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Players have thrown digital punches, tempest-size fireballs, and physics-breaking kicks at each other through the Street Fighter franchise since the 1990s, and thanks to the success of the Street Fighter IV series, that is not changing soon.
Capcom just released the latest update to the game, Ultra Street Fighter IV, and the publisher has spent the year building the presence of the competitive scene through the Capcom Pro Tour. But what’s kept SF4 alive for seven years has been its fanbase, those who put work into making each of the now 44 characters the best they can be or who create new videos, tutorials, and artwork that appear every day on dedicated sites like Shoryuken or Event Hubs.
And those who travel to tournaments every week that entertain viewers in person and on streaming sites around the world.
A few years ago on our old site, we recorded the history of the SF4’s updates through the World Warriors who appeared in the games. Now that Ultra Street Fighter IV is out, and with it a new “Edition Select” mode that gives players the opportunity to relive previous versions of each fighter, let’s revisit it and see where the franchise may be going.
Street Fighter 4
The first Street Fighter 4 premiered in arcades in 2008. After almost a decade of ignoring the genre, Capcom and co-developer Dimps decided to keep the basics close to the franchise’s greatest success, Street Fighter II. They used that game’s cast along with four brand-new characters and demon warrior Akuma to create SF4’s roster. The game introduced two new mechanics to the franchise: the powerful Ultra Combo that the player gained by taking damage and the Focus Attack, which will absorb one hit of most moves.
It’s best to start with Ryu, as both beginners and experts favor him because of his fundamental tools that help him handle any situation. The lone traveler benefited from an easy-to-connect Ultra Combo and the ability to make his powerful Shoryuken safe using a Focus Cancel. If he uppercuts his enemy, he can stop the move with a Focus Attack, rush forward and keep attacking. Or he can dash back to safety if he doesn’t feel aggressive. You can never overlook a veteran Ryu player either: Japanese grandmaster Daigo Umehara has been arguably the most famous fighting game player in the world for over a decade, and he continued his dominance with the karate expert by taking the first two SF4 tournaments at Evolution, the world’s largest fighting-game event.
The Muay Thai king had many of the benefits Ryu had along with terrific fireballs, amazing damage, and high health. Sagat placed at the top of high-level players’ character rankings or “tier lists” and was dominant at Japanese arcades, where the nation’s best trained. Many players say, however, he wasn’t as overpowering as previous “top tiers” in the series.
Still, Sagat posed problems for other fighters. Chun-Li could handle him at close range with her superior normal attacks, but she couldn’t match the comeback potential his Tiger Destruction Ultra gave him. The First Lady of Fighting Games can dominate most of the round only to lose because of one mistake.
Other contestants like Vega had a rougher time. As one of the worst fighters in the game, the Spaniard relied on stabbing foes one strike at a time, had poor mixups, and didn’t have a reliable reversal move like the Shoryuken. A strong reversal can’t replace good blocking skills, but it makes people more wary of pressing their advantage.
Vega also had another problem: Zangief. The Russian grappler terrorized weaker foes with his nasty Double Lariat and life-crushing Ultimate Atomic Buster. Zangief was a strong force, but lost badly to Sagat. But towards the end of Street Fighter 4’s lifetime, Sagat did have someone to fear.
As a “glass cannon,” Akuma has a ton of great moves but little health. His Demon Flip special move had several variations that allowed him to create a never-ending “vortex” of guessing games, and later people found an effective combo loop involving his long-reaching Heavy Kick. Some theorized that Akuma was the only one who had an even or advantage match-up over Sagat.
But Street Fighter IV wasn’t all about projectiles and uppercuts. Balrog plowed through the competition with his beastly jab, great normal attacks, and his ability to deal with fireballs using Turn Punch and EX moves that powered up a special at the cost of some super meter.
The pudgy Rufus was also a standout from the four new characters. He had trouble against fireballs, but his divekick let him quickly get in and pressure foes. His Space Opera Symphony Ultra could also combo off a variety of situations, and Americans Justin Wong and Ricky Ortiz became some of the first sponsored tournament players through their expertise with the heavyweight. Rufus, Ryu, and Balrog remained contenders throughout the series.
