This month, Super Street Fighter IV was released via Games with Gold. I wasn’t originally planning to get it, as I’m not usually good enough at fighting games to play them online.
However, I’m glad I did download SSFIV, as I’ve been having a blast playing it for the last few days.
It’s been one of the first major times since Black Ops 2 where my entire group of friends have all been playing and avidly competing in the same game. Also, as we tend to play co-op multiplayer games, a chance for competitive fighting is always fun. We’ve already spent a few evenings creating (and recording) 8-player tournaments. Even though the skill gaps are big enough that we know exactly which person is going to win the tournaments, it’s still fun to play against each other and work out which pairs of people fight in an interesting way.
This is my first SF game (not counting crossover game Street Fighter X Tekken), as before this I’ve only played Tekken and Soul Calibur. This meant I was almost entirely unfamiliar with the control scheme and combo mechanic of SF, which maps Light, Medium, and Heavy punches to X,Y, and RB, and Light, Medium, and Heavy kicks to A, B, and RT. While this does get intuitive after a while, it was initially odd compared to the “one button per limb” control scheme used in Tekken.
Also, I was pretty clueless about the main ingredient of combos being quarter- and half-circles with the analogue stick as, again, that wasn’t used in any of the other fighting series’ I’ve played. The stick gymnastics required for special moves did get annoying after a while, as I found it hard to input similar actions in a way that could be easily identified: For example, it was difficult to differentiate between a two quarter-circle input and a zigzag input, which meant I missed a lot of potential moves. This appeared to be character dependent, as I was fairly accurate with my first-used character Cammy, but had more trouble with my second, the new character Yang, never managing to trigger his special move at all.
The games training mode can be set to display all button inputs, however, which means with practice getting the moves correct should get easier. The other training mode, Trials, is less easy: this mode requires you to perform a combination of attacks, but isn’t very clear on the timing between parts of attacks, making it frustrating to work out exactly how to segue between them. This is more annoying as many of these combinations won’t actually be of much practical use in battle.
Despite having trouble with pulling off many of the attacks, I’m doing better than I expected so far. In multiplayer, the characters all seem balanced enough that few are completely useless or guaranteed a win. For this reason, the majority of the 44 available characters get used semi-regularly, instead of there being only one or two major characters and many ignored ones. Also, there don’t seem to be many spammable moves, the exception to this being Hadoukens. The only characters I have issues with at the moment are Makoto, who seems completely unintuitive, and Blanka, whose Pikachu-style electric field seems to be infinitely extendable. (Having said that, a case for M. Bison being overpowered is arguable, as my four-year-old sister managed to win a fight using him).
In Arcade (story) mode, however, the CPU is punishing, to the extent that I can’t yet complete the final battle on Easy. Looking around at forums and other places online, I’m not the only one having this problem either. It seems odd that SF includes so many different difficulties (at least 10, ranging from Easiest to Hardest), considering many people won’t get beyond the easiest 3 or 4.
This also appears strange because of the average online player skill- whether that is just because people who don’t do well in Arcade don’t want to play online, or because Arcade reflects something different to online, it’s still a little odd. Online play has the same criticism that can be applied to almost all fighters: the fun really depends on who you’re playing with. While I’ve been in some very close fights where we’ve both had a chance at winning, and also some one-sided yet fair fights, a minority of online players instead choose to play frustratingly cheaply, which takes most of the fun out of playing online.
Furthermore, lag can be an issue due to the narrow timings required for combos. While I don’t experience lag very often, it is a big problem as soon as it is noticeable, unlike games such as Black Ops 2 where there was almost always a small amount of lag. It’s only been a game-breaking problem once during the time I’ve had the game, and that was when trying to play in a transatlantic tournament, so anyone who doesn’t play long-distance too much probably won’t have any major problems.
One interesting feature added to this version of SFIV is a lag simulator in the Training mode, which replicates playing against opponents with different latencies in order to practice inputting combos during lag. Other features include the ability to set up 3-8 player tournaments; Team Battles, and a built-in replay/streaming channel.
Finally, on to the visual and sound side of things. The background music, while probably not something that people would search out to listen to on its own, works really well within the game and fits the characters and stages.
Visually, the bright colours are great to look at, and still manage to keep the characters and backgrounds distinct. Most stages have detailed background events going on during fights, which range from minor (objects falling over) to distractingly funny (animals jumping around during the safari scene).
An impressive visual touch is the comic-style effects during a focus move (example below), which both looks good and emphasises the unblockable nature of these attacks.
Overall, I would recommend playing SFIV: it is mechanically and graphically solid, fun both solo and in groups, and can be played casually as well as offering a lot of depth for people who want to get as good as possible.
However, one thing that does need to be mentioned is the update cycle, which is an area Capcom are often vilified for. The version I played, Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition, is the 3rd version of Street Fighter IV, with another updated version (Ultra Street Fighter IV) arriving in July. If you haven’t played an SF game for a while, I would suggest waiting for Ultra to arrive, rather than buying Arcade Edition, then paying out again for the Ultra upgrade. Also, as the Ultra upgrade is separate from AE, it also depends on social group, as you would need to make sure that the entire clan/team has the same version.