Here comes a new challenger (or five)
More Street Fighter 4? Really? Yes. Yes is the answer to that. Ultra Street Fighter 4 is coming to the Xbox 360, PS3, and PC in 2014. But isnt it just going to be more of the same? No. No is certainly the answer to that. You see, after an afternoon spent taking the recently revealed new characters and fighting systems through their paces at Capcom last week, I can tell you quite categorically that Ultra Street Fighter 4 is now looking to be the most exciting and transformative update to The Best Fighting Game In The World since Super hit in 2010.
Click on, and well take you through it all.
A new beginning
Breathe a long sigh of relief, Ken-weary Street Fighter players. Ultra Street Fighter 4 is bringing the most diverse, fresh, and exciting bunch of additions the game has had since Super landed. First and most important point: There isnt a single shotokan fighter in the new line-up. Ive played all four announced new characters (a fifth is still secret), and I'm very pleased to say that each and every one is A) very different to anyone currently in the roster, and B) completely different from his or her fellow newbies.
Theres not a single dragon-punching, fireball-throwing gi-wearer amongst them. And whats more, Capcom seems to have balanced the madcap new delights of each fighter with a sublime level of accessible comprehensibility. Every new fighter is a unique, zesty proposition, providing a new way (or several new ways) of playing Street Fighter 4, but not once will you feel overfaced by the challenge of learning their new tricks. Theres a slightly freer, more experimentation-friendly vibe to the four characters Ive played so far, and theyre an absolute hoot to start playing around with from the first second you pick up the stick or pad (but seriously, it should be a stick). Lets go through them, shall we?
Rolento is going to be a very popular choice when Ultra hits next summer. I can see it happening already. A quick, nimble, short-to-mid-ranger, he has a versatile, free-flowing style all his own. Spiritually reminiscent of Guy, but with a whole load more options, Rolentos hard, mid-range stick attacks are offset very nicely indeed by a handful of swift, multi-hitting baton-twirls. The special version, initiated by way of a fireball motion, can be chained three times like Fei Longs Rekka Ken, to either round a combo off with immense flair or close space with extreme prejudice.
His jumping medium punch is a similarly tasty whirling dervish of a move, hitting deep for some delicious cross-up damage. He also has great potential for wrong-footing his opponent, with a couple of escape and evasion flips, and a brilliant pogo-stick move using his baton, which clears him from low attacks and grants him throw immunity to boot. Its positively screaming for Scrooge McDuck reskin DLC, obviously. Additionally, his floor game is strengthened by a great sliding sweep and a bomb-laying backward roll just perfect for trapping opponents jumping in. Mix in a nifty little mid-air knife throw that comes out of nowhere, a lovely medium-punch anti-air hit, and a brutal long-range, whip-based Ultra that will kill fireball spammers stone-dead, and you have one of the most versatile and immediately explorable fighters in the new line-up.
Final Fights notorious TG seems initially the simplest of the new fighters, but becomes a hell of a lot of fun with a bit of practice. Feeling a little like a strange hybrid of Juri and Ryu, shes all about flowing, long-to-mid-range attacks, anti-air, and a fair bit of close-range mind-games. She has three different fireballs covering different ranges and strengths, making them excellent, quick solutions for long-range damage or playful space-trapping alike. Closer up, her inhumanly long legs provide her with a plethora of flowing poke and mix-up options with which to trouble your opponent at all ranges and heights.
A particular favourite special of hers at the moment is her flip-kick, which is great for both evasion and surprise offence. A swift backflip clears her from danger, before a jumping forward kick delivers the pain. Chain on a second kick upon impact, and youll convert it into a grab and brutal pounding. And when playing defensively, her inverted rising kick (executed by performing a reverse dragon punch motion with a kick) has a deceptive forward strike zone. It looks like a hamstrung vertical hit, but itll capably deal with anyone jumping in from the front.
Hugo, frankly, is hilarious. Stupendously big, his head actually obscures the health bars at the top of the screen. He is in essence a giant, barely mobile, wall of meat. And ye gods does that make him fun to play. The slow, big guy trope taken to its nth degree, he moves at a glacial pace but can kill you in seconds if he gets up close. To help him get there, he has a couple of tasty dives and rushdown grabs intended to put his opponent safely in the corner, where his deadly main game lives.