Following behind him is C. Viper, an example of how tier lists change over time. She was originally thought as one of the weaker combatants, but as time went on, dedicated players learned her powerful mixups. The spy grew in prominence as more people attained the execution needed to master her unorthodox play style.
The original arcade version only had 17 characters, but the console release added a group of favorites from Super Street Fighter 2 and Street Fighter Alpha as well as made bosses Seth and Gouken playable. Fans enjoyed the return of their favorites, but they were rarely appeared in high-level play. They weren’t bad – Gouken dealt brutal damage and had an effective fireball game – but they lacked the little things that top warriors had.
Next Page: Street Fighter 4 gets a major upgrade that gives fans different Ultras and new challengers.
Super Street Fighter 4
Street Fighter 4 became a great success, and Capcom released a console-exclusive sequel the next year with 10 new characters and balance changes to the whole cast. Meanwhile, the rise of Internet streaming groups like Team Spooky meant that you could watch high-level matches complete with commentary several times a week.
The most obvious additions to Super Street Fighter 4 are the new Ultra Combos for everyone. While some like Ryu had finishers that were inferior to the original, others like M. Bison got weapons that helped out in specific matchups. For example, the Shadaloo dictator can use his new Psycho Punisher to squash fireball throwers.
The next major change was an across-the-board damage nerf. Most Ultras took less life, as did certain moves like Sagat’s Tiger Uppercut and Rufus’s EX Messiah Kick. While E. Honda got some improvements, the heavyweight became one of SSF4’s best largely because his worst matchups became easier.
Less-fortunate competitors also got improvements. Guile was one of “vanilla” SF4’s worst, and not only did Capcom address his weaknesses, but it also shortened the time needed to charge his Sonic Boom. Guile became a defensive menace who could frustrate and outlast most of the roster.
Not everyone was happy. Gen made some noise with his “MK to Hands” combos and an invincible EX Oga wall jump that helped him on defense, but Capcom decided to take away those tactics without giving him much in return. Balance is a tricky thing: Taking away a strong tool from an underused fighter may keep it from becoming an issue later, but it isn’t going to please character loyalists. Gen would have his day later on, however, after Singapore’s Xian used the master of the Mantis and Crane stances to conquer the Evolution 2013 tournament.
A new game also means new characters, including the oil wrestler Hakan and the evil taekwondo expert Juri. These warriors represented martial arts and play styles that never appeared in the series before. For example, Juri could hold onto her fireballs and release them later, letting her ward off incoming foes, extend attack strings, or terrorize them in the corner.
The rest of the additions came from previous titles. First up were the last of the Super Street Fighter II “New Challengers”: Dee Jay and T. Hawk. The Jamaican kickboxer is a well-rounded, charge-based competitor who is decent even though over the years he’s had trouble finding the right rhythm that would put him in the spotlight.
Before launch, enthusiasts pegged Street Fighter III boxer Dudley and Final Fight criminal Cody to be the new top tier because they had the versatile Ultras that SF4’s best had as well as answers to fireballs. They ended up being easy fights, however, for the likes of Chun-Li and M. Bison, who became better now that Ultra-Combo comebacks weren’t as dominant. Then again, everyone in SSF4 had a few bad matchups.
“Average” could be used to describe a lot of SSF4’s additions, many of whom were meant to inject more dynamic play into the game. Guy runs a fast-paced offense that works great when you have momentum, but getting it is a problem. Even then, however, SSF4 was very well-balanced, and you could play as most of the cast and win if you practiced enough.
The most memorable tournament match in SSF4’s lifetime involved someone with little hype surrounding him: Adon. During Evolution 2010, Taiwanese player Gamerbee eliminated Justin Wong, who many considered the United States’ best player. Gamerbee used Adon’s pressuring Jaguar Kicks and unusual quirks to edge out Wong’s Rufus.
Next Page: Street Fighter returns to arcades with new friends that players will get to know very, very well.
