Street Fighter IV in Review – How’re-you-Ken!?
When I first heard that Street Fighter IV was coming to the App Store, I was less than enthusiastic. Ever since SF2 on the SNES, I have been a big fan of the series. I wept with joy when I purchased Alpha 3. I shook with disbelief after I purchased EX3. And suddenly, Capcom announces that it’s porting perhaps its most beloved franchise (apologies to Dr. Light, Jill Valentine and Dante) to the iDevice.
You may find yourself saying “Why wouldn’t this be a sure-fire hit?” Cast your memory back to Capcom’s port of Mega Man II.
It’s all about the Controls.
In short, the Mega Man II controls are horrible. With terrible controls and character response (Mega Man’s jumps seemed to indicate a helium enema), each pit or spike strip becomes a boss in and of itself.
“So what,” you may ask, “does this have to do with Street Fighter IV?”
Controls are the length and breadth of a fighting game. At the heart of a fighter is the input system. Your character lives or dies based on your immediate, accurate inputs. The more complex the required input (ever tried to pull off some of Zangeif’s more difficult supers?), the more precise and polished the controls have to be.
Did I want Street Fighter IV, a damn good game on both the console and PC, to get the “Mega Man” treatment on its journey to the appstore? Hell no. Luckily, my fears were put to rest.
The game is gorgeous and fun from start to finish. Street Fighter IV’s opening may raise an eyebrow or two. I was expecting the entire Indestructible cinematic, but Capcom probably figured that the limited roster of characters (8) would be more disappointing if they teased you with such a trailer. So, they have spliced the Ryu v. Ken portions out of the full trailer, and used that for the opening. It still looks pretty awesome, although the music is nowhere near as compelling.
But as I said, a good cinematic doesn’t mean anything in the face of the true test – the controls. Luckily, Capcom, against all odds, have engineered one of the most accurate and faithful D-Pad’s on any app to date. And that’s a good thing, too, because Street Fighter IV is a game that deserves no less.
Looking deeper at the controls, Capcom has instituted an 8-way joystick, located on the left and punch/kick/special/ex buttons on the right. This was initially difficult to adjust to, and I found myself doing wild, accidental sweeps of the HOME button with my thumb while trying to perform a Tatsumaki Senpukyaku (the helicopter spin-kick that Ryu and Ken do). Worse, in the heat of battle, you may sometimes revert back to old habits and attempt to use the traditional input for a Shoryuken, which will not end well. On the positive side, the Hadoken uses the traditional input and works flawlessly, while the updated input for Shoryuken is still doable and Tatsumaki Senpukyaku takes only a little adjustment.
What makes SF IV so difficult to review is that many of its best features are also lamentable flaws, depending on how you look at it.
Casual Gamer: “Wow! Characters kept about ¾ of their moves!”
Hardcore SF Fan: “Wow. Characters are missing a full ¼ of their moves.”
Casual Gamer: “Wow, I can learn how to play!”
Hardcore Gamer: “So, instead of adding Sagat, Balrog, or Akuma, they are going to teach me that the P-button is for punch? FFFFFFFFUUUUU-“
SUPER COMBO INPUT:
Casual Gamer: “Awesome, there is an option for 1-button super combos.”
Hardcore SF Fan: “Lame, there is an option for 1-button super combos.”
Casual Gamer: “Not bad, 8 varied playable fighters.” [yes, Ryu and Ken are different]
Hardcore SF Fan: “You have got to be kidding me.”
Yes, producer Takeshi Tezuka hinted at DLC in an interview with Kotaku. But atm, there are only 8 characters. Perhaps “space constraints” argument would make sense, but the game runs at 201 megabytes with multiple CG movies. If you had your choice between having Akuma as a playable character, or getting a cool little movie when you beat arcade mode, which would YOU prefer?
One of the things that made the more recent Street Fighter games so enjoyable was that the sense of accomplishment from defeating the arcade mode. Victories would unlock a character, a background level, outfit or even new game mode depending on the game. There is none of that in SF4. You play simply to play, win simply to win, wash and repeat. While this *IS* the essence of the fighting game, it feels like a step back from all the glamorous rewards we’ve become used to. It makes each thrashing of the arcade mode (which takes about 9-10 minutes total, due to the small list of opponents) seem rather pointless.
On the plus side, the fighting itself is fast-paced and frenzied. You completely forget that you are holding an iphone and are magically transported into that tense, stressful, magical realm where all good fighting games take you. You get the gut-clenching adrenaline shakes as you and your opponent have only a sliver of health left. You feel the triumph of timing a jump to perfectly avoid a fireball…and the misery of jumping right into a yoga-flame. The Bluetooth multiplayer is about as smooth as you could ask for and from the little that I was able to experience of it, quite responsive.
As a fighting game, Street Fighter IV is unrivalled at the appstore. While it may only be a shadow of the other Street Fighter IV versions, it still earns its rightful place among them with its beautiful graphics, tight control and immense fun-factor.
Despite my reservations, Street Fighter IV, on the whole, is the best of its kind.
While there are some caveats (the price is steep, the game feels like a “diet-mode,” Sagat and Balrog players need not apply), the game play experience is the real deal. It is a nearly-perfect game, but it suffers from artificially high expectations. The addition of character DLC may well upgrade this into a perfect “Kiss It” – if and when that happens, look for an update. But at the moment, the limited character selection and lack of purposeful replay value “goals” delivers some chip dmg to an otherwise perfect score.
iTunes: Street Fighter IV
This review of Street Fighter IV was brought to you by TMA's elusive Jerome Darnell.