Ultra Street Fighter IV Review
Reviewed on Sony PlayStation 3Also available on Microsoft Xbox 360 and PC
Street Fighter IV is one of the games of the last console generation. It single-handedly made the beat ‘em up genre cool again and is wholly responsible for the variety and quantity of one on one, two on two and three on three beat ‘em ups that exist today on home consoles, PC and handhelds. Not only that, but it’s reignited professional fighting game competition by providing a swathe of new games to play. The thing is, have any of them topped Street Fighter III: Third Strike in terms of being the number one go to championship fighter? In the case of everything which isn’t Street Fighter no, not at all. With Ultra Street Fighter IV Capcom have reason to believe this is it. The final version of the wonderful 2.5D fighter has added content of course, but it’s rebalanced the characters and match-ups once more, fixed everything which was broken and added techniques and abilities which will aid fighters across the world in defeating all comers. There is no question as to the overall quality of this finest fighter from the company which knows truly what makes one on one competition tick. The question is have Capcom done what’s needed from a professional point of view, and if so, has it dampened the fun of the less capable players?
First of all then, what has been added with this Ultra edition to the immense quantity of content already existing from the original, Super and Arcade Editions of the game? We have six new stages and five new fighters. Of the five new fighters, four have all been playable in other Street Fighters but one, Decapre, is brand new. She is one of M. Bison’s dolls, a clone of Cammy created for pure evil, obviously. Despite being a clone of Cammy and looking like it, she’s very much a Bison-type character, looking like a cross between the Dictator himself and Vega, and with a charge-style fighting setup. The other four new additions to the roster have all been seen in this generation’s crossover Street Fighter X Tekken as well as previous Street Fighters, but they haven’t simply been picked up from the aforementioned game and dropped into this one. No, they’ve had to be changed in terms of styles and movesets to ensure they can match the pace of gameplay which is much quicker. Poison can be played by anyone familiar with the shoto characters (e.g. Ryu and Ken) as she has a fireball-type special as well as a leg-led Dragon Punch simile. Hugo is a brawler twice the size of Zangief, Hakan, Abel and Rufus and can be played in pretty much the same way, at least to begin with. Rolento is one of the most challenging to get to grips with. He of course has a lot of moves anyone who’s played before can pull off - for example, he has quarter circle and punch moves in the forward and backward directions just like a shoto, but he also has unique moves possible thanks to his walking stick/pogo stick - whatever kind of stick he has. Elena is another who’s curious to play with thanks to her floaty jump and vast number of unique moves. It’s unlikely anyone new to these last two will get going with them unless they spend the required amount of time learning how to play effectively with them. It’s possibly not worth the effort if you don’t get a good feeling early on - their nascent tier levels (expected rank versus other characters when controlled by players of equal skill) are around thirty, so a long way off where you’d want to be. Of course, unless you’re actually rather good tiering is irrelevant, but despite the fact we at The Digital Fix Towers are very much around the mean of quality distribution we still look at the tiers as if it will help us. Maybe one day.
More interesting than the cast additions - taking the total playable character list to a whopping forty-four, by the way - is the selection of new techniques brought in by Capcom to try and help further rebalance the game in addition to eliminating that which is broken in previous editions. What was broken for example, was the fact that in competitive play you’d find people doing what Seth does in the single-player game, whereby you just can’t get out of the cycle of being destroyed, if the opponent takes their opportunity. Also, for those who knew how to dole out certain sequences of moves they could get a bonus hit at the end which was unavoidable for the person being attacked. Often this would happen randomly in casual fights but if you knew what you were doing you could get that extra bit of health taken away. Such events have now been removed from the realms of possibility.
