"Seth is a terrible boss. Itís not because heís cheap - ridiculously so, though not quite SNK caliber - but because his design lacks creativity. Ooh, he can mimic the other charactersí signature moves. Big deal. Heís just a hairless, muscle-bound Urien knockoff with a yin-yang for an intestinal tract. Yeah, heís got a couple of cool moves and a decent voiceÖbut thatís it. Nothing else. Nada. Heís boring. Whereís the personality, the charisma? Itís as if he was thrown in the game as a gener..."
Seth is a terrible boss. Itís not because heís cheap - ridiculously so, though not quite SNK caliber - but because his design lacks creativity. Ooh, he can mimic the other charactersí signature moves. Big deal. Heís just a hairless, muscle-bound Urien knockoff with a yin-yang for an intestinal tract. Yeah, heís got a couple of cool moves and a decent voiceÖbut thatís it. Nothing else. Nada. Heís boring. Whereís the personality, the charisma? Itís as if he was thrown in the game as a generic evil character just to make M. Bison and Akuma (you know, the real antagonists) look better. Once you get past the initial shock of getting your ass kicked by this blue, nude monstrosity, youíll realize that heís nothing more than a lame concept used to keep Street Fighter story intact.
At least Capcom does a decent job of keeping the plot coherent. Those precious few that actually take the seriesí storyline seriously are going to be in for a treat; Street Fighter IV makes numerous references to III and the Alpha games. Gamers who arenít well-versed in the series lore wonít be totally lost, though. Each character gets his or her own little animated intro that makes references to their roles in story. The game takes place after then end of Street Fighter II, which allows it to expand on M. Bisonís fall from power and how the other World Warriors fared afterward. Itís fascinating to see how Guile still hasnít gotten over Charlie, or how Cammy got past her amnesia. More importantly, the real story - Ryuís struggles with his latent powers and Akumaís obsession with bringing them out - is further explored. These dual plots work as well as they always have, almost overshadowing the complications that come with the new characters. The mystery surrounding Abelís past is the best addition to the story, though it didnít have much competition. When youíve got culinary luchadors and gadget-wielding secret agents rounding out the roster, youíve got to take what you can get.
The new challengers are a mixed bag, though. Abel doesnít have much of a presence, despite being the seriesí latest protagonist. Rufus steals the spotlight by mesmerizing you with his surprisingly quick moves and his perpetually flowing beer gut. Crimson Viper just comes off as a mature female rival for Chun Li; she would have benefited with a bit more development beyond the fact that sheís using weapons to execute her King of Fighters-esque attacks. Then thereís El Fuerte, who is a completely unnecessary addition to the series. I can understand how Capcom would want to introduce new forms of combat into their lineup, but come on. A goofy-looking luchador/wannabe chef wandering the world for recipes? Even Dan Hibiki (who makes his triumphant return as a joke character) was given more personality and the dignity of a semi-serious background.
All things considered, itís probably for the best that Capcom decided to bring all of the old school fighters back for another round. Not only does it save the game from having any more embarrassingly awful newcomers, but it appeals to the whole generation of gamers who grew up with the World Warriors. Whatís great is how little the basic mechanics have changed; anyone whoís played the older games should be able to pick things up without much effort. The concept is simple: you attack with light, medium, or strong kicks and punches depending on what button you press. More complicated commands result in projectiles, uppercuts, and a handful of other special moves. The combination of directional pad commands and button inputs remain unaltered, right down to Ryuís Hadoken. With a good sense of timing and mastery of the controls, you can dish out devastating combos and formulate better strategies to defeat your opponents. Itís the cornerstone of fighting game genre, and it still works just fine. That ďeasy to learn, difficult to masterĒ aspect of the gameplay is what makes Street Fighter IV as solid as its predecessors.
