Monday, August 18, 2014

Ultra Street Fighter IV - The Third Definitive Super Street Fighter IV

In the early 2000s, the fighting game genre began to wane in popularity due to the decline in dedicated arcades and the rise of more powerful gaming consoles which allowed multiplayer gaming in other genres. What also didn’t help was that the games being released got progressively more complex, thus making it difficult for players to keep up with the mechanics. As this slump went on into the late 2000s, Street Fighter IV (SFIV) saw a Japanese arcade release in 2008 and a home console port in 2009. By returning to, and updating, the series’ roots (i.e. Street Fighter II: The World Warrior) with striking 3D graphics and a purely 2D fighting system, the game achieved extraordinary success and garnered universal critical acclaim. This success prompted other companies to reboot or create sequels for other existing properties, leading to Mortal Kombat (2009), Marvel vs. Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: All-Star Battle and a host of other original properties such as BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger and Skullgirls. This resurgence in popularity for fighting games may continue for the next few years, with each new game owing something to SFIV’s success.

However, within the six years since its initial release, SFIV has become the latest victim of what TV Tropes calls Capcom Sequel Stagnation, wherein a game is re-released multiple times with enough tweaks that make it seem like a new game. Capcom is by no means the only company to do this, but they’ve done it enough to be infamous for it. After the success of Street Fighter IV in 2008 and 2009, Capcom has since released (with years for retail releases) Super Street Fighter IV (SSFIV) in 2010, Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition (SSFIV:AE) in 2011, Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition (Ver. 2012) (SSFIV:AE12) in 2012 (as a free balance patch, though some players like to think of it as a separate game entirely) and now Ultra Street Fighter IV (USFIV), the subject of this review, in 2014. Having already bought every single version of Street Fighter IV in some way, three of these being in disc form (I kind of want to later buy SSFIV:AE on disc just to complete my collection), I decided “Why not?” and pre-ordered USFIV while I was at San Diego Comic-Con 2014 (I also got a free poster out of it). People have already played this version through the downloadable update for SSFIV (more on that later), but having played the physical release, I figured I’d still be able to give my opinion on it. So, do I think the $40 investment was worth it? Yes and no.

"I have no intention of carrying on Street Fighter IV into
Hyper Street Fighter IV or Ultra Street Fighter IV, because I'm aware
of the mistakes Capcom has made in the past." - Yoshinori Ono

Several months after the events of Street Fighter II, M. Bison turns out to have survived his battle with Akuma and formed a new organization called S.I.N. that’s somehow related to Shadaloo. S.I.N. holds another tournament to draw the world’s most powerful warriors into one spot to complete the BLECE project. Every fighter has their own personal motivation for entering the tournament, be it to spread the word of a particular fighting style, share a love of cooking or find out what S.I.N. is up to. The true purpose of the tournament however is to lure out Ryu and study the Satsui no Hado, which S.I.N. believe will be the final piece of data needed to complete the BLECE project.

Because of the placement of this game on the timeline, between Street Fighter II and III, I had a very loose idea of how the events connected based on what I’ve read on the internet for Street Fighter II’s plot. Even then, the story was a little confusing for a couple reasons: 1) I haven’t played any of the Street Fighter Alpha games, which I understand creates some continuity lockout, and 2) it’s been years since I played the vanilla Street Fighter IV. To elaborate, the story actually differs a bit between the regular and “Super” editions of SFIV, but they are connected and require knowledge of both to fully understand what’s going on. Nevertheless, I did like the idea that playing the arcade mode for each character gradually unravels a complex story that becomes rewarding to unlock the entirety of and mentally put it all together. Of course, not every character is relevant to this overarching plot, so it’s possible to go quite a while without seeing anything from the actual story unless you have a guide telling you what characters to play as. In addition, the “Fight Your Rival” animations that play do help with each character’s stories, but for some reason the characters introduced in both the “Arcade Edition” and “Ultra” versions don’t have them (and even then, the countless fights with Seth that cap off each run hardly matter for most of them), which makes the stories of Evil Ryu and Oni especially jarring (not it would help matters with the latter though, since his plot is so bare bones that I can’t figure out what his deal is). In short, if you care about the story, either you play the vanilla and “Ultra” versions of SFIV or none at all, and you have to have knowledge of the stories for Street Fighter II and the Alpha games to fully comprehend it all. Also, keep in mind that the cutscenes for returning characters are exactly the same as they were in SSFIV and Arcade Edition.