Super Street Fighter 4: Arcade Edition
Most people had a lot to like about SSF4, but Japanese arcades were still using the 17-character original edition. To address this, Capcom released Super Street Fighter 4: Arcade Edition to those amusement centers and later home consoles, which added SF3 legends Yun and Yang and tweaked the roster even further.
Then the developers thought: Nobody likes overpowered competitors, but wouldn’t the game be more interesting if it had a villain to rally against?
It’s impossible to talk about Arcade Edition without discussing Yun. The kung-fu teenager is a machine designed to whittle down the other player’s lifebar as efficiently as possible. Once inside, he had a plethora of ways to break defenses until he could activate his signature attack: The deadly custom-combo super Genei-Jin. His twin Yang was also dangerous, but didn’t have Yun’s pure offense.
Unlike previous new characters, the twins were obviously powerful and had advantages that others lacked. For example, previously Abel fought with frustrating mix-ups, but he had ho-hum reach, lousy defense, and suffered damage nerfs in this update. In contrast, Yun’s Nishokyaku dragon kick is a difficult-to-punish reversal, and he could approach easily with his Zesshou Hohou lunge punch and dive kick.
Not that Yun and Yang were the only top tiers in the game. By not suffering many nerfs and getting buffs in small-but-important areas, Fei-Long grew from average in SF4 to amazing in Arcade Edition. The Bruce Lee tribute could use his Rekkaken punches to bully opponents, especially in the corner where he could punish escape attempts. The Japanese Virtua Fighter player Fuudo took Evolution 2011 with the efficient fighter, and Fei Long rewarded those who can fight consistently well for years to come.
Players searched for warriors who could challenge the top tier. Grapplers like T. Hawk and Zangief forced the low-health twins to think before they attacked, while Sagat rose in prominence again. Unfortunately, it’s tough to tell if they really had an edge: Yun player Kazunoko once posted a match-up chart in which the only person who didn’t have a disadvantage against him was another Yun.
Tier lists began to gravitate towards fighters like C. Viper and Makoto who could quickly stun opponents and never give them a change to fight back. Makoto disappointed many fans in SSF4, but here she feels more like the karate monster she was in Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike.
The most-telling example of Arcade Edition’s balance comes from an exhibition at Norcal Regions 2011 between Daigo Umehara and Dhalsim expert Filipino Champ. In the beginning Daigo used his famed Ryu, and the two fought on even ground. In this video, Daigo switched to Yun and easily smothered the yoga master. The only round Champ won was when he connected both a Super Combo and an Ultra Combo.
Outside of dealing with the top-tier terrors, a lot of the roster benefited from Arcade Edition, where Capcom improved so-so characters and weakened abusive tactics. Teenage ninja Ibuki received new Target Combos and other changes to improve her core game at the cost of her kunai projectiles becoming less effective. Real ninjas don’t give second chances, and her ability to pester her target to death after one knockdown became infamous.
The final boss of Street Fighter 4 lost his stretching Jump Heavy Punch, which Zangief and others could do nothing against. In return, he got a boost to his laughably low health and tweaks to make him more aggressive. One of Evolution 2011’s biggest moments was when Korean player Poongko used his fearless Seth to squash Daigo’s Yun.
Later on, Capcom added Evil Ryu and Oni, though neither made the splash that the twins did. While Oni is based on Shin Akuma from previous games, he’s been changed drastically enough to be considered a brand-new character. His fireballs and Shoryuken are finicky, but in return he gets forbidden Marvel Vs. Capcom-esque techniques like the cross-up Demon Slash and a pseudo air dash. Oni and Evil Ryu disappointed fans who wanted more old favorites to return, but since I’m guaranteed to face them when I play online I’m sure the developers knew what they were doing.
People’s dissatisfaction with the top tier was clear. Still, one of my favorite moments when I went to CEO 2011 was seeing SeeDogPoo’s El Fuerte almost defeat Marn’s Yun. Everyone stopped what they were doing to watch the high-risk luchadore take on Goliath, even those who were playing their own matches. Did Capcom theoretically have the right idea?
Next page: Capcom attempts to make amends through a new patch.
