Super Street Fighter IV Impressions

Super Street Fighter 4 CoverAs mentioned in my previous article, Street Fighter 4 has become THE fighting game phenomenon of recent years, and with good reason. Released to consoles early 2009 and backed by a fantastic media campaign, Capcom gave fans a stunning, well-balanced mix of old and new. Refreshing the memories of old fans while simultaneously creating new ones, the fighting game was resurrected.


Its update/sequel/expansion recently hit stores in April, offering new characters, new ultras, and a fantastic replay system along with improved online matchmaking and play. As I do not actually own a copy of the game, this article will only be my initial impressions on these topics. Currently released on 360 and PS3, an arcade version is planned for the near future, with a PC version yet unannounced and conspicuously absent.


Certainly, the most exciting addition to the game are the ten new fighters. Street Fighter 4, for all of the internet complaints, already had a varied cast of 25 well-balanced characters. So it would seem that the hardest and most difficult thing to do would be to add a large number of new challengers, each of which could cause their own global and character-level matchup problems. However, Capcom has seemed readily up to the task of balancing in recent years and appears to have indeed further improved overall balance with their tweaking, despite adding new characters into the mix. First, let's talk about these new fighters...


Super Street Fighter 4 Hakan


Hakan is our first brand-new fighter in Super Street Fighter 4. He is a Turkish oil wrestler and possibly the most ridiculous character yet in Street Fighter history, which is...impressive. Hakan's moveset and attributes revolve around overall slipperiness and getting "oiled up" to augment his abilities. You haven't lived until you've been vicariously grabbed, spun and accelerated around his slippery body, then propelled into a nearby wall (my apologies for the mental imagery). His is the father of seven daughters and the president of an olive oil company, searching the world for the perfect olive oil.



Super Street Fighter 4 Juri


Juri (Joo-Ri) is our other first-time challenger. Her background is of a South Korean S.I.N. Agent, although she doesn't seem to exactly prioritize loyalty. A bit of a sexpot, Juri plays around with her prey before, during, and presumably after finishing them (no innuendo there, I promise). Her fighting style is fairly unique, utilizing dive kicks, pinwheels, counters, and the ability to "store" up to three different directional fireballs by keeping buttons depressed after the initial move completion. Special abilities are powered by her implanted left eye, given by the S.I.N. organization.



Super Street Fighter 4 Adon


Adon, one of the original street fighters, returns in SSF4, on his constant quest to prove himself the best and regain his throne from Sagat. Always full of brazen confidence, Adon fights largely with his legs and Muy Thai "jaguar" kicks (to contrast Sagat's "tiger"). And most importantly, he brings with him a remixed version of his amazing Alpha stage theme.



Super Street Fighter 4 Thawk



Returning from Super Street Fighter 2 (and Alpha 3) is everyone's favorite Mexican-Indian, T. Hawk. A giant, slow-moving character, he moves around and attacks with quick "condor" lunges while looking for the opportunity for 360 grapples. He returns to again find his missing sister Julia, who gets caught up in more trouble.




Super Street Fighter 4 Deejay


Continuing along on Super Stereotype Fighter 2 returners, they also bring back our favorite musical Jamaican, Dee Jay. Dee Jay's moveset contains a variety of charge attacks, including a fireball, uppercut and some ground melee abilities. I don't remember exactly why he came back, assumedly because of "something something the beat something mon." In case you can't tell, I never found him too unique or interesting, in spite of the creepy smile perpetually painted on his face.



Super Street Fighter 4 guy


Straight from the streets of Metro City returns the philosophical do-gooder, Guy. A swift, quick-hitting character that can easily hit high or low, he combines speed with the illusion of power, and it works well in a unique way. He returns to street fighting to do more good and stop the reign of Seth or something. More importantly, he helps save and revive Rose out of Bison's clutches during his ending.




Super Street Fighter 4 CodyAnd of course, you can't add Guy without Cody. Both former Final Fight protagonists and rivals for Haggar's daughter Jessica, their lives took completely different paths. Cody won over Jessica but their happiness didn't last long, as he grew tired of the peaceful life. Jessica moved to study in Europe and Cody returned to the streets as a highly skilled vigilante thug. Eventually, he was caught and jailed by the Metro City authorities. But again bored, this time from jail life, he broke out during the events of Alpha 3 and again now for SSF4. His moveset puts this new life on display, as he fights with rocks, knifes and even wrenches and full pipes hidden in his prison outfit (along with being more homages to the original sidescroller). In my opinion, he's easily one of the more interesting characters in the series. At the end of the story after helping to defeat Seth, he meets up with Guy, denies any altruistic intentions and heads back, returning to his jail cell.



Super Street Fighter 4 Dudley


Three characters return from Street Fighter 3, the first being Dudley. Dudley is a proper British gentlemen boxer, fighting to get his mind off a missing car while still searching for the perfect rose. His moveset includes dash punches, an uppercut, a leaping downward and probably some other things I don't remember since I hardly played SF3. Notably, he still has his "rose throw" taunt, which is the only taunt in the game that can hit and interrupt your opponent (along with Dan, whose jumping and crouching taunts properly hit again, even if they still sadly don't build meter).



