Capcom’s legendary franchise Street Fighter has come a long way since 1987, the year the first Street Fighter game was released. However, the series didn’t make waves until Street Fighter 2 made its way onto the arcade scene that had teenagers lining up their dirty quarters to get a chance to crack at its immersive characters and amazingly deep gameplay. It’s only natural that Capcom would make more games in the series. Street Fighter III brought the series to new heights in every respect, and ramped the gameplay complexity up; a questionable move that led some gamers astray. It’s now 2009, more than two decades since the first game in the series. Ultra Street Fighter IV is the perfect game to celebrate this lineage.
Ultra Street Fighter IV takes place not too long after the second game was released, and you can expect to see the return of practically all of the Street Fighter 2 crew. The original twelve fighters, such as Ken, Dhalsim, and Chun-Li return alongside four new characters: Abel, Crimson Viper, El Fuerte, and Rufus. What’s more is that Capcom graciously decided to add a whopping eight more characters for the console release, including Alpha favorites Dan, Rose, and Sakura. All of the characters handle exceptionally well, and old classics have heavily tweaked moves. Ken’s knee bash and air throw have been removed, for example, but his normal kicks have been improved for better ranged play. The basic gameplay in Street Fighter IV isn’t much different from the system in Street Fighter II.
Some might see the removal of techniques mentioned above as a setback, but this lends Street Fighter IV some room to add beautiful new innovations while keeping it simple. There are two main additions to the core gameplay, both of which heavily affect how a battle plays out: the Focus Attack system, and the Revenge Gauge. The new Focus Attack gives every fighter a special attack that can be charged up to three stages, going up to an unblockable state. The charge process is easy to counter with quick reflex, but if the Focus Attack connects, the victim crumples to the ground, vulnerable to a combo. The Focus Attack shields the attacker from one hit – the health lost from the hit regenerates over time if not followed up. Dashing in either direction cancels this attack either before or after it connects, and it can also be used to cancel character-specific moves, such as Ken’s infamous Dragon Punch.
In short, the Focus Attack adds an entirely new layer of depth to the gameplay that gives players the opportunity to create unique strategies with each other as it promotes an amazing high-risk, high-reward function. Experience players will discover more advanced combos hidden in the Focus Attack’s cancel system. The other new features is the use of the Revenge Gauge, which builds up as a fighter takes damage. Once built up to the halfway point, an Ultra Combo is ready to use, similar to a Super Combo. The big difference here is that the Revenge Gauge is depleted at the end of every round, and can build up to halfway or more shortly after a round begins. The farther the gauge is built, the more damage it does – it can take away one sixth of the opponent’s health! This system synergizes with the Focus Attack, where absorbing enemy hits with the Focus Attack builds up the Revenge Gauge in return. These two fighting mechanics are more than enough to keep players’ adrenaline pumped for a long while.
The one feature that hurts Ultra Street Fighter IV is the online functionality. Everyone expects it to have at least a basic matchmaking service where fighters can choose to play with a friend or play against a random opponent for keeps. Unfortunately, that’s all it offers. Lobbies in Ultra Street Fighter IV aren’t even lobbies; they’re just a screen where two people can chat or switch around an emoticon. Have two friends? Too bad, the game makes you connect to each other selectively game after game, and there’s no observer mode. Street Fighter II and Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix had these functions, and were quite enjoyable because of it, which waiting in line provides some diversion. Capcom took a massive step backward in not including this functionality. Another flaw, albeit very minor, is that character selection is not anonymous.
Every once in a while, opponents will wait and see what fighter their rival chooses before they choose one themselves, which is not a problem for experienced players, but a little annoying for first timers. The actual online gameplay is also slightly disappointing where even just a tad bit of latency screws up many of your favorite maneuvers. For instance, pulling off reliable combos becomes very risky, and sometimes what feel to be successful move executions don’t actually happen during the fight. However, Capcom did add a very cool feature to the online functionality: the Arcade Mode, which can be set to accept challenges from other players online randomly, at any time. This little addition makes Street Fighter IV at home behave as if it was at the arcade, where people can pop in quarters and challenge anyone at any time.