Super Street Fighter 4: Arcade Edition Version 2012
Soon after Arcade Edition came back to consoles, Capcom updated the title into Version 2012, a free patch that came out in both arcades and consoles. Previous SF4 games have been criticized for rewarding safe defenses over aggressive play, while Arcade Edition tilted the balance too much towards offense. Version 2012 attempted to create a better harmony between the two approaches.
The nails that stick out are the first for Capcom to hammer down. Yang received a laundry list of damage reductions, smaller hitboxes on certain moves, and the removal of a post-knockdown invincibility glitch. Yun received a similar treatment, but Yang suffered more since he doesn’t possess the explosive momentum his brother does, and the developers later said that they punished him too hard.
On the other hand, Evil Ryu and Oni benefited from additional tweaks. More than just Ryu with some of Akuma’s moves, Evil Ryu had brutal combos and a useful Wheel Kick special, but wasn’t scary enough to warrant having very low vitality. The fallen hero gets a slight health boost and attack buffs like the ability to cancel his hop kick into a Hurricane Kick. Both practitioners became threats later on in the version’s life, with Evil Ryu taking the inaugural Capcom Cup thanks to the combo master Sako.
Some buffs amount to giving World Warriors like Ryu, Rose, Balrog, and Guile back things they shouldn’t have lost in the first place. Most agreed that in SSF4 Rose’s Soul Satellite Ultra worked too well as a risk-free escape move. Arcade Edition nerfed it, but also weakened other moves and added horrible fights against the twins on top of it. Version 2012 made Soul Satellite a bit better and undid nerfs dating back to the original Street Fighter 4. Her weak get-off-me moves, however, made her a prime target for what became this update’s strongest tactics.
Cammy replaced Yun as Version 2012’s biggest villain. While her Cannon Strike dive kick had more restrictions than earlier in the series, it left the opponent stunned for a long time on hit or on block. Coupled with her improved normal attacks, the British agent can quickly stun her target and win a match once she gains momentum. Like Akuma, Ibuki, Seth, and C. Viper, she also possessed hard-to-block “vortex” mixups after knocking her enemies down, and along with other fighters she had “unblockable” jump-in attack setups, a fault that has been in the series since Day 1 but has only became prevalent recently. These often character-specific tactics are actually blockable, but only with very precise timing due to a flaw in the game engine.
Knockdown-based mixups overshadowed other forms of offense. For example, Cody uses a strong ground game to hang button mashers with meaty hooks and crushing combos, but he has a terrible time escaping pressure if he falls. Someone like Cammy can open him up from a number of directions and make the other player look completely helpless. Frustrating does not mean unbeatable though — you can watch a second video where the same players have a completely different match here.
Some characters stood out in other ways. Sakura was bad in the original Street Fighter 4, but over the years she got boost after boost that gave her a very safe offense with her light Hurricane Kick as well as powerful stun combos. American player ChrisG ascended to dominance in Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, but he applied his same philosophy of taking control away from his rivals to become the sole US representative in 2013’s inaugural Capcom Cup with the schoolgirl.
Character diversity was still strong in this game despite the advantages of the best fighters thanks to top players sticking with their favorites and Capcom’s tinkering with those who hung around the bottom half of the cast. The Turkish wrestler Hakan is great when his attacks are powered up with Oil Shower, but his trouble getting and staying oiled up harmed his effectiveness. Arcade Edition made the oil effect longer and easier to maintain, and in Version 2012, he starts the match greased up. South Korean player Infiltration was a terror in 2012 thanks to his dominant Akuma and extensive match-up knowledge, but for the 2013 Evolution tournament he switched to Hakan (7:00 in the video) to outlast a surging PR Balrog.
Next Page: Ultra Street Fighter IV adds new mechanics and familiar faces.
Ultra Street Fighter IV
Arcade Edition 2012 lasted for over two years — the longest out of any version of Street Fighter IV — and for a while it seemed unlikely that Capcom would release another update. Tournaments still continued to rise in prominence as streaming grew in popularity and the publisher took a more active role through special events like the Street Fighter 25th Anniversary Tournament and the Capcom Cup. The community also grappled with longstanding issues like sexism, collusion, bracket floating, and unreliable payouts. Fans wanted more, so the developers gave them more. The result is Ultra Street Fighter IV, a new $15 upgrade, as well as the Capcom Pro Tour, which builds upon its earlier efforts by instituting a points system that will determine who makes it to this year’s finals in December.
