There's no denying that the release of Street Fighter IV revitalized the fighting scene. While dedicated fighter fans were still playing their favorite (and mostly older) games, the fighting genre really wasn't getting much attention from the overall gaming public. Since Street Fighter IV, there's been a huge uptick in both the number of companies making fighting games, and the number of gamers interested in fighters.
Now, just over a year after SFIV's initial console release, Capcom is bringing out Super Street Fighter IV. Is Super a too-early cash in on the success of the previous game, or a welcome upgrade to the series? Hit the jump to find out.
Super Street Fighter IV (PlayStation 3 , Xbox 360 [reviewed])
I'm going to spare everyone the pain of reading some generic paragraphs about what Street Fighter is, because I assume by this point everyone who is even mildly interested in fighting games is familiar with the series. If, for some reason, you've never heard of Street Fighter, or if you missed the boat on the fourth installment of the game, head back and read Nick's review of Street Fighter IV.
All caught up?
Super Street Fighter IV is basically everything you know from the original SFIV, but with a host of improvements, balance tweaks, and new characters. Let's start with the new characters.
In all, there are ten new characters; eight should be familiar to fans of the Street Fighter series. Dee Jay, Guy, Ibuki, Dudley, Makoto, Adon, Cody, and T. Hawk are all back in action, and they're joined by two completely new fighters: Juri, a Tae Kwon Do expert working for S.I.N., and Hakan, an oil wrestler with some of the most ridiculous-looking moves ever seen in a Street Fighter game. All ten characters, from my playtime with them, seem like they'll be viable choices for combat, although some will definitely take more practice to master than others.
It's difficult to describe the play styles of the new characters -- partially because you really need to get your hands on them to fully understand the nuances, and partially because the game is so new that everyone is still discovering new strengths and weaknesses. All of the returning characters play reasonably similarly to their previous incarnations. They've all been carefully tweaked and balanced to fit into Street Fighter IV's fighting system, but for the most part, they look and feel really similar to the ways they've always played. If you played these characters in previous games, it probably won't take you very long to get used to the way they play in Super.
In regards to the two new characters, Juri appears to be a character that leans fairly heavily towards offense -- most people online have been playing her rather aggressively, because she seems to lack a set of diverse defensive options. Hakan is a grappler, but the oil mechanic adds an interesting twist. He has to constantly be pouring oil over himself, which briefly leaves him vulnerable; however, being oiled greatly increases his speed and range. His slide move lets him both dodge fireballs and cover distance quickly, allowing him to get in close in a relatively short period of time. Juri and Hakan bring unique fighting styles to the Street Fighter world, and I expect both to be relatively popular characters once the game is officially released.
Capcom was clearly listening to the community while developing Super, because some of my biggest complaints from the original game have been addressed. Right off the bat every character is unlocked, so you don't have to worry about grinding your way through the game. Most colors, taunts, titles, and icons can simply be unlocked by using characters in Arcade mode or Versus battles, although a few can't be attained without completing each character's Trial mode.
The biggest improvements that will be most immediately noticeable are in the online multiplayer modes. Rather than just having Ranked and Player matches, you now have the option of playing a ranked match, endless battle mode, or team battle. Ranked matches still function the same as they did before, although the point system has changed a bit. Player Points and Battle Points still exist, but where Player Points measure your overall skill as a player, Battle Points are character specific. Both values change any time you win or lose a match, but they can be helpful in showing you just how good someone is with the character they're playing. If you go up against a Fei Long with 1000 PP and 0 BP, it either means they've never played Fei Long before, or they're really bad with him. As your battle points with a character change, your battle class (a letter grade you're assigned to show your skill) increases or decreases, giving you another visual measure of a player's skill with specific characters.
Endless battle is the new "player match" of Super, but this time around it's a much more social experience. Endless battle lobbies hold up to eight players, so you or your friends can jump in and take turns kicking each other's asses. Only two fighters can play at once, but everyone else in the lobby is able to spectate the match. The winner stays, the loser gets bumped to the bottom of the lobby, and the next person in line goes on to challenge the previous winner. With a full lobby of eight people, expect to be doing a lot of waiting around while you watch matches. With four to six people, though, the wait time doesn't feel that long, and it's nice to be able to play with a full group of your friends.
Team battle is exactly what it sounds like. You can play 2v2, 3v3, or 4v4, and you simply set up your order and fight. If a player is knocked out, the next person in the battle order goes to fight, and the first team to have all their members defeated loses.
