In the spirit of the upcoming release of Super Street Fighter IV and the likely impending release of BlazBlue: Continuum Shift, I figure it’s appropriate to do a Late Bird Review of the two fighting games, starting with SF4. And if I truly feel like it, I'll release the reviews for King of Fighters XII and Tekken 6.
I’ll start off by saying that, out of the four games I mentioned, BlazBlue and Tekken are the two best games in my opinion. So if you were looking for a review praising Street Fighter IV, yet again, for “re-revolutionizing the fighting genre” and “bringing it back to life” you won’t find it here. As a major fan of fighting games, I never really felt that the genre was dead, or that we needed Street Fighter to get it back on its feet. With the relatively frequent releases of King of Fighters (despite the outdated graphics), continuous releases in the Guilty Gear franchise—including Guilty Gear: Accent Core Plus, which extended the Guilty Gear XX storyline—and the constant updates to the cult favorite Melty Blood (if you don’t know it, look it up, it’s the player’s choice at EVO this year), I didn’t have to use nostalgia to enjoy a fighting genre.
This however, is what Street Fighter IV preys upon. Ten years after the glorious release of Street Fighter III and the subsequent updates to turn it into one of, if not the best 2-D fighting game of all time: Street Fighter III Third Strike, the fighting juggernaut returns. Yet much like how III was very different from the previous, the latest installment was another drastic change. After all the supers, turbos, alphas, and ex’s added to the Street Fighter II universe, the new roster of III was a welcomed change. III introduced brand new characters, the idea of taunts with bonus enhancements, and the system that gave true experts a better chance of getting Perfects on their opponents. The parry system was something I was expecting to see brought into SF4 considering it was such a revolutionary idea when it first arrived. It allowed the player to take a risk by stepping forward at the right moment to block any attack while taking no chipping damage. The system, as well as the graphic engine is regarded by many as the closest to perfect a 2-D drawn fighting game can get.
I was a little disappointed to find that the original release of IV would include almost nothing from Third Strike other than a slight nod to the parry system, called the “focus attack,” which will be discussed later. Though, the lack of a good story in a Street Fighter game hadn’t changed. SF has never been known for having the most intense storyline, thus IV’s won’t be examined in this review. Instead let’s talk about the presentation.
The art style had changed to a mix between 3-D and 2-D. The game still only played on two plains, but the characters and backgrounds were rendered in a three-dimensional art style that, at times, was cartoonish. This didn’t keep me from being interested though. I wanted to see the fireballs, ultra moves, and animations in high definition. For the most part, it didn’t disappoint in the visual department. The colors were vibrant, the fireballs mesmerizing to look at, and the art style was definitely distinct.
The backgrounds themselves looked good with animated characters behind the fighters and the occasional intentional hiccup that a fighter might cause like knocking over some barrels from being blasted by a fireball. Many of the backgrounds are bright to show off some flash and flare while others are dark to show the engine’s capabilities. But as for the characters, since the game’s release, the goofy stupid cartoon effect hasn’t aged well, in my opinion.
Seeing the absurd faces on the characters when they get hit by an ultra isn’t all that amusing; it just makes the characters look foolish. The art-style itself is relatively unique with a few nods to brush strokes common in Asian art or calligraphy. But after seeing BlazBlue and Tekken 6,Street Fighter IV was wise to be the first to come out and to carve out that niche between 2-D and 3-D, because the other two games are the best looking of their dimensions.
As for the audio department, it was a satisfying experience. Music from Street Fighter II had been remixed and produced for particular character themes and new music was composed for the common backgrounds. There are some songs on the soundtrack that I’d highly recommend, despite the fact that they loop after a minute or so. The sound effects for the impacts, focus attacks, and special moves were pleasant to hear as always. The sound I found most satisfying was the shattering of glass when breaking through someone’s “focus guard.” The ability to switch languages on each individual character was refreshing and useful as I found appreciation for Balrog’s English-speaking voice while preferring to listen to Ken in Japanese. Perhaps not the most accurate when it comes to character profiles, but Tekken had people speaking different languages at each other in the same conversation, so I can’t be that far out of line.
The main problem I have with SF4 is actually its gameplay mechanics. When it first came out, I got sucked into the hype and desperately wanted to play a high-definition fighting game; what better place to start, right? But the game felt sluggish and slow, the system was unbalanced, and the roster was rather disappointing.
