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Let’s get this out the way first. I love Street Fighter. I loved it back when it was called Street Fighter II: The World Warrior and I loved the series all the way up to Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike. But I don't love Street Fighter IV. I like it because, you know, it’s fun and definitely has its moments, but I don’t love it. And that’s because, at least initially, it just doesn’t FEEL like Street Fighter, if you know what I mean. And if you don’t, then I’ll explain.
I know every publication under the sun is saying that the transition from 2D to 3D was seamless for Street Fighter, but this is just not the case. Though the game play is still in regular old 2D, the new 3D models, which don’t look NEARLY as good in motion as they do on the web, make the controls feel a little wonky at first. Jumping in to attack—which is KEY to playing Street Fighter in my opinion—just doesn’t feel right in this game. I don’t know what it is, but the animation for flipping either feels too fast or too slow, but never just right, which is a problem to say the very least.
That’s not to say that the game feels broken, though. It just takes some time to get used to since it’s SO different from what you’ve played in the past, so don’t think you can just pick it up and play it like you would any other Street Fighter game in the series. Let’s put it this way—it’s not as stiff as say, Street Fighter EX Plus Alpha, but it’s also not as fluid as Street Fighter 3. If anything, it’s somewhere in between those two and it took me at least two hours before I finally got the hang of it. But let me tell you, when I DID finally get the hang of it, then I REALLY started to have some fun. But I’m not there just yet, so hold on.
The characters also seem way too big for the screen sometimes, making it a little difficult to move around in that small proximity. It makes me wish that the stages were more expansive. And the new Focus Meter, which I’ll admit, is enjoyable once you get the hang of it, still doesn’t feel as intuitive as the parry system in Street Fighter 3, though it serves its purpose, I guess. Oh, and kudos to Capcom for actually making a final boss so annoyingly difficult (Fight him on Easy mode, because he will sap your soul on Medium) that it deprives the game of any fun once you fight him. It took me a whole hour to beat him with Zangeif. Sheesh, Capcom, I know you like to make your bosses tough and all, but man oh man, Seth is one difficult bastard.
Still with me? Good, because there IS a lot I like about Street Fighter IV. The game, while it looks better on paper, still gives the old series a new gloss and makes it feel almost new again, sort of like what it felt like to play The World Warrior for the very first time. And the animations are hilarious, with characters sticking out their tongues and their eyes bulging out their faces whenever they receive their final coup-de-grace. Again, the controls aren’t perfect (even though my good friend says they are), but they’re good enough to satisfy the means.
Gameplay-wise, though, it’s vintage Street Fighter. A quarter circle and punch still unleashes Hadoukens, and holding back for two seconds, pushing forward and pressing punch still shoots out Sonic Booms, so if you’ve played any Street Fighter in the past, then you’ve played this one, too, as there’s nothing too dramatically different in the overall play department. As mentioned earlier, the focus attacks add a bit more strategy to the game, and the Ultra Combos (Uh, Capcom, Rare is calling. They want their words back), are basically just elaborate supers that get bigger and stronger the closer you get to losing. They’re easy to use and fun, so I can’t complain about that.
For the most part, I also like the new characters, too. Well, at least half of them, anyway. Abel, a Frenchman who likes to roll around a lot, offers enough newness to the series to make him feel fresh, and Crimson Viper has enough juggles to satisfy even the haughtiest of combo fans. But Rufus, a fat, gut jiggling joke character, and El Fuerte, a luche libre with a frying pan are no good. Rufus is boring as hell, and El Fuerte, while fun to watch, is a mess to control, as he runs all over the place. I’d work on using him more but he’s just no fun to use. Luckily though, the fan favorites are still fun to play as, and since all of them are back (Save for DeeJay and T. Hawk, who I hear may be downloadable soon), you’re likely to find at least a few players you can love and dominate with. Guile is still a blast to use, but the 3D modeling kind of hurt my other favorite, Dhalsim. The story is an absolute disaster but at least you get a lot of unlockables when you beat the game, as is the trend with console fighters these days.
So, at this point, it probably seems like I’m on the fence with this game, but that’s where you’re wrong, because as with all Street Fighter’s, it’s never really about playing alone. It's about playing against others, and that’s where Street Fighter IV really shines. Battling against somebody who actually knows how to use the focus attacks (Hitting the medium punch and kick at the same time) is a whole lot of fun when you learn to anticpate each other’s moves and maneuver off of them. And the game somehow feels much looser and more in tune to what it used feel like with the old games when you play against a human competitor. Plus with online play, you never have to worry that you won’t have somebody to play with, as there’s ALWAYS somebody out there just itching to kick your butt (Just make sure you turn off the feature for people to play against you while you’re in Arcade mode or you’re going to be pretty upset when you’re trying to unlock Dan and keep getting challenged).
Overall, as I mentioned earlier, I LIKE this game, but I definitely don’t love it. If you’re itching to play a fighting game, though you could do a hell of a lot worse than Street Fighter IV.
Platform(s): Xbox 360, PS3 Developer: Capcom