After years of waiting for a new Street Fighter game, fans of the long running series can now grab the gloves, controllers and arcade sticks as the home conversion of the popular arcade game is now available. Players can duke it out with friends and family once more, huddle around their own TVs, or sit in darkened rooms furiously combating the challenging AI. Street Fighter IV (SFIV) has arrived on Xbox 360, and after quite a lot of hype from Capcom pre-release (the Msxbox-World screenshot gallery having some 553 images being testament to that fact), does the game live up to expectations and has the shift to three dimensions as seen in the Street Fighter EX game brought the series well and truly into the modern age?
I guess there’s going to be two camps when it comes to looking at this latest game in series; with those who are well-versed in the Street Fighter series and need no explanation about the game whatsoever. Then there are the new blood, who from the outside will see a pretty looking game, but will know very little about what’s entailed within its gameplay. As with any other fighter, you have a roster of wild and wonderful combatants, both male and female (SFIV boasts some 25 characters). Each fighter not only has his or her own distinctive look, but also their own move-set. You’ll find that between the characters, that some basic move inputs are shared, so for example, other than using the face buttons on the controller to perform standard kick, punch and throw attacks, you’ll also find that using the d-pad or thumbstick to perform quarter circle movements, followed by one of the attack buttons will unleash a special move. Then there are other moves that require a direction being held to charge them up before pressing the opposite direction and a face button. So, for example, holding the d-pad to the far left for a moment and then pressing the d-pad to the right, followed by one of the face buttons will unleash some form of special attack (depending on the character). This element of moves input is the basis of all Street Fighter games, and although might sound a little tricky on paper, is in fact pretty intuitive and easy to master, even for newcomers. There is more to the game, such as unleashing super moves which relate to building up special meters, but the basis for their execution remains on the same path.Naturally, the idea of each fight is to deplete the health bar of your opponent before they return favour. This will grant you a K.O (knockout) and a successful winning of the round.
Now for any fans of the series worried about the fighting mechanics being changed or adapted into something new, should not worry because, Capcom have retained the elements of the 2D games and built a system that takes the best parts and produces something that is not only familiar, but has an essence of evolution to as well. It’s Street Fighter, and like a hurricane kick to the jaw is apparent as soon as you start playing.
SFIV offers several modes of play, including the standard Arcade mode, which is the best place to start unlocking the extra characters and getting a feel for the game in a combat situation. Although if you are new to the series, then there is a training mode where you’ll be able to hone your skills before entering the main arenas. The Arcade mode presents a introductory animated clip of your chosen character, and sets the scene as to why they have entered the fighting tournament. It’s not very original and seems to be a mechanic that is synonymous with most fighting games. I guess what other reason would combatants have to fight, bar some wacky story of good versus evil. Although there’s a bit of that here, but the main focus is on simply entering the fray, and getting ones hands dirty. However, the animated clips are well produced and give that little bit more background info to each of the characters – although don’t be expecting anything of much substance, as the whole set-up seems to rely on a general knowledge of the characters from the previous games, the animated movie and dare I say the motion picture. So, as a newcomer, you’ll probably get the gist of it but will be left with some unanswered questions here and there. Either way, fighting games aren’t really renowned for their in-depth story branches, so we’ll leave it at that.
What fighting game would be complete without a versus mode? The answer, none, because it’s here that two players can sit next to each other, (or further apart depending on your temperaments) and battle out Mano a Mano. You can set handicaps, time limits, and number of rounds to spice things up. I find that this is always a neat feature, because if as the owner of the game you’ve got less experienced friends over, the handicap option in particular is most useful. Come on, it’s no fun simply battering your opponents round after round simply because they don’t play the game as much as you do. This often result in either tempers getting frayed, or players just giving up.
Continuing a trend in the more recent games in the series, is the return of the Challenge mode, which is a single player only affair that puts your proverbial skills to the test. In this section you’ve got Survival, Time Attack, and Trial modes to work through. By completing these you’ll also start unlocking some of the game’s extras. The modes are divided into Normal and Hard difficulties and feature quite a fair number of challenges with some being extremely tough to master.