His various grabs and piledrivers could see him moonlighting as a building demolition technician quite easily, and to help push his opponent back, some of his punches have insane range and priority. His jumping medium in particular comes off the ground like a flying version of Zangiefs spinning lariat special, making it an incredibly intimidating normal. And his trademark slap-clap can be chained to combo, making it utterly punishing to a cornered opponent. Given his lumbering gait, it would be easy for some players to underestimate Hugo. Dont. Hes terrifying, and when he gets some momentum rolling, going up against him is like fighting an unusually grabby freight train loaded with concrete and lead.
Elena is, in a word, mental. Evoking the kind of confusing, weirdly animated, hard to read oddness so beloved by Dhalsim and Blanka, but entirely different to both, her rangy, kicks-only hits are perplexing to tackle, and initially, to harness as well. Its the strange flow to her fighting that does it. Not simply strange because of her distaste for punching, theres an odd pace and rhythm to playing her that makes her utterly unlike anyone else in the game.
Once you get a feel for her, though (and you will rather rapidly), youll discover an immensely fun and tricksy fighter built around misdirecting mix-ups, whose gorgeous, flowing momentum leads into a whole bunch of incredibly fun juggle opportunities. Her flip-kick special (which plays out like a less rangey, smaller scale version of Guiles Flash Kick) is a great launcher if you follow up quickly enough, and can be devastating when used in conjunction with her Super Combo. Same goes for a nifty little one-two target combo she has up her non-existent sleeve. There are also some really handy Super/Ultra juggle possibilities lurking under her lunatic surface, meaning that for the player willing to put in a little extra effort to learn someone utterly different, she could become a terrifyingly powerful prospect once she debuts.
New fighting systems
As well as the new fighters, Ultra Street Fighter 4 brings a couple of subtle but game-changing additions to combat across the board. First and most obvious is the option of taking both Ultra Combos into a match rather than choosing between the two, as Super SF4 demanded. While both moves will have their damage dialled down a little, the pay-off is immensely expanded tactical options for some characters. No longer will you be forced to choose between your fireball Ultra and your anti-air. No longer will you have to choose between a rush-down and a grab. Fights will now be much more open-ended, much more tense prospects.
Less obvious but just as important is the new Red Focus Attack. Performed by tapping or holding both medium attacks as before, but now hitting any third button as well, the Red Focus does away with the standard versions one-hit invulnerability in favour of 100% unassailable armour for its duration. Simply, a well-timed Red Focus can absorb every hit of an incoming combo and unleash devastating, crumpling punishment in return. It uses up half of the Super Meter, making it a bit of a gamble for players who treasure their Super Combos and EX attacks, but when it works its just lovely, and could really freshen up the back-and-forth game.
New online modes
The main new online offering in Ultra Street Fighter 4 is the online team elimination mode. Designed to make venturing online less intimidating to new players, its actually a brilliant idea that should add a whole lot more to the connected experience for players of every level. Essentially a combined team battle and endurance mode, it sees teams of three players venturing online together in a sort of fighting game co-op, facing off against rival trios. The really fun part comes when you realise that while a winning player will take on the teams following challenger, he or she will do so with only their remaining health from the last battle. As such, teams effectively have a shared ration of health between them, making last-ditch tension and heroic match rescues the order of the day.
Online training is a similarly caring, sharing take on the noble art of punching people square in the face. Taking Street Fighter 4s training dojo online, two players can now spar, practice and experiment to their hearts content, all under standard training mode conditions. Or, theoretically engage in a never-ending marathon fight with the timer and all damage switched off. If that sort of thing appeals. Which, lets face it, it does.
So there's the current lowdown on Ultra Street Fighter 4. How do you feel about it now? Hyped? Excited? Thrilled to the point of vibration? All of the above? Let us know in the comments, and drop any further questions you have too.
And while you're here, why not check out our utterly complete details on some other hot upcoming games? Have a look at Everything We Know About Titanfall and Everything We Know About Metal Gear Solid V.