When the last ‘proper’ Street Fighter came out, almost 10 years ago, it’s safe to say that the fighters had lost much of their appeal and the fanbase they enjoyed during their heyday of the early ’90s. Street Fighter 3 3rd Strike didn’t exactly make much of an impact, with old favorites Ryu and Ken joining a bunch of weirdos and misfits many people couldn’t care less about. It was a beautiful, technical, stunningly animated fighter but it simply didn’t strike a chord with the masses. Had the fighting legend lost its way?
A little, maybe. One Alpha, VS or Marvel crossover too many perhaps? Could Street Fighter, godfather of fighting games, ever regain it status? After countless bouts with the arcade version of Street Fighter IV we can say a resounding, “YES”. For Fighter veterans, playing SF4 for the first time feels familiar – some might, justifiably, argue it’s a little too familiar. The old, 12-strong cast of original world warriors and bosses are back, from Ryu and Ken, Chun-Li and Blanka to Vega and Bison. They feel the same, their moves are largely the same (at least in execution) and anyone who grew up with the series will feel instantly at home. But thankfully there are some very important differences this time around – and every single one of them is a positive step forward.
To start with, any newcomers to the series, used to the ease of play of something like Soul Calibur needn’t be intimidated. Dragon-punching, spinning bird-kicking and executing the simpler two- and three-hit combos is now much, much easier and far less technical. The timing required to pull off special moves is far more generous and so the barrier to entry, for actually enjoying yourself against skilled opponents, has been lowered. It’s no longer about whether you can pull moves off, rather, will you use them appropriately or try to link them into more complex combos?
One example of this accessibility is the new focus attack. Rather than the tough and technical ‘Parry’ move from 3rd Strike, holding down both medium attacks will charge up a powerful blow as well as give you the opportunity to absorb an attack. Unleashing it will temporarily stun an opponent, giving you the opportunity for a free hit. There’s now a great fight-leveler too, so anyone taking a beating has the chance to make a dramatic Spice Girls-like comeback. Lose enough health, and your ‘Ultra’ is activated, which allows you to execute a last ditch super-powerful attack to get you back into the fight.