The game also features the obligatory gallery mode where you’ll be able to view the game’s prologue/ending movies for each character, and related artworks. The final option bar the player data (which is just a record of your exploits), is the online Battle mode. It’s here where you’ll be able to face off against worldwide players and see how good (or bad) you are at the game. The online mode is also where you’ll be able to either enter ranked or player matches and can gain more unlockables, such as player titles and icons. Naturally the more you play and win, the more stuff you’ll have available – but that’s not really the main focus here, because winning matches is meat of online play, and you can’t beat that feeling when you kick some serious ass. Sadly lobbies are only for two players, but I guess this helps to prevent lag rearing its ugly head.
One final thing to mention about the online Battle mode, is the inclusion of leaderboards, where you’ll be able to compare your efforts with your gaming peers across the globe. It’s a pretty solid and inclusive package, where there’s something for everyone.
The graphics have been the main issue with Street Fighter IV, because for many, the series’ 2D looks is what they associate with the games. So bringing the game once more into 3D as seen in Street Fighter EX has been a bold move. I say bold, because there’s a certain charm with the 2D anime style graphics, which for many purists is what they’re are used to. Well in my view, and I’m sure you can agree by looking at the screens, the return to 3D has a charm all of its own, and this time it really does bring game into a new and welcome realm. Whilst the backgrounds for the stages might look a little simplified when compared to other games on Xbox 360, it’s the characters themselves which really stand out. You’ll miss a lot of subtle effects by watching a video or viewing screenshots, because on closer inspection you’ll witness some highly detailed animations. Simple things like fingers moving realistically and facial expressions conveying pain, anticipated attacks in a comical and exaggerated form. Capcom have not done things by halves here, and it’s evident when you first view the characters in action. The 3D space, offers far more depth and has been exploited to provide a visual treat for the eyes. Those special moves look just as good as they did in 2D and none of the game’s character has been lost by the wayside. I can’t emphasize this point more, and if you are in any doubt, then I think, once you pick up a controller or arcade stick, you’ll feel right at home and not be perturbed by the change of dimension. The game oozes quality in its slick presentation, and in reality I can’t sit here and pick holes in game at all, even though there seems to be a lack of clipping when characters are idle. The game uses the anime art direction as its biggest asset, and frankly Capcom have pulled it off in a spectacular fashion.
Sound, or more specifically the enjoyment of, is rather subjective, and for me personally I detest the menu music. It’s cheesy, not catchy at all and although the performance is admirable, it grates every time I’ve had the game sitting in the menu. Now for some, the track featured might be the best thing since sliced bread, so I can’t really oppose it, well not in this review. My point I’m trying to make here, is that the game’s music is varied and suited for the various stages of combat. If you don’t like the tracks, then there is an option to turn it all off or use your own.
Music aside, the actual sound effects are spot on, but what really grabbed my attention, are the voice overs, which are not Japanese dubbed but feature English speaking parts. So for example, the very British Cammy sounds more akin to Lara Croft than what you might expect. Sakura sounds like a tenacious fighting school girl and this time you can understand what she’s saying. I think they’ve done a good job here, although if you desire you’re able to toggle the original voices in the sound options. What I did find very impressive was the banter between characters during rival fights. In fact I loved this feature as it made me almost want to prolong the fights deliberately to hear what was being said. I take my hat off to Capcom for doing this. Simply an excellent attention to detail.
Fighting games can take years to master, and although Street Fighter characters do not possess huge lists of moves, it’s this simplicity that makes the game what it is. There are more subtle nuances to the gameplay that need to be learned. Such as being ranged, closing in, or playing an offensive/defensive game. With all the extras in the challenge mode, the online play and versus locally, the game can last you as long as you want. It has an almost timeless quality, because unlike other games, once you’ve beaten it, your passion for going back for more never wanes. There are some fiendish achievements on offer, and I suspect for even the most dedicated will take a fair number of weeks, perhaps even months to grab them all.
Street Fighter IV is certainly a grand entry for the series this generation. Although we have had some of the older games appear on the XBLA, this new game undoubtedly provides an unadulterated fighting experience that has been worth the wait. I thoroughly have enjoyed sinking hours of my time playing it (I have the bags under my eyes as proof), and will no doubt continue for years to come. If you’re a fan of the series, then this is a must buy hands-down, no questions asked. You’re not a true fan if you pass this one by. For anyone else, you’ll find an accessible, challenging and deeply entertaining experience that is pure gold and should be given a look in. If you have any interest in fighting games, then Street Fighter IV is probably one of the best experiences you’ll have this generation. It’s slick, easy to get into and oozes personality by the bucketload. An excellent game and a classic in the making.