Street Fighter is a name that a surprisingly large number of urban, non-gaming Indians in their late-teens and twenties are familiar with. Whether or not you were a gamer, if you happened to visit a video game parlour when they seemed to be springing up everywhere in the 90s, chances are you tried a bout or two of Street Fighter II. Over a decade later, there are those who went on to play every Street Fighter sequel/remake/rehash ever since, and those who just left it at that one time at the arcades. And the great thing about Street Fighter IV is that even if you haven’t played a Street Fighter game in 15 years, it will be instantly familiar to you, while pushing the envelope just enough to make it feel fresh.
Staying true to its roots, while still innovating enough to qualify as “next-gen” is perhaps the biggest challenge to bringing a franchise that’s been around for decades on current-gen consoles. Street Fighter IV manages this balancing act to near perfection by retaining the classic Street Fighter presentation and not blindly following common trends in the fighting genre, but at the same time adding more depth to the gameplay and bolstering the fighters’ roster with new characters.
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Upfront, the game’s most striking feature is its visual style. From the hand-drawn 2D intro video to the 3D comic-book style adopted during gameplay, Street Fighter IV’s visuals are a refreshing change from the usual pursuit of photo-realism. That’s not to say that there have been any corners cut here; far from it. The beauty, though, lies in the fact that while from afar the character models may look simple, closer inspection will reveal the startling attention to detail and quality. The character models look particularly stunning during pre-fight cutscenes, when you get a chance to see the characters in greater detail. Further adding to the visual grandeur is the vibrant colour palette, high resolution textures, and the game’s rock solid frame rates, leaving no room for complaints.
But while the visuals are the game’s most blaring distinguishing factor, it is the gameplay that really makes it worth it. Some may feel that the pace of the gameplay is considerably slower, and while that is true, it in no way makes things any easier for you. In fact, the considered pace lets you use some of the new additions to the fighting mechanic more effectively. The first of these is the focus attack. Essentially, it allows you to charge up a powerful attack, which will floor the enemy, by simply holding two buttons. It’s easy to perform so that even new players can use it, but it also adds another dimension to the gameplay. If you are charging up a focus attack when the opponent strikes you, the damage will, to an extent, be absorbed, adding a defensive benefit to it. All that, of course, is of little use if you’re unable to land your focus attack.
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Also new in Street Fighter IV are the Super and Ultra meters – the first fills up as you land attacks, while the latter fills up as you take damage. Once you fill up the Super meter a bit, you can use that juice to power a Special move, which is a more elaborate and powerful variation of the character’s regular attacks. Filling the meter completely will allow you to unleash a Super combo – a furious barrage which you can combine with your regular attacks for additional, sustained damage. Similarly, the Ultra meter, when full, lets you perform a stunning, momentum-changing attack that is not only extremely damaging, but also more animated than other moves. During Ultra combos is the only time in Street Fighter IV that the camera angle moves from its fixed 2D plane, making these attacks all the more rewarding to pull off.
Neither of the new additions are a must during combat to win. You are welcome to continue with your Hadouken-spamming ways, but these new additions serve to add another layer to the gameplay, and for those looking for more ways to humiliate your opponents, there’s lots of ammunition for that here.
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Street Fighter has possibly the most recognisable characters of any franchise in the genre. More than that, though, however diverse they may be in shape and size, they’re all remarkably well balanced, which means that any fighter from the pack has the ability to take out another, provided you know how to use him/her effectively. Learning the strengths and weaknesses of both your and your opponent’s characters is the key. And while some characters may have common button combos, not all of them do. So you’ll have to relearn combos for many of the characters, which means there’s quite a bit to do if you want to master the game through and through. There are even four more characters added to the roster this time around – Crimson Viper, Abel, Rufus, and El Fuerte. They’re all drastically different in style and help to bolster an already impressive line-up.
An important gameplay aspect, which seems to have become a staple in fighting games nowadays is the side-step, allowing you to change the camera perspective to influence the tide of battle. There’s none of that in Street Fighter IV. The game sticks to its 2D fighting plane, and the only time you will see any changes in camera angles is during the aforementioned Ultra combos, which simply extenuates the combo animation. Some may miss the ability to side-step, while others may not, but it certainly says something about the developer’s confidence in their combat mechanic, and I for one didn’t really mind not having it.
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Beat ‘em ups have always been a little shallow when it comes to game modes. Games like Vandetta and Fight for NY from the Def Jam series have shown how well a decent story can be integrated into a brawler. Instead in Street Fighter IV, you are once again greeted with a single player campaign (Arcade mode) which is essentially a ladder system, where you run through the fighters’ roster one after another. Playing through the Arcade mode all by yourself can get quite monotonous and tiresome. Luckily, a human opponent can jump in at any time, or you could invite a friend over Xbox LIVE or PSN. The Arcade mode, however, does have a few small cutscenes, rival matches, and a final bossfight, but none of that would qualify it as a ‘story’. Versus Mode is split up into two – online and offline. Here, you and a friend can pick a character each and take to one of the many arenas for a one-on-one encounter. You can select everything from round length and number of rounds, to handicap, which lets you define the amount of health a character starts a round with.
If you’re new to the series or if you’re feeling a little rusty, you can first head to the Training mode and learn the ropes. Here you can hone your skills and practice your combos against either a skilled AI opponent or a dummy. Besides this, there are a bunch of unlockables as you play through the game – videos, artwork, costumes etc. These are viewable through the game’s Gallery. There’s not much more in terms of game modes, but the meat of the game lies in 1-on-1 battles against your friends, and there is a lot of enjoyment to be derived from Street Fighter IV in that respect. Dimps and Capcom have done a tremendous job in bringing Street Fighter to the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. What’s more, both consoles perform extremely well and almost identically. For owners of both consoles, the only determining factor would be which controller they prefer.
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There’s not much room for innovation in fighting games, and while you would be hard pressed to find a fault in Street Fighter IV, you won’t find anything revolutionary here either. What it does deliver, however, is a fitting debut for this beloved franchise on the current generation of consoles. It’s easily the best beat ‘em up released so far in this generation, and future games in the genre will need to bring something really special to dethrone it. If fighting games don’t interest you, it’s unlikely that Street Fighter IV will change your mind, but if you have even the slightest inclination towards the genre, you owe it to yourself to play this.
(+) Awesome visual presentation
(+) New combat mechanics add depth to gameplay
(+) Balanced characters
(-) Uninteresting single-player campaign
Street Fighter IV is in stores now for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 at Rs 3,499