The game comes with a very high replay value thanks to the additional side components. For instance, those individuals willing to put in the time to learn are treated to various training sessions in which they can study the forms of each character, including all of the unlockable fighters. These sessions teach you from basic normal attacks to extremely highly advanced combos that require hours of practice to master. Survival modes are also available, and they range from easy challenges where opponents cannot block to incredibly difficult levels where player’s health hardly gets replenished between fights. Completion of these trials and ranking high in the survival modes unlock titles and icons, which are used to customize your online ‘fighter card’, which is simply an ID. Unlocking all titles will take full mastery of the game and tremendous amount of patience, and unlocking every icon will take even more work.
Graphically, the games looks very impressive, and the animation is running consistently and flawlessly throughout at a full sixty frames per second. However, there is a little annoyance in how the game scales down to 4:3 SDTV screens: the HUD is squished vertically, and many of the actions in the command lists are illegible. The text is somewhat small, but still readable by a tiny margin. However, the game is beautiful on practically all widescreen display. Capcom really did an incredible job pumping up the 3D graphics as they modernize the 2D gameplay. All the effects from Street Fighter II and III are here, including the bones flashing from electric attacks and the flashy burns from flaming projectiles. The ‘ink’ style that was popular in the trailers lends itself well in-game. The Focus Attacks cause the character to become outlined in ink the stronger the attack is, and if it connects, the victim is splattered with ink throughout.
Character move with fluidity and realistically. You’ll see a number of fighters will bulge their eyes out when taking strikes to the solar plexus, for example. The arenas in which the battles take place are just as full of details as the characters themselves. Many special moves affect the background in several ways; for example, Honda’s Sumo Splash causes items in the background to thump or fall over, irritating the crowd (if there is one). Details such as these ones bring Street Fighter IV to life; it feels as if the characters are really fighting rather than being controlled, and more over, the spectators react to the fight with tremendous energy. It’s not only the visuals that make the SF experience dramatic, the sound and music play a big role in making this package a complete must-have title. The sound effects are superb and spot-on.
Focus Attacks charge up with thunder-like sounds, and impact with something akin to a meteor crashing into the ground. Characters voices are nicely done, both in English and Japanese. You can toggle between the two languages in the options menu, so fans can enjoy listening to different taunts of each fighter. The announcer’s commentaries bring in a nice pitch to the action sequence as it adds a grip to battles on counterattacks and spellbinding finishers; every line feels appropriate for the context, and certain ones are surprisingly memorable! Just like in SF II, Capcom delivers an outstanding soundtrack as well, bringing the aural experience full circle. It’s loaded with plenty of modern breakbeats, four-on-the-floor, thumping-bass-drum scores determined to drill the fighting spirit into both players and onlookers. The intense sound system that this game carries is nothing short of mind-blowing.
Ultra Street Fighter IV is simply an arcade benchmark in the fighting genre. Whatever love that faded away since the inception of Street Fighter II is found here once again. If you were too young or have never been taken by the hype of Street Fighter madness in the late 80’s, chances you’ll have a hard time trying to relate to all the fuzz surrounding Ultra Street Fighter IV. You might find it very difficult to adapt. After all, this is not your typical Chuck Norris action flick. But with a bit of practice and perseverance, you’ll discover that this is mixed martial arts at its best. Here you have a fast fighting game that combines 3D technology of today with an unforgettable 2D gameplay of the past. For long-time fans, it’s a feeling of reminiscing those ‘old school’ three and four hit combos while continually challenging themselves with modern super moves and mastering new characters. In the end, Capcom has done an great job with this game. Despite some lagging online transmissions, it’s still a masterpiece on its own.