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Ryu, Ken, and co are finally back in one of our most anticipated titles ever...
Down, diagonally down-right, right, punch... there's very few commands that are so inextricably woven into a gamer's psyche as the iconic Street Fighter moves. The significance of Capcom's 2D fighter series cannot be overstated, such was the importance of Street Fighter II during the 90's that the promise of an arcade-authentic port to the SNES back in 1992 is still Capcom's best selling title to-date. It's hard to imagine anybody not knowing the technique for Ryu's Hadoken, Zangief's devastating spinning piledriver, or Blanka's real name.
A decade of coin chugging updates spurred numerous imitators as the fighter became the most popular and prolific genre of the time. But the success of the fighter, more specifically the 2D fighter, soon began to suffer. Following the intricacies of the Alpha/Zero series and the complexities of Street Fighter 3's parrying system, interest in Street Fighter began to wane. Part of this collapse in popularity can also be attributed to the decline of the arcades and the rising power of the home consoles, while the shift to 3D caused issues that thwarted many other genres that attempted the transition.
Ten years after Street Fighter III: Third Impact seemingly signed off the franchise for good, Ryu, Ken, and co are finally back in the long-awaited console conversion of Street Fighter IV and it's fair to say the absence has made the craving grow stronger; the fighter has gone full circle and we're quite prone to the dextrous challenges that Street Fighter IV poses. In a calculated response to the apparent link between the increasing complexities following 1993's Super Street Fighter II and the dwindling popularity, Street Fighter IV stems from the SFII School of knocks. Anybody who can remember the commands for Ryu's Hadoken or Guile's Sonic Boom (the difference between rotate and charge characters), no matter how distant or hazy, will be instantly drawn into Street Fighter IV and partying like it's 1992 all over again. It should also entertain a new audience with its skilful challenge and prove that great games don't always require a battle rifle or elaborate storylines.
Initially it seems as though Capcom has largely left innovations to the background (which incidentally are incredible variations of classic SFII backdrops), however soon the significance and weight of the all-new Focus system in particular becomes increasingly apparent as a core dynamic to the staple SF gameplay. The underlying depth of the Focus system as an adaptation of the Alpha Counter firstly provides an accessible means for players to counter an opponent's attack and momentarily make them susceptible to a following attack, adding to the attack/defend, ying/yang swing of a good fighter. The Focus System is much more then that, however, adding extra layers of technique for masters to grapple with. Hitting the two medium attack buttons to activate the Focus Attack also serves as a Focus Cancel, abruptly bringing a halt to certain special moves to seamlessly continue into a new attack. Charging up the Focus Attack to the first stage is also crucial to the Focus Dash, an essential technique to master when it comes to surprising your opponent and gaining the upper hand. Although Focus commands are initially as simple as pressing two buttons together the underlying additional techniques provide the depth for SF aficionados to appreciate, it's the measure between accessibility and depth that made Street Fighter II a widespread hit, and it's easy to see similar qualities in the fourth instalment. Perhaps less important but more visually potent are the Ultra Moves. Tied into the introduction of the Revenge Metre, Ultra Moves are the opposite of the traditional EX Special Move and Super Combos, relying on a gauge that fills up whenever you're on the end of a beating. It's another factor to the perfectly balanced game of attack/defend that Street Fighter is all about while the 3D camera flourishes are the veritable icing on the cake.
Featuring an impressively comprehensive roster of 24 characters largely returning from Street Fighter II (and its many variations) alongside a handful of new faces, Street Fighter IV's finely tuned balance of characters is largely unmatched. Although we still maintain that Crimson Viper looks as though she should be in an SNK fighter, it's fair to say the new characters continue in the same vein as the more established faces. In classic Street Fighter tradition the process of fighting and unlocking hidden characters such as Akuma and Gouken with the requirement of varying numbers of Perfects and Ultra/EX Special finishes poses the typically insane question of your SF skills and provides genuine long-term challenge. Beyond the customary Arcade (complete with excellent anime sequences) and Vs modes, Street Fighter IV is also packed out with an excellent Challenge mode that pits various different criteria such as beating an opponent in a certain time, and of course the inclusion of online play.
Naturally Street Fighter IV had to feature online play, but like numerous fighters before it, the issue of lag is a constant thorn. It's not that the game suffers from lag in a noticeable way, as generally online bouts are smooth and responsive, however Street Fighter fanatics will notice a difference that can be measured in individual frames, which seems to be more off-putting for seasoned SF players then it is for newcomers. That said the decision to recreate an Arcade like experience and allow challengers to jump in even when you're in the middle of a bout in the Arcade mode is a touch of genius, and collecting tokens and titles provides a satisfying sense of progress and reward.
Of course there's also the issue of a wonky d-pad that just can't hack it - particularly for Xbox 360 owners - but we're not going to moan about that too much as there are other alternatives for the slightly more serious SF fan.
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