Round 4 — Fight! That’s right folks, the very long awaited fourth installment of the legendary “Street Fighter” series has finally hit U.S. consoles. The game has come a long way since its 1987 nascence, back when Ryu and Ken were the only playable characters, but what hasn’t changed is the consistently bar-raising quality. While “Street Fighter IV” maintains this degree of excellence, it also feels like it is lacking some needed changes, some breaths of life for the series.
Those familiar with the SF series will immediately recognize and feel comfortable with the game’s setup and gameplay, as this remains largely the same — the player can choose various fighting modes (trial, survival, arcade and obviously versus), in which he or she will engage in one-on-one fights on 2D planes. The cast is also very familiar, consisting of the 13 “original” fighters (Chun Li, Dhalsim, etc.) plus four new characters (of debatable originality and utility).
However, to newcomers of the SF series, likely only people born after 1992, “Street Fighter IV” remains very accessible, and given the various difficulty settings, very enjoyable as well. While it could be said that, like any great fighting game, “IV” is both accessible and offers a substantial amount of depth, the reality is that the scale tips toward accessibility. Compared to other top-notch fighting games, such as “Soul Calibur IV,” the depth of the fighting mechanics in “Street Fighter” is that of a kiddie-pool. While there are several layers of the battles, such as the Focus System of power-moves and counter-attacks, “Super Combo” and “Ultra Combo” systems, their existence is diluted pretty thinly when a player aware of these abilities still can lose quite easily to someone who is simply button-mashing. Since it is not essential to winning, the attempt at depth, albeit appreciated, is unsuccessful and largely recycled.
In fact, most aspects of “Street Fighter IV” feel a bit too processed and reprocessed — like a gritty napkin that’s 95 percent post-consumer waste, the effect is a bit repelling. While no one is arguing against the “don’t fix what isn’t broken” mantra, that doesn’t permit the uncreative, static perpetuation of “the original” either. Yes, “Street Fighter IV” is a very solidly developed fighting game with responsive, smooth and glitch-free gameplay that offers undeniably great multiplayer possibilities, but “Street Fighter” always has been that. The new installment doesn’t do much, if anything, in the vein of rejuvenating the series — the presentation upgrades are impressive, but it’s just the Botox on the same old face.
On a side note, the presentation of “IV” is rather eye-catching. The 3D character models and backgrounds flattened to a 2D plane are innovative and simply work. Graphic direction and character designs are thoughtful and true to the series, though the art style does take on a new ‘roid-rage muscle motif that may rock a few people’s boats. It’s not shocking to see Ryu or Ken beefed up like Rocky, but seeing Japanese school-girl Sakura with rippling thighs or the Gandhi-look-a-like shaman Dhalsim not looking emaciated, will throw series veterans for a loop.
The new characters themselves are a grab bag of varying success. Grappler Abel is a direct reincarnation of previous character Alex; Mexican wrestler El Fuerte, aside from slightly racist, is just an agile Zangief; C. Viper, a secret agent with the most inspired character design among the new cast, takes on a more unique fighting style, fast and strong, yet with low defense; while lastly Rufus is by far the most bizarre addition, a morbidly obese, yet uncannily quick kung-fu fighter, who despite being a decent character is almost just too absurd to play as.
Yet even the presentation feels a bit lackluster, at least after seven-plus years of the game’s development. Voice acting isn’t as prevalent as it could be, and the spliced anime cut-scenes at the end of Arcade Mode, although a nice idea of mixing media, feel more dated than “Akira” and serve little purpose as background narratives.
Despite all this grumbling, “Street Fighter IV” remains a very well made fighter, if not for anything else than the simple fact that it is very entertaining. The harshness is warranted, as the expectations were set very high for “IV.” Unfortunately too high as far as innovation and presentation go.
4 stars out of 5.