Around this time last year, Capcom released Street Fighter IV to the gaming masses. The sequel to one of the storied fighting game series of all time was one of the more anticipated titles of last year, and the final product certainly did not disappoint. With the art style and the tried-and-true gameplay mechanics, the game became something of an instant classic and was one of the early titles in this generation to renew interest in fighting games. As the joke goes with this franchise, you should always expect Capcom to release a slew of pseudo-sequels for a few years before moving on to work on a proper sequel. Street Fighter IV has proven itself not to be immune to this trend, as this year has brought Super Street Fighter IV to the market. In this age of downloadable content, some may argue that the changes would have been better off as DLC for the original game. However, after seeing the amount of changes and additions, the decision to make Super Street Fighter IV a cheaper stand-alone title is more than justified.
Before any discussion can be had about changes and additions that have been made to the game, it is important to touch upon what has remained the same. For the original 25 fighters, every special move and combo you remember from Street Fighter IV still works here. The speed is the same as well, so the timing in those combos isn't altered in any way, shape or form. Focus moves, super moves and ultra combos all remain, and their effects are just as powerful as before. Even the loading is the same as before, so while 360 owners will still edge out PS3 owners when loading matches directly from disc, both systems even out once game installations are done. If you believe you've mastered everything in the previous game, you should have some good footing for this iteration.
As far as gameplay mechanics go, the changes are plentiful. For starters, there are 10 more fighters added to the roster, though most of them aren't new to the Street Fighter universe. Their addition to the lineup gives ample representation to just about every other game in the Street Fighter series. Super Street Fighter II gets further representation with Dee Jay and T. Hawk. The Street Fighter Alpha trilogy gets Guy and Cody, who also happen to be from Final Fight, and Adon from the original Street Fighter game. Finally, Ibuki, Dudley and Makoto make up part of the Street Fighter III cast.
The addition of these seasoned fighters includes some fan favorites as well as some interesting fighters who give some more balance to the game. Dudley, for example, seems like he would be a Balrog clone, but he moves a bit faster, his punches don't exactly telegraph so easily, and his taunt actually affects the opponent, making him one of the more popular fighters amongst players. That variety and balance also go into the two new characters, Juri and Hakan. Juri can be seen as a kicking machine like Chun-Li, but with a bit more range in her kicks and less on projectile moves. Hakan, as strange as he might be with the oil wrestling bit, is very much like Zangief but with the unpredictability and speed of El Fuerte. Both of these characters actually end up being more interesting to play than the four new additions from Street Fighter IV, but only time will tell whether the community will agree.
The addition of returning characters and two new ones doesn't mean that the older cast has been forgotten. On the contrary, every character has been tweaked in the name of balance. Sagat, for example, was a dominant online fighter in the previous title thanks to his damage and range of attacks. The range of his Tiger Shot and damage caused by his Tiger Uppercut seem to have been toned down, and while that doesn't necessarily make him any less dangerous of a fighter, it means that he can be beaten. Other characters have been upgraded, such as Ryu's heavy Shoryuken, which gets in an extra hit when done up close. The upgrade doesn't affect everyone, so Dan still remains a joke character and Zangief's spinning lariat will still maul CPU opponents, but it feels like there isn't a singular dominant character toward whom everyone will gravitate just yet. Additionally, everyone got a second ultra combo, which is something of a throwback to the Street Fighter Alpha 3 and Street Fighter III days. The new ones may look different, but their differences in damage and execution give familiar fighters some more depth against the newcomers.
For those who are wondering, none of the original 25 fighters have new costumes for this version of the game. Instead, if you bought any of the costume packs for Street Fighter IV, they will be recognized and made compatible for this game. This also means that you'd have to buy costume packs for the 10 new fighters from the console's respective marketplaces. You can get by with just obtaining new color schemes for the fighters through gameplay, but the truly dedicated fans will be tempted to spend a little extra just to make everyone look different. Also, if you happen to have a save file from Street Fighter IV handy, you can unlock some of the alternate colors right off the bat, saving you some time in the process.
The significance of Story mode has been diminished, but it still serves a purpose even if you're not trying to unlock Achievements or Trophies. Those who played the original title last year will remember Story mode as the only way to unlock the fighting roster. This time around, everyone is unlocked at the beginning, so players who want to go through Akuma's story or Sakura's tale can do so without having to wade through specific characters.