This is almost everything you'll ever learn about Oni from his story.

But of course, the story isn’t the main reason anyone plays Street Fighter (unless, again, they really do care about it); it’s the gameplay that really counts. In general, the mechanics of Street Fighter IV are simple: Two players fight each other on a pure 2D plane by pulling off different combos and special attacks. On a controller, the buttons are set up so that the left stick and D-pad control movement and combo inputs while the action and shoulder buttons are allocated so that they represent Light, Medium and Heavy Punches and Kicks; L1 and L2 (on a PS3 controller) also respectively act as inputs for all three Punches and Kicks simultaneously. In addition, pressing certain combinations of the same button will activate certain features: Light Punch + Light Kick will perform a throw, Medium Punch + Medium Kick initiates a Focus Attack (a powerful strike that goes off after a unique animation plays wherein you can block a couple hits automatically) and Heavy Punch + Heavy Kick will perform a Personal Action (aka a Taunt).

There are also a couple of gauges to keep in mind. On the top of the screen you’ll naturally find the health gauges, but on the bottom of the screen are a Super Combo gauge and an Ultra Combo gauge. The Super Combo gauge goes up with every attack you make, even if it isn’t successful, and builds up four different segments. Each segment can be used to increase the power of certain special attacks, turning it into an EX version of the move, but if you wait until all four are available, you can pull off a Super Combo, which is usually an upgraded version of a special attack, but you can’t be attacked during the initial animation. At the end of this gauge is the Ultra Combo gauge, which only builds up when you take damage. It is divided into two segments, though only one needs to be filled up; when flames begin to spout from the edges of this gauge, then you are allowed to perform an Ultra Combo, each with their own unique attack animations and properties (ex. some are defensive or the range can be limited). The Ultra Combo is usually the most powerful attack in any character’s arsenal and can easily turn the tide in an instant, sometimes even giving the player a dramatic come-from-behind victory.

Red Focus Attacks (described below) are also pretty deadly.

Between all of the different versions of Street Fighter IV, I’ve found the gameplay to be very easy to understand and grasp, mainly because the mechanics at hand return to a very simplistic style of gameplay while integrating just enough complexity in the main mechanics to keep it interesting and add tenseness and urgency to each fight. It sort of has the good kind of depth where it’s easy to learn but true mastery comes from being able to beat your opponent into submission with a powerful barrage of combos. SSFIV would build on this by also introducing a secondary Ultra Combo for every character, but you could only pick one before a match (represented on the gauge with a Roman numeral I or II), so figuring out which one would work in any given situation was often the key to winning.

Ultra Street Fighter IV, however, introduces three more mechanics: Ultra Combo Double, Red Focus Attacks and Delayed Standing. With Ultra Combo Double, you can pull off either of a character’s Ultra Combos at any normal point, but they deal less damage than if you just picked one; this is represented on the Ultra Combo gauge with a “W” (the use of a “W” could be rooted in a sort of multilingual pun since “Double” is pronounced “Dabaru” and sounds close to “W”, pronounced “Dabaruyu”, or “Double U” as in having double Ultra Combos). Red Focus Attacks are activated by pressing Medium Punch + Medium Kick + Light Punch, which plays the regular Focus Attack animation, but costs two parts of the Super Combo gauge and deals even more damage while granting further immunity to damage (about as much as your health). Delayed Standing is basically the ability to delay when you get up or perform a wake-up attack, which creates uncertainty in the opponent, as they won’t be able to predict when you’ll recover from being forced to lie down. These new mechanics, combined with the ones previously made available, add a bit more depth to a match, especially for those in the tournament scene (which may also overlap with those obsessive over frame data), since there are more options at hand and the ability to fight back has been heightened. I’m sort of glad that these new options exist, since I really didn’t like having to pick one Ultra Combo before and now I can fight more with the element of surprise. These are great options for making a great system even better.