Despite invoking childhood memories of Street Fighter II, there are a few key differences. The most fundamental change is the Focus Attack system, which allows you to charge up counterattacks at the expense of leaving your defenses wide open. Rather than deflecting a hit, you take it without having to deal with getting knocked back. The longer you hold down the corresponding buttons, the more effective the counter will be. While the most basic of these moves can lead to a free hit, the strongest of them can send your opponents flying. That can be a real lifesaver; a well-charged Focus Attack can make the difference between getting KOed and lasting long enough to turn the battle in your favor. While it lets you absorb only a single attack (multi-hit moves keep the system from being broken), it does wonders in terms of setting up combos and avoiding potentially nasty onslaughts. It works in tandem with the gameís ultra combo mechanics, which let you dish out devastating combos (complete with their own brief cutscenes worked into the gameplay) by charging up an energy meter. Thereís nothing quite as satisfying as watching Dhalsim roast someone with a super-powered fireball. Thanks to the well-crafted move canceling system, anyone with a good handle on the controls can bring out the best of what these mechanics can offer. The emphasis on the Focus Attack system demonstrates how Capcom has learned from its previous titles; it balances the insane combo mechanics from the Alpha games with the defense-oriented parrying techniques from Street Fighter III. It allows the gameplay greater depth in terms of both tactics and pacing.
Youíll get plenty of chances to demonstrate your skills, too. Aside from the obligatory arcade and versus modes, the game boasts a few extra features. Time Attack and Survival Modes are fairly basic; you either defeat enemies with a set time limit, or you see how long you can last against a gauntlet of foes with a minimal amount of health recovery. Itís nothing new or impressive, but at least itís hard to complete on higher difficulty settings. Perfectionists will have more fun with Challenge Mode, which has your characters perform different moves and combos with ever-increasing length and complexity. Itís far easier to indulge in the online multiplayer, which will keep you coming back long after the other stuff has gone stale. Unfortunately, it usually boils down to a seemingly endless supply of cheap Ken or Sagat players looking to up their status and earn bragging rights. In those few instances in which you find a competent opponent, youíll finally get a chance to test your skills. Regardless of what modes you play, youíll be rewarded for it; with hundreds of little unlockables to collect, completionists will have plenty to chew on.
Itís not all about the fighting, though. If you take a moment to look at the characters and stages, youíll realize how much attention Capcom put into creating them. I was initially dismayed at how they went with 3D models (bad memories of the Street Fighter EX games still haunt me), but the final results look fantastic. The fighters are far livelier and better animated than their drawn counterparts; the Shorykens, Sonic Booms, and Tiger Knees have never looked better. Their movements have a natural, flowing feel to them that few 3D games have been able to pull off. The backgrounds are almost as impressive. The modern spins on the old school stages are as great as they are nostalgic. The Chinese main street is bustling with cell phone users and fleshed-out storefronts, and Guileís old airstrip has been extended to scale. If you watch closely, youíll see how they react to your fights; bystanders cheer you on from a safe distance, and some of the wooden barricades splinter on impact. There are the occasional shortcomings - a volcanic eruption as a backdrop seems kind of uninspired, regardless of the epic music that goes with it - but itís worthwhile presentation overall.
Itís been a long wait. Too long, really. But it was worth it. Street Fighter IV is an impressive addition to the series. It continues the plot established in the previous titles and expands upon it, offering better insights to the classic characters. Even if the new challengers are a mixed bag of quality, thereís enough variety to keep the roster interesting. The inclusion of all the regular characters will make all the old school fans happy. The blend of basic gameplay fundamentals and the emphasis on better tactics makes the game appealing to both mainstream and hardcore gamers alike. While the extra modes are kind of lacking, the online multiplayer more than makes up for it. If anything, this game demonstrates what made the series popular in the first place: competitive gaming that is both simple to understand and easily accessible. And who says the fighting genre is dead?
Community review by disco (June 21, 2009)
Disco is a San Francisco Bay Area native, whose gaming repertoire spans nearly three decades and hundreds of titles. He loves fighting games, traveling the world, learning new things, writing, photography, and tea. Not necessarily in that order.
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