Street Fighter IV

Street Fighter 4 Cover

What more can one say about Street Fighter? As explained in my previous review of Street Fighter: The Movie, the franchise is one of the most popular in gaming history and has permeated almost all aspects of society. It requires little backstory here, so let's head straight to the latest iteration.

Street Fighter IV released in arcade around the fall of 2008, with console ports the following February. Through hype, word of mouth, relatively balanced play, online play and catering to players of all skill levels, the game was a smash and is now a phenomonon of no other in the fighting game world, aside from the original SFII and perhaps Marvel vs Capcom 2. With new hybrid 3d celshaded graphics, dazzling ultra moves and a cast of old favorites along with new contenders, players of all different types and generations flocked to the new release. Its expansion, Super Street Fighter IV is on its way (currently slated for spring), and the franchise shows no signs of slowing.

So what exactly is so good about the game and why does it appeal to so many people? It seems like they made almost every decision and move to connect the past and the future, to leave no one behind while still progressing as a series.

The Graphics

As mentioned, Capcom created an entirely new cel shaded 3d graphics engine for SFIV. Each previous major iteration has had its upgrades, with Alpha going for a more animated style and SF3 vastly increasing animation frames for smoothness, but the 3d engine allows much more in terms of panning and zooming, used to full effect during intro/ultra/win animations (perhaps they were also tired of say, having to fight Sony of America to release 2d titles). Also, many of the level backgrounds and themes have elements from previous versions while still being fundamentally different.

The Cast

The console cast contains 19 old characters and 6 new challengers. The old characters consist of the entire 12 original fighters along with a few from Super Street Fighter/Alpha casts (with SFIV taking place between 2 and 3 in the timeline). A major fault with SF3 (and to an extent, Alpha) is that their original rosters were filled almost entirely with new characters, leaving many people dissatisfied and less interested in picking up the game. Alpha 3 and Third Strike had many old favorites and were much more popular than the first renditions, but Capcom has learned their lessons and spared no expense here, throwing in the entire original SFII cast along with the new ones and balanced them all at once. Speaking of the new characters, who are they? Well, Abel is an MMA-style grappler, C. Viper is a deceptive character with spy-style gadgets, Rufus is a morbidly obese martial artist harboring a hatred for Ken, El Fuerte is a luchador, Gouken is the old master of Ryu/Ken and Seth is your new boss with high mobility and a repertoire of many characters' moves.

The Fighting

The gameplay again builds upon past releases, with many moves and combos working similarly, if not exactly, as in previous games. SF4 has your standard special moves (eg: Hadoken), EX moves with extra attributes (EX Hadoken), the super moves that have been around since SSFII (Shinku Hadoken), and new ultra moves available once your character has been sufficiently beat up (Metsu Hadoken). This game has two "power" bars, the first being the super bar, which you gain from any connected attacks, special moves performed, and to a lesser extent, hits taken. This one has been around for a while and now has four levels. If your bar is 4/4 full, you can perform a super move. EX moves use up 1 bar. And one mechanism of the other new gameplay feature, focus attacks, allow you to cancel cancellable moves for a 2 bars cost. The ultra bar, as previously stated, raises as you take more damage. It also increases for temporary damage taken (from focus absorbing). Once half full, you can perform an ultra attack. Once entirely full, any ultra attacks done will do significantly more damage. Either way, the ultra bar is entirely drained once you perform one.

Focus attacks are performed when you press/hold mp/mk. They will start a charge-up animation as they build up to a crushing attack. If you hold to the end, it releases an attack that goes through blocking and crumples the target, giving a free attack/combo. If you release a bit before the end (after the flash), it will crumple if hit but not on block. If you press and release right away, it will not crumple your target even on hit. While the focus animation is active, it will absorb one hit, unless the move has armor-break properties. You still take the damage but regain it over time as long as you don't take direct damage in the meantime. The other characteristics of focus attacks are that you can cancel certain moves into the focus (for 2/4 super bar), and the focus can be dashed out of, allowing for a quick escape or advance after absorb. This can be used as a way to get out of a poorly-chosen or low-probability move, to continue certain combos, to surprise an opponent and continue a rush, or just as a feint to try to initiate certain moves from your opponent. The overall game mechanics are very deep and research papers could be written on the matter, but it is enough for now to say that there is plenty to learn and improve on for essentially all players.

But enough details. Here are three recorded exhibition matches with commentary to show a bit of the gameplay online. I didn't exactly set the sound levels well for this so it's a bit hard to hear the commentary.

And of course, feel free to watch the always well-done SSFIV trailers to further whet your appetite:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f7JUfOZ4NjU
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0IvyLGUzQN8
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V2pfMXzWrZY
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XM1LpLC7dfU

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