This review could also be called; “How I fell in love again.” There is no need to delay my verdict on this game in order to spark intrigue from the reader. It is simply superb. Having said that it is not without its flaws, and certainly there are some who will find the game unappealing, but personally this game represents a significant new chapter in the games industry. Not bad for a twenty year old franchise.
For those familiar with Street Fighter II, you are likely to be instantly at home with most of the characters and the control scheme. Delve a little deeper however and the intrinsic new subtleties in the combat system become more evident. The integration of the Ultra combos, Super Combos, EX moves and charged counters add levels of depth previously missing from an already involved fighter. Once you become comfortable with them it’s hard to remember how you managed without them, a fact that is highlighted by their absence in one of the challenge trials. The new moves tip the balance of the game towards favoring a more aggressive style, a positive step after the excellent yet more measured pace of Street Fighter III.
The designs of the characters might not be to everyone’s liking but to those who appreciate the cartoony 3D visuals, the game is very impressive. And as a poverty stricken individual like myself cannot afford a high definition TV, it’s important to note that due to the aesthetic style, the game even looks good in SD, something not all current generation games can lay claim to. The audio is again a matter of personal taste. The characters sound terrible in English but fortunately can be changed to Japanese, which is less offensive to the senses. The commentator’s constant chatter will either irritate the hell out of you or amuse you, but likewise he can be silenced. Unfortunately the same level of polish has not been applied to the anime cut scenes, which are frankly terrible. Choppy animation, weak voice acting and incomprehensible plots somewhat take the epic edge off the majesty of the game. Forgivable yes, but still disappointing.
And so to the most important aspect of this iteration, the online play. Thankfully it is generally very smooth provided you are playing with someone who has a good internet connection. There are the odd very laggy matches which are unplayable, but given the importance of a lag-free environment for a fighting game, Capcom should be commended for what they have achieved. There are a few areas beside the lag though that do need addressing. Whilst it is nice to be able to choose your opponent it does lead to some imbalanced match-ups, and being unable to see your opponents BP (battle points) before choosing to fight makes each fight a bit of a lottery. You can adjust settings in order to seek out specific types of opponents but none the less a little more attention paid to the presentation would have been welcome. Future downloadable content promises a revamping ranking system and tournament mode so at least it seems as if some minor quibbles could be addressed. Despite these points it is worth noting that it is amazing that you can hop online and constantly find opponents that challenge and invigorate you, something that only those who lived close to a busy arcade could experience regularly.
And on the subject of challenge, this game is punishingly difficult. Yes, I am aware that I’m opening myself up to ridicule and accusations of being a ‘noob’ but damn it this game is hard! I consider myself a veteran of the franchise without being an expert and I really struggle to finish the game on medium difficulty beyond my main characters. The time trial and survival modes are something that I am never likely to complete, even on the misleadingly titled ‘normal difficulty’. But that is one of the appeals of the game. Unlike most games, it constantly challenges you to improve yourself and the reward that you reap from dedicating yourself to the game is a marked improvement in your ability and the accompanying satisfaction. It only hurts you because it loves you, and if you have the right mindset and an appetite for a challenge, this game will not disappoint.
Finally the thorny issue of arcade sticks. Personally I bought a Hori Pro stick with the game and have no desire to play the game on a normal pad, but I aware that the experience could be somewhat different without one. Whether or not you decide to invest (and that word is entirely appropriate when the damn thing costs 150 bucks), is up to how much you think you will get out of the game.
Street Fighter is back to remind you that fighting games are fun, then to crush you. Enjoy.