Super Street Fighter 4 Makoto


Makoto made her first appearance in SF3: Third Strike as a fairly traditional karate expert. Somewhat of a tomboy in voice and appearance, she has learned an aggressive fighting style, combining comboable grabs and powerful blows. As seen by the return of the groin punch, she spares no strike on the pursuit to victory. Her character walk speed is remarkably slow yet is capable of an remarkably fast dash. Makoto is motivated to fight to restore her family's dojo to its former glory, although she comes away with little tangible benefits towards the cause by the end of SSF4.



Super Street Fighter 4 Ibuki


Last but not least, Ibuki's on the scene as our first legitimate playable ninja in the series (Guy's more of a combination brawler). She's a Japanese teenager who hails from a ninja training village but can't help showing her youthful optimism and desires. Ibuki's attacks are very fluid, with rapid quick strikes and gameplay focused largely around creating space with her throwing knives. In proper Japanese style, she has a pet Tanuki, a mythical racoon-dog.




Beside the new characters, the gameplay and old characters are largely the same. Each character has their little balance tweaks here or there, but the most interesting additions for most people are the new ultra attacks. As in Street Fighter 3, you are given the option to choose one of these two unique attacks and are stuck with the choice for the entire match. In general, the second ultras in this game offer good variety from the first. In the original SF4, many characters had either high-damage ultras that were hard to connect or lower-damage ultras that were easily comboed into. In Super, more characters now have both options, which helps to even things at all levels of play and reduces the "my ultra is useless" feeling.


As mentioned earlier, Super Street Fighter 4 contains a fantastic replay system, and one that is infinitely improved from the original. Looking back, Street Fighter 4 only offered one uploaded replay per account. When you become a championship mode winner and surpass your previous championship point high in doing so, you had the option to upload a replay, which was your only replay available in the system. You were able to locally save a handful of replays, but again you were very limited to what you could save, being only able to view current top replays on the overall network or from your friend lists. In Super, your last "x" fights are automatically saved locally as replays and can be watched or permanently saved at any time. Super's championship mode is not yet released, but players are currently given uploads for progression in ranked matches. I'm not exactly sure how this works, but I believe you're awarded an upload each time you pass a certain battle point amount for each character. If it indeed works this way, it could be a very interesting system that lets you view the progression of your skill with each character as you learn them.


In addition, you can head to the replay channel and view others' replays or top-ranked replays (I believe) to your heart's content. Currently the main channel browsing system is a bit awkward, limiting players to pick one of a few channels based on initial character appearance (eg: Original, Boss, Alpha channels). I have a feeling this system will be tweaked during the championship mode update, hopefully allowing users to directly view replays by character or battle points (and at that time, championship points). As it is, the system already vastly improves on the original and the replay channels are a great way to casually watch some gameplay when you don't feel like actually playing.


Yet the number one greatest complaint about the original was the poor matchmaking system. Each time you wanted a championship, ranked, or casual match, you either created a room or tried your luck with 'quick match.' Quick match then gave you three challenger rooms to pick from. However, with how the system worked, these rooms generally ended up being full or otherwise error out each time by the time you chose one. This naturally caused many frustrations and for good reason, because the system was anything but user friendly or intuitive. Super fixes some of these problems. Now quick match automatically searches and puts you in a room instead of making you go through the step of manually joining one. However, errors still occur far too often, making it still easier and quicker to create a match each time. Again, I hope they'll make a more intelligent matchmaking system at the patch so most of these joining errors can be avoided (I really don't understand why they would ever happen or why they'd need to bump the player back to search again on error when they obviously just want to get in a game). I can't be too optimistic considering how they've been unable to fix the problem yet. As far as latency concerns, Super seems better at displaying actual latency and connection strength between players. Green means "good-to-go," with pretty much a perfect connection. Yellow means you may very well have some issues during the match. Red means "good luck." Most of the time, the new matchmaking system will pair you with green connections with nary any noticeable lag.


Benefits of the new online system are not just matchmaking and replay improvements, but two new much appreciated modes. Endless battle is pretty much what it sounds like, essentially a wait-your-turn arcade line. Each room holds up to eight players, with only two playing at a time. The winner of the fight stays and the loser gets booted to the end of the line. In the meantime, the rest of the room watches the current match and can comment on the happenings via voice chat. This mode has been in other fighting games before but is new to Street Fighter, and is potentially very beneficial to player development. Such a mode offers: increased motivation to win as you're kicked to the back upon a loss, increased knowledge and recognition by watching generally superior players play, learning how to get over nerves and play well in front of crowds, and requiring the ability to adapt as people have been watching you play and will counter your tendencies if you continue to do the same things.


The other added mode is team battle. Once the room is formed (again, with a maximum of eight I believe), the players are divided into two teams. The players at the top of each team start off and fight. The loser is crossed off and the winner then plays the next one down on the opposing team. This goes on until one team is fully eliminated. This mode offers most of the benefits of endless battle with an additional team motivation element.


As far as initial impressions go, I have been very impressed with the game and with how Capcom handled this sequel on relatively short development time. Street Fighter 4 was already the top of its class and Super cements its status as THE fighting game to play for at least the next couple years (well, perhaps it can share a bit with Marvel 3). However, my playtime is limited as my only hands-on experience with the game is on a friend's 360. Patiently waiting for a PC version, I'm out.  Enjoy these previews.