There are three significant new techniques which aim to mix things up a little alongside the fixing of the problems which plagued the title. The most straightforward and a boon to all players is the Ultra Combo double. Until now, on choosing your fighter you’ve had to choose which Ultra Combo you wanted to take into battle. Sometimes it was as simple as the fact that one you knew how to pull off, and the other you didn’t (take Akuma’s options for instance, one requires proper memory skills). Other times it was a choice between the turtle’s long-range attack - Ryu’s Hadouken variant for instance - and a close-range attack. Here you can go into battle with both, with the attack output of each reduced slightly accordingly. This means you can keep your opponent guessing. They don’t know that if they’re far away you will never connect with your game-changing Ultra. Of course, it does mean you might not change things as much if you underestimated the reduction in attack power. But still, if you can pull off each Ultra and are able to do so in the contest itself, it provides further strategic paths to success.
We also have delayed standing. You get knocked down and you get up again. It was always the same duration on the floor, though. Now when you’re hit hard you can press a pair of buttons and you’ll stay down for an extra eleven frames. Yes it’s always eleven, so you can’t mix it up entirely but as with the Ultra Combo double addition you now have two knock-down times to juggle as the hit and two to think about as the hitter. Which fireball do you launch to get your opponent when they’re up?
The third, and perhaps most powerful, additional technique is the red focus attack. It’s utterly wonderful. Like the Ultra is a game-changing tool, this is too. If you hold light punch, medium punch and medium kick you perform a red focus attack. This feels utterly impenetrable as it has infinite super armour. It can be beaten with an armour-breaking move, however. It’s powerful then, oh yes, but it costs two bars of your EX meter accordingly. So you are limited in how often you can use this - and when - and rightly so. But if used properly it can devastate someone if you connect after feeling nothing from the barrage taken. Equally if you see an opponent doing it you know not to waste an attack, or jump in. Take your time and ride it out. Then they’re low on EX and got nothing from it. Easier said than done, of course.
Alongside all the wonderful and oh-so-tasty additions to your fighter’s toolkit is the continued - for the final time? - rebalancing of each avatar. Sagat is still supremely nerfed compared to his original Street Fighter IV self and Akuma is still top dog, but others have moved around quite a bit. T. Hawk is now not utterly pointless for the top players, whilst Cammy is enticing to all for multiple reasons. Ryu and Ken sit next to each other unsurprisingly but Evil Ryu trumps all of the shotos. Dan, poor Dan, sits proudly at number forty-four as he was always destined to do. It is still the greatest wind-up when beating a mate in multiplayer as Dan, shooting various fireballs along the way.
It’s not all about the gameplay either - there is a lot of change going on to improve gamer service. We can upload fight replays direct to YouTube. We can be practicing in our training mode with fight request on so that we’ve honed our skills before a new challenger arrives - rather than doing one or the other. There’s a team battle mode now where you can partake in three on three matches with a boost to health the more you win. Excitingly you can choose which version of a character you want to play as, i.e. you can choose to play as Street Fighter IV Sagat compared to his Ultra version. This is only in offline gaming of course but it’s fantastic that you once more get the opportunity to devastate everyone with the true power of the tiger. Online gaming is as good as always with clear information regarding someone’s connection quality ensuring that if you choose correctly the fight itself will not suffer from lag. In turn, it ensures the online aspect of this game maintains its front-running position.
Ultimately, what we’ve got here is absolutely zero failure in making the ultimate version of one of the greatest fighting games known to man. This is every bit ultra street fighting and Capcom deserve all manner of goodwill for continuing to develop their stunning game for casual sofa fighters and professional contestants alike. In our opinion this provides the quality needed to ensure it remains a tournament favourite for years and it’s definitely one which will stand shoulder to shoulder with Third Strike even if it’s unlikely to ever eliminate it. In so doing, it remains a game for the less capable to play. It’s still fun. It still guarantees joy and excitement and wow moments combined with facepalms. It’s fundamentally brilliant. It shouldn’t be touched again though. Let us enjoy this and hope Capcom go away now and do once again what they did here, and generate a new fighting game for the new generation of consoles.