Street Fighter has captivated millions of fans around the world since its inception in 1987. Over the last twenty years, movies, comics, action figures, and multiple video game iterations have kept Street Fighter fanatics coming back for more. Then, suddenly, there was a void of nearly ten years without a new release in the franchise. Street Fighter fans were left wondering if they were forever doomed to suffocate on rereleases of rereleases for the rest of their lives. That is, until 2008, when Street Fighter IV gave fans a much needed breath of fresh air.

First off, the most important element in any fighting game is the gameplay. The battles take place on a 2D plane inside a 3D environment. From the minute your thrust into combat, the controls feel polished, precise and like the old Street Fighter. Whether you’re a beginner or veteran Street Fighter player, even in normal mode – one of eight difficulty settings in the game – expect to be challenged. There is a new feature, called the focus attack. In order to pull off this move, you have to stand still and hold down both medium punch and kick buttons, making you vulnerable to attack, but you can always cancel and dash out of it. Once it’s charged though, if you land a hit, you can incapacitate your opponent and follow up with an unblockable attack, like a super combo. Like previous games in the series, SFIV lets you perform powerful moves using the game’s EX and Revenge feature. The EX meter fills as you dish out damage and the Revenge meter fills as you receive it. Depending on how you choose to approach your battle, a well timed EX super combo can tip the odds in your favor or a Revenge combo can bring you back from the brink of defeat and help you on your way past your rival and ultimately conquer the end boss, Seth.

As great as the game is, there were a couple things I found that would help improve the gameplay. Whenever you charge an opponent and are face to face with them, if you attack, your opponent’s body will slide over magically and be orientated on the opposite side of your body. Your character will then automatically orientate itself so you’re facing your opponent. It is somewhat jarring and in some instances stopped me from performing a combo and even a finishing move. Something that has always bothered me, in any fighting game, is the poor use of the analog stick, and SFIV is no different. Now I am old school and if given a choice would prefer the use of an arcade stick over a Playstation or Xbox 360 controller any day as far as fighting games go, but not everyone can afford the $60 and above arcade stick prices out there, especially if it’s just for one game. The analog stick should serve as an amicable substitute, especially since most console players by now are dependent on the use of the analog stick for every video game, but that in this case. Hadoukens, the most basic move in Street Fighter, are nearly impossible to pull off. I wasn’t able to pull off one successful combo string longer than three hits, with any character. And don’t even try a super EX or Revenge combo, you’re liable to break your thumb. Since the analog sticks are pretty much useless, why not use them as a gameplay element? A focus attack, EX or Revenge combo can be a simple flick or button press of the analog stick, instead of an elaborate set of predetermined button presses. The use of the analog sticks would feel less robotic and could help gameplay.

There are also plenty of game modes to help you fine tune some of the new features, like the focus attack, which has a different animation for each character, or just polish your fighting skills. There are a multitude of challenge modes to choose from. In Trial mode, you learn introductory and advanced moves. In Survival mode, depending on the level, you have to defeat a certain amount of opponents. As you progress through levels, the number of opponents you have to defeat increases and so does the difficulty. Time Attack mode works almost the same way, except you’re given a certain amount of time to defeat all your opponents. There’s also a training mode in which you train and try and perfect your skills. The cool thing about this mode is you can preset up to nine moves on your opponent, then try and dodge the moves and hone your reflexes. While all these modes are great and have a lot to offer, the online mode is what will keep players wanting to play SFIV for a long time. You can jump online whenever you want and challenge anyone at your skill level and start making your way up the leaderboards. There is never really any noticeable lag, but there were some hiccups here and there with the frame rate, but nothing game changing. For the most part, you never leave a battle feeling the better man didn’t win. If you don’t like any of these modes, you can always stick to the tried-and-true classic Arcade mode. My one complaint though of all these modes was the “Survival” mode. I wish there was more of a do or die sense of urgency to this mode. The object is to survive. Give the player one life bar which doesn’t replenish after every fight and see how many opponents the player can defeat before losing. Even the hard core players would find this mode challenging.

The game also features a gorgeous visual presentation. Now I am not a huge graphics person, I will always choose substance over style, but on many occasions I found myself staring at the beautiful sun as it glistened off the water on the new stage Beautiful Bay. Old stages, like Chun-Li’s fish market and Guile’s Air Force base, also make a vibrant return to the series. It would be nice to be able to fight in different areas of the stage or make part of the stage part interactive. Take Beautiful Bay for instance. Imagine getting hit off the boat and falling into the water, climbing back onto the boat, dripping wet, and continuing the fight. It would intensify the battle. The character’s cel-shaded models also look fantastic. At first I didn’t quite like the steroid look to most of the characters. I got over it quickly, however, while watching their fluid animations in battle as their facial expressions contort in pain with each blow and eyes bulge in slow motion as you successfully pull off an EX or Revenge combo. The only thing I didn’t like about the visuals was the poorly drawn anime cut scenes that start and end a character’s adventure. The in-game graphics are amazing. They should have used them. They really dropped the ball here.

The audio in the game is also remarkable. Crowds cheer, water splashes, barrels rattle as a body hits the ground, birds chirp inside their cages, and steam erupts in a factory. All of it helps immerse the player in these fabulous stages. I didn’t particularly mind the theme intro to the game, but a lot of my friends who played the game did. Purists are given the option to choose between Japanese and English voice-overs, but I’ve always felt the English voice acting has managed to do a great job.

Street Fighter IV has come back with a vengeance. Whether you’re new to the game or an old school Street veteran, everyone will walk away satisfied. The graphics, gameplay, and limitless online replay-ability make Street Fighter IV not only the best fighting game in the series, but one of the best fighting games ever.

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