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Street Fighter IV on iPhone – hands-on

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It’s tough being Capcom. There are fanboys of every stripe in the gaming world, but rarely are there more rabid and stubborn fans than those of fighting games. Die-hards analyze every frame and gameplay change down to its core, and they petition endlessly for their favorite obscure character to be included in every game Capcom releases. They are, like most fanboys, impossible to please, and their dedication to the little things causes a switch to flip in their heads when major changes come along. “ABORT ABORT,” their minds say, “It is inconceivable that this can work.” Such is the case with the Street Fighter IV port coming to iPhone.

After some actual hands-on time with the game, it’s nice to see the pessimists were wrong.

Set for release in March, SF IV on the iPhone is impressive, in that it feels very close to its console sibling. The game looks fantastic; the Ultra Combo animations are still there, and the action is incredibly fluid. The menus and sound effects are all identical to the console version, right down to the music for the character select menu. Playing a versus battle over Bluetooth had no noticeable lag, and connected fairly quickly. The game also features a Dojo mode that works similarly to the console version’s Trial/Challenge mode; each task in the Dojo is ranked, so obsessive types looking for gratification can go nuts.

On average, though, dedicated gamers are less than fond of the iPhone as a gaming device, given its occasionally vague/imprecise touch controls. This problem is only compounded by the fact fighting game fans demand perfect controls for their games, so much so that $150 joysticks and custom Fight Pad controllers are considered mandatory for pro-level play. Not surprisingly, skeptical internet commenters have already prematurely crapped all over SF IV iPhone.

SF IV handles a lot better on iPhone than expected. Controls are broken down into an eight-way directional pad and four attack buttons: punch, kick, special attack, and focus attack. There are a number of options that simplify the game for casual players, including an auto block if you’re too busy spamming fireballs, and a command assist feature that simplifies special attacks, making your fireball spamming less strenuous. Hardcore players can turn both of these features off, enabling moves to be done with traditional inputs, though the game lends itself well to the special move command assist. The game mechanics are essentially the same as the regular SF IV, and the moves all feel and look identical; Ken’s fierce shoryuken is still multi-hit, and Focus attacks can still be dash- canceled. Although we only had a chance to play briefly with Ken and Ryu, the full roster includes most of the classics – Ken, Ryu, Chun-Li, Guile, M. Bison, Dhalsim and Blanka – as well as the emo Frenchman Abel.

The simplified control scheme is well implemented, adapting something complicated to the iPhone’s simpler interface without totally changing the feel of the game, and the onscreen controls themselves are unobtrusive, making the most of the limited screen space that must be shared with the action. (Because after all, throwing hadokens wouldn’t be much fun if all you could see was your fat thumbs.) The excellent handling and design can be attributed to the team and lead producer Takeshi Tezuka, who actually worked on debugging the original Street Fighter games. Rest assured he’s familiar with what makes the franchise work.

SF IV’s handling on the iPhone may not be suitable for pro level play, but then, it’s unlikely you’ll be seeing it make the rounds at tournaments. Even so, the controls are easily some of the best we’ve seen on iPhone; we occasionally jumped or shot a fireball when we don’t intend to, but it never detracted from the overall fun. As long as you see it as a fun, portable fix, and not a replacement for the console versions, SF IV for iPhone already looks like it’ll be worth every penny of its $9.99 asking price.

Feb 24 ,2010

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