Unlike previous SF games or other fighting games like King of Fighters, there was no run or much of a dash. Characters had pathetic hops to get them across the screen without resorting to special moves. The only other way to get across the screen quickly was jump, which left players extremely vulnerable as there was no air-block in the game. Not to mention, there were quite a few characters that had some powerful anti-air abilities. With Super SF4 and the likely to follow Super SF4 Turbo Gold Edition or whatever they come up with, the speed will hopefully be increased and characters won’t feel so glued to the ground.
The system itself was also not up to par with its previous installment. The parry system was a genius concept that was carried out to near perfection in Third Strike. It’s a game that I respect, but I know I have no hope of mastering like some other more talented players. IV uses the “focus attack” system that allows for the fighter to charge an unblockable attack. While charging, one hit is permitted without stopping the player from charging the attack. This permitted hit drains a small amount of the fighter’s health that can be recovered after a few seconds, as well as charge up his or her “ultra meter.” If the fully powered focus attack is unleashed, or the player gets a “counter hit” with it, their opponent crumples to the ground allowing for a follow-up. The “free hit” is similar to the parry system as an offensive way to be defensive, but the developers included something that practically broke the system.
Instead of making the focus attack universal to all moves, each character has a special move or two that can break through that guard instantly, without having to hit the opponent a second time. Doing this renders the focus attack practically useless since it takes so long to charge and often has a short range; most people could pull off two quick jabs anyway, they didn’t need to make it weaker. At least you can cancel the move and escape quickly enough. I believe the reason behind this is that the developers wanted to have something like the parry system that was simple enough for the casual fighters to use.
The other thing about the system that makes it unbalanced is the character roster. The roster was completely made up of Street Fighter II with a few extras from Turbo and the Alpha series. None from III were to be found. And some characters distinctly got love over some others. The 4 characters completely new to the SF universe (excluding secret characters) weren’t given much priority, let alone an interesting background. Viper has low HP and has to work hard to do damage. Fuerte is just a stupid character who relies on the ability to cross up his opponents. Rufus has jiggle physics on his stomach and uses techniques that make me cry for Yang and Yun from III. Abel, seemingly the strongest one, has amnesia for his background story. Yawn.
Particular returning characters were given a great deal of love by the developers, namely Sagat and Zangief. The Russian wrestler’s moves take top priority on most accounts and cause the most damage of any moves in the game if they connect. Sagat’s priority is so overwhelming that his moves allow even the amateurs to keep pros in the corner with spamming fireballs and devastating anti-airs; all of his moves require very little recovery time, allowing him to dominate. If the lingo is difficult to follow, simply put: he can keep you wherever he wants you on the screen with little penalty or opportunity for punishment. It makes for frustrating battles against opponents who constantly back up, blast projectiles, and counter jumps with devastating attacks until the fight is over.
Finally there’s the issue of multiplayer. With so many games utilizing online play, there is no excuse for a fighting game of this generation to not have internet battles. Overall, the net-code could use a little refinement. The matchmaking system doesn’t work well and can be frustrating to navigate. You can spend more time looking for a match than playing one. There are different methods to fight random players online, but it just seems weird that it’s faster to fight the computer and allow for challengers to interrupt, when all you want to do is fight human opponents.
As for the matches themselves, the lag is a bit of an issue. It is by no means the worst lag I’ve seen in a fighting game of this generation, but if you aren’t in a friend match, it is enough of a delay to cripple your skills. SF4’s combo system is simple in that the number of hits characters can pull off in a single combo remain pretty low and in order to get them much higher, a player has to be extremely accurate with the timing of each attack. The timing, being the very thing that is thrown off by the lag online, prevents online matches from being much fun in comparison to matches in the same room. Like I said, it isn’t horrible and there have been some matches that are hardly bothered by lag, but they are hard to come by. (This is, by the way, my experience on the PS3. I’m certain the lag is much less significant or frequent on XBL, but still this is no excuse for a fighting game, in my opinion.)
I’m a little hopeful but also apprehensive about Super SF4. They’ve added more characters to the mix (including a few from III), new ultra moves, and have rebalanced the system. Maybe certain characters that were overpowered won’t be so dominating and the small timing issues online will be resolved as well. But until that happens, I’m going to continue playing BlazeBlue, a game that got it right and deserves more than being a fighting game overshadowed by the all-powerful Street Fighter.