To that end, every fighter has new cut scenes for both prologues and endings. This is a nice touch, but it is disappointing to see that only the endings are fully animated while the prologues are composed of still pictures. Story mode also marks the return of the bonus stages from Street Fighter II, the barrel-breaking stage and the car destruction stage. Both have been retrofitted to fall in line with the art style set forth by the new game, and both come with their own little touches. The barrel-breaking stage, for example, has a distillery worker pulling the switch to release each barrel, and each one has the same markings as those found in that stage.
Meanwhile, the car destruction stage features a nice-looking luxury car in a gas station along with a man in a hazard suit taking pictures. That man gets replaced with a common thug if you happen to use either Guy or Cody, so expect a nice little Final Fight nod to occur if you successfully turn the car into wrecked spare parts. Finally, Seth has been tweaked so that he isn't as cheap as before. He will still put up a tough fight, but he won't get perfect rounds on you unless you're playing on the highest difficulty levels. Don't expect that out of Akuma or Gouken, however, since they still seem as tough as ever. The drop-in challenge feature of the previous game is still here, so you can re-create the arcade experience if you wish, but unless you really want to know the stories of every fighter, you won't play Story mode too often in this iteration.
Challenge mode is still here but in name alone, as none of the submodes, like Time Attack and Survival, has made it into this version of the game. The challenges have been pared down and work like an advanced training mode. Each of the 35 fighters can be picked, and they come with 20 trial stages designed to teach you each of their special moves and basic combos. While it is recommended to complete them all, the game gives you the option of skipping around to the lesson you want to complete. There's no penalty for going after the combos and skipping the basic special moves altogether. There also don't seem to be any on-screen instructions for how to perform the special moves or any demonstration of how those moves or combos should look. Yes, there's a button that gives you basic instructions for how to perform those moves, but a demo would be nice in case you've never seen the move before. You also have the ability to play the car-crushing and barrel-breaking bonus stages, though they must first be unlocked in Story mode. The inclusion of the Survival and Time Attack modes would have made Challenge mode more robust.
Of all of the modes to receive any upgrades, the online multiplayer has improved leaps and bounds over the original game. The original was too bare-bones, with only ranked and player one-on-one matches to keep you occupied and the uncanny ability to show more people with mediocre connections than ones with good ones. The one-on-one matches are still here, but the game has a better detection system in place, connecting you with more people in green status than those with orange or red ones. The lobby list is also larger with 10 random people chosen for the list (as opposed to just three), and the lag only really affects the game during sessions against red-coded players. During the time of the review, very few matches reached this status, and every match played was just as good as a local offline match.
You also have Team Battle modes, which play out more like matches from the SNK game, The King of Fighters. You can select between two-vs.-two, three-vs.-three, or four-vs.-four matches, and players fight until one team has been eliminated. The winner of the previous match will stay in the fight and get little health boosts between rounds until he gets eliminated and have to be replaced with a teammate. Just like KoF, there's always the possibility that one player will completely dominate a whole team by himself (or herself), but the essence of team play is well worth the risk. The other available option is Endless mode, which plays out like Quarter mode in the XBLA release of Street Fighter II: Hyper Fighting. Just like that game, Dead or Alive 4, and BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger, two players start and the winner stays, constantly battling new opponents until being dethroned and forced to wait at the back of the line before taking another crack at regaining the seat.
During this time, the opponents can all watch the match in real time, hopefully picking up some play strategies along the way. Like those aforementioned games, it really does bring back the feeling of old arcades where this sort of thing was the norm; with the near death of arcades here in the U.S., having this feature just brings back nostalgia. If there's a complaint to be had, it's that Team Battle is an online-only mode. Offline versus is a strictly one-on-one affair, and while it is easy to replicate Endless mode offline, having Team Battle available to local players would be perfect for those who want to throw their own fighting get-togethers.
The replay system is another big addition to Super Street Fighter IV. Every online fight is saved temporarily until you shut off your system, and up to 150 matches can be saved to your storage device. These replays can be played with an active connection so if you want to invite a friend to watch these fights online, you can do so. Just like BlazBlue, there's also an online repository of fight replays to watch. You can choose a random match to watch or choose between different criteria, such as matches featuring an original world warrior, fighters from the Alpha universe, or ones featuring boss characters. The currently available replays are great, and the fight selection will surely get better with time.