Street Fighter X Tekken came out after Version 2012, and it became a solid, rewarding fighter after several patches. But early gameplay problems, an unnecessary Gem System, and fan backlash over Capcom’s dowloadable content practices suffocated its chances to grow in the competitive scene. Still, the game featured Poison, Hugo, Rolento, and Elena — characters who people have requested for years — so the developers imported them as well as a handful of stages over to Ultra SF4. It actually works out well. Final Fight alum Poison has a versatile moveset that she gained by purchasing a whip and watching bootleg footage of Ryu and Fei Long, but she didn’t fit in well at all in a game built around high-damage tag-team combos.
Out of the four SFxT newcomers, fans have clamored for Rolento the most. This soldier was a challenging boss in Final Fight, but he really rose into prominence in the Street Fighter Alpha series and Capcom vs. SNK 2 thanks to his multiple jump angles and his high-priority baton strikes. He’ll be a challenge to use, however, since his lower damage and poor escape options balance out his mobility.
Kenya’s capoeira queen also makes her long-awaited appearance in the SF4 series. Elena focuses on fast ground movement and tricky high/low mixups that she can employ from a fairly far range thanks to her long legs. These can lead to great rewards once she conditions her opponent to block. In this prerelease tournament [above], Justin Wong patiently pushes England’s Ryan Hart into the corner where his Sagat has to take risks to escape.
Ultra Street Fighter IV also adds the most game-changing mechanics to the series yet. Ultra Combo Double enables warriors like Blanka, who have two good Ultra Combos, to use both of them in the same match at the cost of reduced damage. EX Focus Attack uses half the super meter to absorb an infinite number of hits as well as opens up new combo possibilities. Capcom fixed air attacks that created unblockable situations (well, not all of them), but also added the capability to delay your warrior’s wakeup. These additions will hopefully place emphasis back on classic fundamentals and outwitting your opponent, as well as give perennial SF4 underdogs more options.
Capcom also announced a new character for the update and spent the better part of the year teasing who it was. She’s a woman. She appeared in comic books before. She’s speedy. Fans had wild guesses like Gouken’s daughter or R. Mika’s wrestling partner, but they expected more than Decapre, the blatant Cammy clone the company revealed at Atlanta’s Final Found tournament. Disappointment aside, M. Bison’s masked assassin is actually an interesting addition with charge-based moves, fast strikes, and scary teleport mixups. If only she wasn’t the centerpiece of an extended guessing game that hid how, despite having so many additions on paper, USF4 doesn’t have much in terms of 100% new content.
This update is also represents Capcom’s largest attempt to gain fan input on balance changes as it hosted demos at major tournaments throughout development. For example, Ken now has a faster walkspeed and gains improved attacks to emphasize his persona as the aggressive counterpart to Ryu. The biggest change, however, was the team’s decision to nerf invincible moves like Ken’s Shoryuken. Previously, players could use Focus Cancels to make these techniques safe and maintain their offense without much risk. Now doing so is more punishable, forcing players to think before they uppercut.
So, is the game more balanced than before? If you can gleam anything from this article, it’s that the perception of who is great changes over time, and the developers can only do so much to anticipate imbalances. The console version of USF4 has already removed a planned improvement to Dhalsim’s medium kick that made it extremely difficult for the screen-covering heavyweight Hugo to get near him in the arcade version. But you don’t pick Hugo because of matchup numbers or tier lists, do you? You pick that German monster because his gargantuan power will leave the other guy fuming. Hugo is in your soul!
So pick who you have fun with. Your World Warrior is going to have things about them you don’t like or have enemies that have a hard time overcoming, but you should use someone you like if you’re going to spend the time and energy it takes to get even remotely good in this game. The tool that will improve your skill the most isn’t who you play as, but your attitude.