You might stare when you see Super Street Fighter IV sitting on the store shelves, as it looks incredibly similar to the original Street Fighter IV, which came out early last year. In many ways you’d be right to stare; throughout its 20-year history each separate Street Fighter game has undergone at least two (sometimes more) revisions. Don’t let that fool you into thinking that the latest edition is a pointless cash-in, though. With new characters, online modes, art assets and fine-tuning across the board, SSFIV is absolutely worth its $45 CAN price tag and includes substantially more than many yearly, full-price sports title updates.
I’m in the Endless Battle room, and one player (let’s call him/her Player Uno) is building an impressive winning streak with Crimson Viper – imagine Angelina Jolie with bright magenta hair, office attire and a snuggly-placed tie. Player Uno has already beaten me five times. Soon, the room inflates, and a challenger, Player Dos, decimates Uno’s Viper with Guile, that hard-boiled military man who first appeared back in Street Fighter II. At least seven players and spectators are stunned.
The single greatest addition in SSFIV is not a character, or an ultra move, but the Endless Battle online mode. Up to eight players can join a single room, and their names are listed in a short queue. The first two players engage in a match, and the loser is sent to the back. The winner faces the next in line, and so on. The beauty of this is that those waiting in line also watch the match currently going on. Everyone is observing the same match, scouting out their potential next opponents, and (if they have a microphone) can comment and jeer in unison. It’s an incredibly accurate recreation of the arcade environment of old, when players would crowd around a single machine and lay quarters along the cabinet to reserve a spot in the line.
Soon enough my name comes up next. I’ve never been a very good player against anyone semi-decent with Guile. He’s a brick wall with a bad attitude and a worse haircut. Implausibly, after a full three rounds and several near-death encounters, I win. It would appear that Rose (a relatively uncommon character in competitive Street Fighter scenes, but my regular choice) is his Achilles heel. I’m elated. I can’t believe it. Player Uno is next in line. Oh, damn it.
The major draw to Super Street Fighter IV is the ten new characters who join the entire cast of last year’s edition. It’s a diverse bunch sure to please Street Fighter veterans. Even more impressive is that they’ve all translated quite well into SFIV’s lush visual style. Considering the disparate sources – Adon, Guy, and Cody come from the anime-inspired Alpha series, while Ibuki, Makoto and Dudley hail from the more restrained aesthetic of SFIII – it’s an impressive achievement.
The characters themselves retain all of their personalities, most if not all of their pugilistic dance moves, and gain a few new surprises as well. Final Fight hero-turned-jailbird Cody probably fares best, his smarmy Boston accent and lazy expressions coming together to form an incredibly bored man who nonetheless could beat the snot out of anyone unlucky enough to draw his attention. Less fortunate is T. Hawk, the thundering Native American from Super Street Fighter II. His mannerisms and voice samples (“We are but branches on the tree of life!”) form little more than a tired and borderline offensive stereotype. He’s the unusual low point, though, amidst a cast of colourful and entertaining fighters.
Oh, and there are two new characters as well, who you’ve probably already had an eyeful of if you’ve seen the promotional material leading up to SSFIV’s release. Juri is apparently a Tae Kwon Do expert, but her moves and esoteric fashion sense better evoke the “psycho anime chick” routine. Then there’s Hakan, a Turkish olive oil merchant with tomato-red skin and a bellowing laugh. He doles out pain in a wrestling style where combatants cover themselves in oil to make them exceedingly hard to grab. That description hardly conveys how over-the-top crazy, and downright fun, Hakan really is. His Oil Combination Hold Ultra move is really something that needs to be seen to be believed.
Capcom has polished the gameplay to an olive-oily sheen. Every character has been balanced in some way – some punches come out faster than before, others slower. Move properties have been tinkered with in subtle ways that most players won’t immediately recognize. The end result, though, is that you can choose any character you want and still have a fighting chance against anyone else. Muay Thai monster Sagat still rests comfortably at the top of the roost, but everyone should have a few new tools to deal with him without feeling handicapped.
One noticeable addition is a second Ultra move for all the characters. You have to choose one of the two moves at the beginning of the match, and just like before your ability to use them builds as you take more punishment throughout the round. Some drastically change the strategies for characters that we once knew inside out. All are visually crazier and more far-fetched than those that came before them, particularly Ryu’s bone-crushing Metsu Shoryuken: a move so painful that it pauses the background music to let the recipient reflect for a moment, before losing half a jawbone to his fist.
The rest of SSFIV’s design oozes personality along with a healthy respect for the franchise’s beardy lineage. Challenge mode returns from last year’s version, which runs you through each character’s special moves and instructions for basic and advanced combos. This time, though, you earn rewards like flashy titles for online profiles after every single successful challenge (as opposed to every five last time around). Joining that is the classic Car Crusher and Barrel Buster bonus stages from SFII.
There are also a handful of new stages. The most impressive is probably the new sun-drenched African stage. Hippos yawn dangerously close to the action, meerkats perform back flips when you win a round, and a solar eclipse bathes the entire scene in an eerily cold darkness for a few moments. Earning new taunts and costume colours is far less tedious than the last time around, too. Simply playing matches will unlock them in an adequate amount of time.
Disc-loading is a heck of a lot faster than the last version; you can play the game without installing it on the hard drive and it’ll perform with much shorter pre-fight loading times. Combine that with fantastic new online modes and the fact that every fighter is available from the get-go, and you’ve got a version of Street Fighter IV that addresses nearly every niggling issue from last year. If you have the first one, don’t hesitate to pick the new version up. It’s cheaper than a regular new release, and has everything from the last version and more.
Here comes Player Uno with Crimson Viper. This time, our match is far more competitive than the last times we met. Even still, I’m bested after a close fight. Somehow, I feel vindicated. As Uno’s Viper rips through the newcomers in the queue, the impending rematch between him and Player Dos’s Guile is hotly anticipated. In half an hour, champions have been crowned, rivalries have been sparked, and a rookie scored the upset of the week.