You can now use both Ultra Combos in the same round.

As for the character roster, the original SFIV had 25 characters in the home console release, which got increased to 35 with SSFIV and then 39 with SSFIV:AE. USFIV brings the roster to 44 by introducing five new characters to play as: Poison, Hugo, Elena, Rolento and Decapre; the first four were previously seen in Street Fighter X Tekken (SFXT) and were ported over due to high demand from fans while Decapre is a completely new character. These new additions are interesting, as they control similarly to how they did in SFXT and Decapre is a new charge character (i.e. she requires charge motions, which involve holding down one directional button before completing the motions for a special attack). Normally I don’t like to use charge characters, but I actually liked using Decapre, since one of her key attacks, Scramble, can really dominate the field with the right care in its use. The others control pretty well, although the only one of them I felt comfortable using was Poison, a pretty powerful wrestler/wrestling promoter who has a great array of moves, including one that can become a throw. In general though, it’s pretty easy for a player to find a character that they’ll like and use as their main, especially now that USFIV has them pretty competitively balanced, though I have to say that there seem to be a number of characters who operate similarly, almost to the point of feeling like palette swaps, although their technical differences are the only things keeping them distinct.

The character roster as of Ultra Street Fighter IV.

Other additions include six new stages, all of which are from SFXT, all previously released DLC costumes, an Online Training mode and an Online Team Battle mode, wherein players can play in teams of up to three each and play a match this way. Players can also now upload replays to YouTube, a feature that, like the online modes, I don’t really plan on using, but I understand if this is meaningful to someone else. In addition, it’s possible when selecting a character to also select which balance iteration you wish to use, which makes it possible, for example, to have the SFIV version of Ryu fight against the SSFIV:AE12 edition of Ken. I didn’t use this option too much, but this would make for some very exciting matchups in the right hands.

The possibilities are now racing through your mind.

The music in this game is also pretty good, with tunes that capture the feel of each stage pretty well and don’t distract from the fight at hand. It’s also possible to select which voice track you want between English and Japanese, but you can go further by independently setting the language between cutscenes and battle, as well as the vocal track for each individual character. I just went with a blanket English option, but for those who really want to micromanage the language options, this isn’t bad.

Before I end this review, I’d also like to address something I mentioned earlier regarding Ultra Street Fighter IV being a downloadable update for Super Street Fighter IV. While this is true, enabling you to use an SSFIV disc as though it were a copy of USFIV, this also applies to the physical disc release. The PS3’s XMB (Cross Media Bar) recognizes the disc as a copy of Ultra Street Fighter IV, but the Trophies and Save Data are recognized as Super Street Fighter IV, with trophies for the former treated as DLC Trophies for the latter. Personally I find this a little strange if I have the physical disc, but this is really more of a minor nitpick. Still, if this is something you care about regarding how your system will recognize a disc, keep this in mind.

And now I kind of wish Asura was one of the new playable characters.

Ultra Street Fighter IV is the best version of Street Fighter IV yet. With new content available for players old and new, good balance updates and a plethora of new ways to play, this is the definitive way to experience the game. If you haven’t played SFIV yet, then USFIV is the place to start. If you’re a veteran player who already owns at least one (or all) versions of this game, then consider giving it a shot. Personally, I’m just hoping that this really is the final version of Street Fighter IV and Capcom finally moves on to Street Fighter V; I’m getting restless with these constant re-releases of the same game.

"Arcade Edition will be the end of Street Fighter IV. What comes next?
We'll see. But we aren't planning any more Street Fighter IVs." - Seth Killian

No comments:

Post a Comment