but I think this is a good thing. For starters, the characters that were new to SFIII were, if you ask me, the least memorable in the entire series. And while SFIII had the most technical fighting, it wasn't as friendly toward beginners. Street Fighter IV has that same pick-up-and-play feeling that Street Fighter II had.

There are a few new tricks, though. The Super Combos that were introduced in Super Street Fighter II Turbo, which I don't think got a lot of play here in the US, are still a part of the game. Like Super Turbo, you have to have a full gauge to use your Super Combo. But it fills slowly. You're unlikely to fill it in one round. Indeed, you're unlikely to fill it at all, because your EX gauge energy is often better spent on EX moves. EX moves are like powered up versions of your regular special moves. They do more damage, but they eat up a quarter of your EX gauge.

Super Combos, as flashy finishers or as last-ditch attempts to get back into a fight, have largely been supplanted in SFIV with Ultra Combos. They get their enegy from the Revenge gauge, which only fills when you take hits. It fills fairly quickly, though (enough to pull off one or two ultra combos a round). Ultra combos are quite flashy, but functionally similar to Super Combos.

Another new technique is the Focus Attack. Ideally, you'd do a focus attack right before being hit. You'll take the damage, but instead of getting knocked back, you'll immediately unleash a counter. If the counter connects, you'll actually heal damage. Advanced players might find that Focus Attacks add a new layer of depth, but honestly I kind of think they're more beneficial to the CPU than most players. The problem is, the computer will pull them off perfectly at just the right time, but when I try to use them, more often then not the computer will be attacking with a combo. Which brings us to the down side of Focus Attacks... they only work for the first hit. If a combo hits with more than one attack, the Focus Attack will be canceled and you're going to eat a lot of damage.

After playing incredibly tight games like Street Fighter Alpha 3 (in my opinion, still the pinnacle of Street Fighter), SFIV also feels a bit unbalanced. I deliberately turned the difficulty down to the easiest setting, and set Arcade Mode to single-round matches so that I could quickly unlock all the characters. I found myself blasting through with Ken with almost no effort. I've even used Ken to unlock Akuma. But with those same settings, I found myself beaten and continuing almost 30 times over a 45 minute period using Dan. It was almost as bad with Balrog. Some of those defeats were perfects for the CPU. This leads me to believe that either the characters are sorely unbalanced, or that the final boss might flip out and go apeshit on you regardless of the difficulty you set it on. Either way, its an impediment to enjoying the game to the fullest. SFIV can be played online against humans for a good challenge; when I'm just trying to unlock all the characters, I don't need to be throwing my controller in frustration.

Despite these gripes, though, SFIV is a really good game. I'm having more fun with it than I have with any version of Street Fighter III or Street Fighter EX. This is the most enjoyable Street Fighter since Street Fighter Alpha 3, honestly. The presentation is updated enough that it feels slick and fresh, with fully rendered backgrounds, although some character models are better than others. But the core gameplay is classic Street Fighter through and through. Street Fighter fans and fans of 2D fighters should definitely be thining about picking this up.


science412 said...

I really want to be into this game because SF is a classic series and there's so much hype surrounding it, but I'm just not. I'm happy to see that it's not a failure, though.

Mike said...

I think, whether you agree that the game is worth $60 or not, it's hard to sell what's essentially a 2D fighter at that price. Especially when it doesn't offer any beefed up single player mode, like Alpha 3's World Tour mode.

Semi-related note... alternate costumes that were in the arcade version are paid DLC for SFIV. As much as I love Capcom's games, their repeated decisions to exclude content to sell it separately as DLC is disgraceful.