So here we are then. Street Fighter IV. A game which a couple of years ago existed only as an unlikely fanboy dream, but which now elicits a passionate response from absolutely everyone, be it nigh-religious fervor or a wrinkle-nosed dose of "Whut?" But which faction is right? The enthused or the confused? Well here's a clue. It's the former, without a single doubt.
But before we go on explaining just why Street Fighter IV is easily one of the finest crafted games of this console generation, a brief disclaimer regarding this review. It would be very easy of us to spout on about the return of Street Fighter as a second coming for 2D gaming; a vindication of "old school" design methods and a revitalitation of SNES-era gameplay.
We could probably even reference Braid and Geometry Wars as evidence of some pseudo neo-retro revival movement. But we're not going to. Because frankly, that line of thinking is utter bollocks, and does a disservice both to Street Fighter IV and to 2D gaming itself.
These aren't geriatric out-of retirement boxers, back for one last "Aw bless 'em, they're trying" novelty exhibition. They're perfectly legitimate elements of the gaming spectrum which do and offer things that 3D design just never can, chronology of development be damned.
Put it this way, David Bowie put out his best work in the '70s, so does that make Ziggy Stardust any less relevant than Nickleback? No it does not, and so Street Fighter IV needs no special treatment or excuses. Understand that everything said in this review applies to you, no matter how long you've been gaming or what you've played before.
Which fittingly segues us straight into Street Fighter IV's greatest success, the fact that it is utterly accessible and almost dangerously enjoyable to all. Given how deeply ingrained they now are into gaming lore, the chances are that you already know the basic mechanics of Street Fighter whether you play it or not. But even if you've been playing since the SNES, never will you have been able to get so much out of them so quickly.
Input windows for special moves and linked combo hits are now a good deal more friendly (moreso even than in HD Remix), meaning that chains and counter-attacks long the preserve of only the mighty elite are now open to all. But that catagorically does not mean that SFIV is a dumbed down approximation of it's former self. Rather, it's a distillation of everything that the series has always been about; an easy-to-grasp interface acting as the entry point to endlessly explorable depth and experimentation. It's just that now, all but the terminally cack-handed can start sharing in that depth from the off.
And what there is to share. What we're talking about here is essentially that Street Fighter sequel everyone dreamed about after Super Turbo, the one that took the Street Fighter II model further without adding the ludicrous complexity of SFIII. The new additions may seem on the surface like token gestures ("Extra super moves? Pah!", a very wrong person would no doubt say), but in reality they masterfully achieve the damnably tricky feat of making everything new and different as well as reasurringly the same, surely the highest ambition of any sequel.