"Though I didn't find a convenient way to determine a competitor's skill level until after he beats me—or loses—that didn't actually work out too badly. I'm someone who likes to get right into another round of fighting, anyway, and the current system makes that easy to do. Besides that, lag is minimal. I've played quite a few matches and only once did I find things lagging. Really, the only complaint I have with online is the obvious one: scrubs. I don't mind that people almost always fight using Ryu, Ken or Sagat (I like some of those guys myself), but some players try to play mind games."
After a months-long wait, the home conversion of Street Fighter IV finally arrived in stores earlier this month. It's difficult to put into words just how wild my expectations for the game had become by that point. I probably shouldn't even try. All you need to know is that I had some pretty high standards. The good news is that most of those were met and even exceeded. The bad news is Seth.
The more I think about Seth, the more I want to punch a hole in a wall. He's the cheapest bastard I've ever seen in a fighting game, and that includes plenty of time spent with nearly every fighting franchise you'd care to name. Put simply, Seth is the uncontested king of cheap.
Such concerns normally wouldn't matter for a variety of reasons. I typically don't even play fighting games for the joy of viewing the closing credits. The journey is the fun, and the journey in Street Fighter IV is pretty sweet! There are a total of 25 fighters included--counting Seth--and nearly every one of them is a worthwhile inclusion. All twelve of the original characters from Street Fighter II are here and playable. Cammy, Fei Long and Akuma from the Super Street Fighter II games return, as well. On top of that, Street Fighter Alpha favorites Rose, Gen, Dan and Sakura are unlockable. Then, just to keep things fresh, the developers added five new characters.
First there's Crimson Viper, a big-breasted woman who hails from the USA. She wears a tie and shades and talks on her cell phone a lot. In battle, she dons a powered up suit that allows her to send shockwaves into the ground, plus her kicks are lethal. Next up is El Fuerte, a Mexican fighter who dances around the arena like a skinny chicken hopped up on Red Bull. It's difficult to see through his feints to figure out what his real attack will be until its too late. Rufus, another new character, also makes his home in the USA. His distinguishing characteristic is a gut that shakes when he punches--or kicks, or rolls--like a bowl full of jelly. He lacks projectiles and he's not even dangerous with grabs and throws like Zangief, but he'll still bring the pain if you let him get close. Which of course brings us to Abel, a French grappler who can grab you out of the air in the middle of a hurricane kick and leave you seeing stars. Stay out of range and you can probably survive just fine, but you're doomed if he manages to lay his meaty hands on you.
The new warriors are impressive, but none of them can hold a candle to Seth. He's a genetically altered... thing. This means that he has access to most of the worthwhile moves other fighters possess--such as a sonic boom and even Dhalsim's stretchy arms--plus a variety of his own skills. Come too close and he'll grab you and throw you like Abel, then teleport to the spot where you're about to fall and kick you a few times, maybe launch you into the air with a dragon punch. As your battered body drifts downward for a landing, there's a good chance that Seth will do some more teleporting or hit you with a projectile. Then to finish things up, he'll suck you into his stomach with a gust of air that I still haven't found a way to reliably avoid. It takes off just over a third of your life meter.
Even with all of that power at his disposal, Seth is far from unbeatable. On my first trip through the game on default settings (there are five difficulty levels in all), I defeated him immediately. That was as Ryu, though. Later attempts with other powerful characters such as Chun-Li--who I can decently utilize--were disastrous. As Abel, I couldn't even beat him after something like 50 attempts. This was on the lowest difficulty setting, mind you.
"Stop your whining!" someone will say, but the point I'm making is that Seth's routine makes him nearly indestructible for most competition. Normally I would just shrug that off, except that to unlock characters you have to defeat the guy with a variety of battlers. This quickly grows exasperating, and then things get worse. Top-tier fighters such as Akuma only become available when you manage to sweep your competition without losing a fight. In some cases, special finishes are also required. Even if you excel at defeating your first 7 rivals, Seth could have a lucky round and obliterate you. Then you have to start over from scratch. Hardcore players will of course figure out ways around this and will eventually gain access to every last fighter, but what about those who want to experience the full game without treating it like a full-time job? They're out of luck.
I've complained a lot, though, and the last thing I want to do is paint Street Fighter IV as a mess of a game. It's really not. Put Seth and an irritating theme song to the side for a minute and what you're left with is nearly perfect. The number of fighters might not seem particularly high, but remember that nearly every combatant brings something distinctive to the proceedings. Load times between fights can feel obnoxious at first, but installing the game to your hard drive makes everything three or four times better and brings the game to the top of its class in that regard. Some of the character models also seem too beefy, but it's not long before you're used to it and the game's distinct art style begins to grow on you.
One of the game's biggest selling points, though, is the online play. I've never had trouble going online and finding a swarm of players ready to kick my butt. There's a good variety of skill levels, too. Gamers can play offline to gather titles for themselves and to learn the ins and outs of their characters in training and challenge modes, then head online to slaughter their rivals. Though I didn't find a convenient way to determine a competitor's skill level until after he beats me--or loses--that didn't actually work out too badly. I'm someone who likes to get right into another round of fighting, anyway, and the current system makes that easy to do. Besides that, lag is minimal. I've played quite a few matches and only once did I find things lagging. Really, the only complaint I have with online is the obvious one: scrubs. I don't mind that people almost always fight using Ryu, Ken or Sagat (I like some of those guys myself), but some players try to play mind games. They'll hover over some unlikely character for 15 seconds--wasting your time--before dashing over to pick Ken at the last second. It's stupid, but I figure that particular problem will go away as the crappy players lose interest and jump on the next big thing.
Street Fighter IV could have been a disaster. Some will tell you that it already is, that it relies too much on the Street Fighter II template. If you liked the original, though, that's hardly cause for complaint. This newest release is polished to a beautiful sheen and it should keep you busy for a long, long time. There's virtually nothing substantial to complain about. Except for Seth, of course. Seth sucks.
Staff review by Jason Venter (February 27, 2009)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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