There are a few caveats to the system, though. For one, no offline fights can be saved. If you just had a great fight against your friend, you'd better hope you can do it again online or else you'll never be able to save it for others to see. Also, while the video categories are good, the search engine just isn't robust enough. If you wanted to find a specific Sagat vs. Abel fight, it won't exactly happen as you planned, making a YouTube search more powerful, albeit in lower definition, than what is offered here.
Finally, the ranking system is deeper than simply marking out wins and losses per player. Players are now judged using two different point systems: battle points and player points. Player points refer to your performance overall as a fighter, while battle points refer to your performance when playing as a specific character. This makes for a more interesting way to determine just how good you or your opponent really is. You may face off against an opponent with a fairly mediocre player point ranking, which means that he has plenty of losses to go along with those wins, but he could also have a battle point ranking with Ibuki that is through the roof, meaning that this is his best character and one with whom he rarely loses. Since it gives you a better sense of the kind of player your opponent is, it makes for a pretty good ranking system that you want to see employed in future fighting games.
The controls remain as accessible as ever, but the graphics have had some changes. The new characters look great in Super Street Fighter IV. The veteran fighters still maintain their classic looks while adopting the new art style, and they're more expressive as a result. In particular, Hakan shines profusely because of his fighting style and oil dousing, but with the way the light flows down, you get the impression that the oil is spreading as opposed to just sticking to the body. The color selection has expanded to include a filter that changes the heavy watercolor look of the fighters to that resembling the watercolor/pencil sketch combination seen in the introductory movies. It contrasts with the backgrounds but still looks rather good.
Speaking of backgrounds, the new ones end up being more exciting locales to fight in compared to the old ones. From the African lagoon during a solar eclipse to the Metro City construction site, everything is bustling with activity, whether animals are coming closer to the fight zone or taxis are stopping by to watch the spectacle. You always feel that the fight is an event that everyone wants to see since there's so much going on. The only new environment that doesn't capture this feeling is Seth's crumbling lab, which may be desolate without any lab workers running around, but the explosion of the mechanism in between rounds somewhat makes up for it. As for the new ultra combos, they all look great and still elicit gasps of awe each time they are witnessed. In particular, Ryu's uppercut ultra combo looks brutal as he seems to shoot the opponent into the stratosphere with the power of his fist. While there aren't any tweaks to the material already there, it has all aged well enough that it doesn't feel outdated.
Like everything else, the sound has been tweaked significantly; nothing has been removed, and there are plenty of additions. The music for the new levels meshes well with the tunes that are already here, and the fight music for rival bouts is excellent. Fans of some of Capcom's older games will feel nostalgic when they hear remixes of some of the tunes for these special bouts. The voices for the new fighters sound great and are on par with voices for existing fighters. As usual, both Japanese and English tracks are included, and finishing Story mode once will give you the ability to individually specify which fighter will speak which language — a dream for people who were bothered when American fighters spoke perfect Japanese and vice versa. Street Fighter III fans will be disappointed to hear Dudley's voice, though, as it is younger and doesn't have the same air of aristocracy. Also, the announcer's voice is deeper and sounds more mature than the announcer from the previous game. This is a welcome change and a slight reversal from the change in announcers between Street Fighter II and Super Street Fighter II, where fans disliked the transition from deeper to lighter announcer voice.
As I've said, there's more than enough content to warrant the existence of Super Street Fighter IV instead of DLC packs for the original game: new characters, new stages, new online modes, capturing and viewing replays, new cut scenes for Story mode, extra moves for every character, damage tweaks, and the return of bonus stages. Combine that with the return of almost everything that made Street Fighter IV a big hit, and the game turns out to be much beefier than expected. The $40 price tag, which is two-thirds the cost of a full game, further emphasizes that this title is an absolute bargain. For those who didn't enjoy last year's game, this won't change your mind about the franchise. For fans of the series, this review only reinforces your purchase or will encourage you to get this since the online community for the original could migrate to this game. For those who have been interested in the series but failed to pick up last year's title, this is the definitive version to get. Just be prepared for the imminent pummeling at the hands of gamers who have played the original for more than a year.
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