All online battle modes now feature hidden character selection, and this is one of my favorite changes that they've made. No more playing opponents who sit there and refuse to pick a fighter until after you've made their selection so they can pick their "counter" -- you have to pick both your character and their ultra before seeing your opponent's choices.
Challenge mode has also seen an overhaul. Time Attack and Survival are gone, and have been replaced with the ability to play the barrel and car bonuses stages whenever you want. The trial mode itself seems slightly more robust than it was previously-- there are 24 individual challenges for each character. While they start out very basic, having you simply do special moves and ultras, they move quickly into target combos, links, and ways to combo your supers and ultras together. It's helpful, but it would be nice if there was more guidance on timing your links and cross-ups. If you're learning a new character, the Trial mode will definitely be helpful, but you'll probably need to turn to the Internet to read FAQs and discussions if you really want to get competitive.
Videos are also a great way to pick up tips and strategies for your character of choice, and Super Street Fighter IV is making them much easier to find with the addition of a replay channel. By winning two fights in a row against people of your battle class or higher, you activate replay upload mode. When this mode is active, you have the chance to have your match saved as a replay, if you fight someone who also has replay upload active. Assuming you get two people with replay upload against each other, the winner of the fight has the ability to upload the battle to the replay channel.
The one major thing missing at this point is Tournament Mode, which will not be available out of the box. The Tournament mode is getting a major upgrade, and will feature an actual bracket system for four to eight players, with the ability for everyone to spectate matches and comment on them through voice chat so that all players can hear. Like Championship mode for Street Fighter IV, Tournament mode will be free DLC, and is expected to be released on June 15th. It's nice that it will be free again, and I understand that the delay is due to the new features and functionality, but it still would have been nice to have on day one.
In the replay channel, you can watch all videos you've saved yourself, as well as videos other people have uploaded. Characters are grouped into sub-channels -- Alpha characters, Original Characters, Turbo & SFIII characters, the new characters, and bosses. Unfortunately, you can't choose to watch matches involving specific characters, you have to select from the sub-channels mentioned above. Replays are playing constantly, with about 10 seconds in between each computer-selected replay video, so you won't have to wait very long. As a tool to help you learn your favorite character, though, it would really benefit from a character-specific select option.
The last major thing to talk about is the balance and gameplay changes. There's virtually no way to discuss all the ways they've tweaked each individual character, but on the whole all of the changes appear to have been made to make characters more competitive and fights closer. Dan still isn't going to be a top-tier character, but I'm willing to guess that with both the new characters and these tweaks, you'll be coming up against a more diverse selection of characters in online matches instead of playing against the same Sagat/Balrog/Ryu players over and over.
All characters now have two Ultras, both of which are very different from each other, giving you more options in how you play your character. While I suspect that some characters will have an Ultra that's almost always chosen over another, for the most part they add nice variety, particularly for characters from the previous game who had Ultras that were virtually worthless.
The other major change that's occurred is that, with the exception of Dhalsim, damage has been reduced across the board for all other characters. When this was announced on the Capcom Unity blog I was pretty skeptical, but seeing it in practice has changed my mind. Matches now last longer, as making one mistake doesn't mean losing half your life bar (unless you get hit with an Ultra). This gives you an opportunity to learn from your mistakes, make some awesome comebacks, and overall the change surprisingly makes the fights feel much more intense. A decent portion of my matches have ended with both myself and my opponent down to our last 10 or 15 percent of life, something I feel happened relatively rarely in the original.
Granted, I'm not a tournament player, but in my view virtually every change that's been made improves the game. The new characters are great, especially just as people were starting to get bored with the existing characters. The existing characters have been tweaked and balanced, meaning that characters you previously never wanted to play may be viable choices now. All of the multiplayer changes have streamlined the experience, making it easier to play with your friends and giving you more option for battling. The gameplay changes make for closer and more exciting battles. The only thing truly missing at this point is the tournament mode, which we know will be coming soon.
Capcom could easily have charged $59.99 for this, and I would have bought it in a second. At $39.99, it's a crazy deal. Any Street Fighter fans, even those who quit playing the original and moved on, should be picking up Super. If you missed out on Street Fighter IV but are interested in fighting games, Super is an excellent purchase for you as well. Personally, I consider Street Fighter IV to be one of the best fighting games we've seen in a long time, and Super Street Fighter IV does nothing but improve on it. Buy this game.
Score: 9.5 -- Superb (9s are a hallmark of excellence. There may be flaws, but they are negligible and won't cause massive damage to what is a supreme title.)
THE VERDICT - Super Street Fighter IV
Reviewed by Jonathan Ross