The most impressive thing you can say about Street Fighter 5 is that every update is surprising. The more we learn about it, the less it seems like a slothful rehash of Street Fighter 4. The grimy on-disc DLC fiasco is now nothing but a distant memory, replaced with an update policy that makes every other fighting game look grasping and mercenary like a coin-diving Scrooge McDuck.
More than this, characters weve known (and in Vegas case, hated) for ages now feel exhilaratingly fresh, like sticking your head out of a fast-moving car. Lets take a look at how Vega has changed, whats frightening about Necalli and why Ken is suddenly our new favourite character...
Vega is a changed man
Not in the sense that hes no longer a preening, self-obsessed bellend; more that the charge character you once knew and probably-despised is long gone, replaced with a preening, self obsessed bellend with command attacks, new stances and the ability to sidestep moves like a matador. Thats right: a character custom built for sneering annoyance now takes his fighting cues from people who murder bulls for a reason that isnt beef. Lets not get into that here. Short version: hes different, but still a prick.
As with many of the other changes, Capcom has cunningly made him feel familiar even though things are quite different. For example, his rolling crystal flash now ends with a thumping overhead kick, rather than a claw strike. And thats just the beginning.
Claws for thought
The biggest change is that he can take his claw on and off, dramatically altering his style of play. With it, things are similar, if not identical. Without it, he adds flashy command throws to his moveset, but sacrifices range. The real skill will be learning to switch stances depending on the situation - something I comprehensively failed to grasp, because why wouldnt I want to fight using a massive claw?
Vegas changes are bad news if youre relying on muscle memory from Street Fighter 2 Turbo, but great news if youre a Gen player who wants to try another techie character with varied stances. There are defensive changes, too; if you knock off Vegas claw he wont be able to pick it back up, making an already satisfying event even more delicious. If only there was a way to kick off his stupid mask, smug grin and bottom jaw, too...
Matador of life and death
Vegas V-Skill lets you dodge incoming attacks, and you also have the option to counterattack with a blow that knocks your opponent down. If youve ever played at Raphael in Soulcalibur - or, more annoyingly, played against him - this move will feel immediately familiar. The timing is tight, but the rewards are worth it. Street Fighter 5 is all about hitting these V-Skills in the flow of battle to swiftly build your meter, and much like Ryus parry, Vegas sidestep gives us clear insight into how delicately balanced all of Street Fighter 5 is.
One his bar is full, Vega can unleash the Bloody Kiss - a V-Trigger move that has Vega throwing a rose at you. A rose. If it connects - and in my limited experience on the receiving end, it almost always did - he charges forward and chops you up like a greedy boy cutting bacon with scissors. Annoying, and very, very Vega.
Ken you dig it, sucka?
Its an ancient, often-asked Street Fighter question: why the crap would you play as Ken - a man who looks like a melted He-Man figure wrapped in a red sock - when you could play a Ryu, who punches waterfalls and stands moodily in the wind, thinking about fireballs? Thanks to Street Fighter 5, that question finally has an answer. The answer is 'running'.
Thats right. Running. As well as looking ever-so-slightly different, Kens V-Skill is a game changer, contrasting deliciously with Ryus defensive parry. Its called the Quick Step and its marvellous statement of intent - a bit of internal signposting, as vivid and informative as any piece of overt character design. Ken is running at you with the express and ignoble purpose of fucking your shit up and sending it, boxed and wrapped, back to sit-down town.
Why is it so important? Theres the super-obvious fact that it closes gaps quickly, and the more you use it the quicker your V-gauge will build. But its far deeper than that. Ken has a delicious, meaty kick he adds to the end of the run. Its perfect for nudging enemies backwards, but the real use is far more tactical.
By leading with a quick, pokey attack like a medium punch, then chaining it immediately into the run, Ken becomes incredibly tricky. Its best used with a throw on the end, meaning three totally disparate moves occur in swift succession. Experienced players will soon spot this, but its an indication of how deep Street Fighter 5 will be. The run isnt just for running: its for punching, throwing and kicking, too.
We spent a few desperate days at GamesRadar+ trying to work out who Necalli was when we first saw a flash of him at the end of Kens reveal trailer. Genuine suggestions included Zombie E Honda, Angry Fat Urien and Abigail from Final Fight. We were, and continue to be, complete and utter dolts. Necalli is Necalli, and theres nobody else like him.
Hes so unrefined he makes Blanka feel like a pinze-nez wearing Victorian milquetoast. Fighting him is like being brutalized up by unpasteurised cheddar. Hes rougher than a camel poo rolled in fish hooks. All his moves feels savage and stampy, and thats before you reach his empowered V-Trigger state. In contrast to Vegas smooth, flowing style, Necalli fights like a wardrobe falling down stairs; and God help you if you get in the way.
Necallis V-Skill perfectly summarises his style. Its called Culminated Power, but what it should be called is smashy-smashy rock bosh. Necalli whacks the ground, causing shockwaves to appear in the location of his choice: you hold away for a close one, towards for long range. In isolation, its pretty useless: theres an obvious tell, and savvy fighters will leap towards you and start kicking off your dreadlocks. As anyone whos ever summoned the power of rocks will no doubt know, it belongs at the end of a combo.
Its fiddly, but by chaining it to the end of Necallis target combo you can smash enemies as they land on the ground. Hit medium kick, fierce kick then time your V-Skill correctly and its a cheap, effective way of knocking about your opponent while building up your gauge.
Fighting as Necalli is all about rushing to his V-Trigger, Torrent of Power. As the name suggests, its a fearsome buff that increases his attack power, unlocks new combos and changes his Critical Art. Theres no time limit, and once activated you cant turn it off. The only downside is that Necalli loses the ability to use V-Reversals, and his floaty magic hair probably keeps getting in his mouth.
On a more tactical level, it also changes his frame data, so youll have to familiarise yourself with both versions if youre going to defend effectively. Unlike some the other V-Triggers, turtling up in a corner wont be enough to save you. Our advice? Knock him on his ass before he gets there.
Mix all these things together into a delicious burgoo of fists, fireballs and Super Saiyan transformations, and Street fighter 5 becomes even more impressive. It shouldnt work, but it does. Brave variation between characters feels like the next logical step in Street Fighters immaculate design, and the new V-Skills tell us more about each character than any wiki bio could (Chun-Lis favorite food is crepes, apparently - we have so much in common).
When Cammy was revealed at the first hands-on session, there was a ripple of indifference from the audience, but it was only because people didnt understand how different Street Fighter 5 is. Now, the reveal of every new character will be met with whoops, cheers and feverish examination. Hell, I'm even excited to see if Dhalsim turns up. What a time to be alive.