Seeing red again
The Street Fighter series is one that will always invariably undergo several revisions, all in the name of uncovering the perfect fighter. Ultra Street Fighter IV, the latest iteration of 2009's massively popular Street Fighter IV, is an exemplary specimen of what cherry-picking mechanics, features, brawlers, and balancing alterations can do for an already venerable fighting game.
Despite being the fifth "remix" of a solid title, Ultra Street Fighter IV is a comprehensive series of tweaks and upgrades that come together to showcase the most feature-rich version of Street Fighter IV yet.
On the surface, the alterations may not even be noticeable to players who breeze in and out of Street Fighter in a casual manner. Other than additional characters and cosmetic augments, it seems very much like the same game. Indeed, much of where Ultra Street Fighter IV's appeal will lie is within the fighting enthusiast crowd.
Ultra Street Fighter IV (Xbox 360 [reviewed], PC, PlayStation 3)
There's a smattering of upgraded mechanics, for instance, such as Ultra Combo Double, Delayed Wakeup, and Red Focus, that act as immediate draws for those firmly in tune with Street Fighter IV's fundamentals. Red Focus acts in a similar manner to that of a standard Focus attack and can be pulled off by pressing the medium kick, medium punch, and light punch buttons simultaneously, where it soaks up the brunt of damage for two EX energy bars. Your fighter will flash red as they charge up a regular Focus attack, and will still be weak to Armor Breaking moves and throws, so think of it as a super-powered Focus that can get you out of a tight spot again and again.
It takes some doing to make Red Focus work for you, however, and new players will find themselves struggling to pull it off since there are plenty of reasons it may not absorb the opponent's attack. For this, a sizable amount of knowledge regarding the enemy's move repertoire is almost required in order to be able to make full use of this new augment. It can be very useful to implement if you find yourself matched with an opponent who spams the same move over and over, or staving off an attack for the moment so you can ready an additional combo.
Speaking of combos, Ultra Combo Double eliminates the need to choose between two Ultra Combos, allowing players to have their cake and eat it too with both of them enabled in the midst of a brawl. Of course, for the sake of balancing, each solo Ultra has been weakened individually for players who choose to go in with both equipped. This isn't exactly a demerit against Ultra Combo Double, but a warning: you'll want to size up the competition when opting to take two lesser Ultras in rather than the coup de grace that is your normal Ultra Combo.
Lastly, Delayed Wakeup is one of the craftiest moves I've seen in some time. It allows extra time for your character to stay on the ground after knock-downs. Its implications are quite serious for those with established play styles. For example, those who have already hammered out patterns that allow them to get high and low combos to ensure their opponent has no way out will have to rethink their strategies.
Seeing as it's nearly unpredictable enough to shake up even the most seasoned fighter, it will require even top-ranking players to rewrite their most seaworthy tactics. Combined with Ultra Combo Double and Red Focus, that's more than enough to make the game worth repurchasing or upgrading -- especially if you ever want to play professionally or already do. This, in tandem with the numerous character tweaks regarding frame rate edits, balancing, and other alterations to the core game make it a force to be reckoned with before factoring in the new characters, stages, and other content.
Ultra Street Fighter IV adds five new characters to the mix, bringing the roster up to a whopping 44 brawlers. Poison, Hugo, Rolento, Elena, and Decapre are a varied set, with their own highs and lows that offer a brand new reason for veterans to return. Learning each fighter's play style was certainly one of the most exciting parts of the game for me, especially given the fact that Hugo is the exact opposite of the build of fighter I tend to play with.
Hugo is an enormous wrestler, filling a good portion of the screen and lumbering toward characters with all the grace of a drunken hippo. Even though he's painfully slow, however, he packs quite a punch with bone-crunching power stored in his fist. If you're anywhere near him without a quick exit plan, prepare to be crushed.
Elena is perhaps one of the most interesting additions, implementing the dance-inspired fighting style of capoeira. If you're an Eddy Gordo fan (or Christie Monteiro) she'll feel quite natural to you, with her kick-centered movesets, awesome high jump, and bursts of pure speed. She very quickly became my go-to fighter, with her easy maneuverability and quick recovery time playing to my own personal strengths.
Rolento is great for players who want more of a well-rounded fighter, as he's great with breaking focuses, chaining combos, and gaining ground for grabs and throws. He can be difficult to master, but unlike Hugo or Elena he's not especially plodding or sprightly, striking a nice balance between the two.
Poison is a familiar face with a shock of gorgeous pink hair and a mix of mid-range and long-range moves to please different sects of players. Many of her moves rely on the use of her trusty whips, and her three-hit whip move is devastating if used at the right time.
Lastly, Decapre is essentially Cammy, reskinned and reoutfitted with moves borrowed from Cammy and Vega. I had been looking forward to Decapre to see if she was indeed a "brand new" addition to the Street Fighter universe. But aside from the hard facts and recycled aesthetic, Decapre has some secrets of her own that will no doubt resonate with players after they've finished grumbling about her looks. She can implement satisfying teleports with slides and dive-kicks, thanks to her telekinetic powers. Launching opponents into the air with Decapre is simple and fulfilling, and while it's easy to stay cynical, she may very well end up one of your best-loved characters.
Hugo, Rolento, Poison, and Elena appeared previously in Street Fighter X Tekken, so if you want to be technical, Decapre is the only "new" addition, which is actually a little disappointing, when you think about it. I bring this up due to the fact that the new stages (Mad Gear Hideout, Blast Furnace, Half Pipe, Jurassic Era Research Facility, and Pitstop 109) are also taken from the same game. Fortunately, the additional content meshes well with the new fighters and look absolutely fantastic. I just wish there would have been legitimately "new" maps and characters folded into the mix instead of older assets.
What are legitimately new are the new options and additional modes to play around with, like Team Battle for 3v3 elimination matches, and Training Mode with save states, online support, and YouTube replay uploads that you can do straight from inside the game. Edition Select is the most intriguing augment, and it lets you play with every iteration of the Street Fighter IV characters thus far. Choosing a version of a character "pre-nerf" is comforting, and will be inviting for players still cross about changes made to their favorites. It's also exciting for setting precedents and settling arguments about which version of your fighter is the most powerful or the weakest. You'll want to spend a lot of time there, for sure.
All in all, Ultra Street Fighter IV looks and feels fantastic, and despite the fact that many of its "new" pieces of content have been seen and used before, it's still very much an exciting riff on an already-solid fighting game. I'd go so far as to say this marks a new jumping-off point for those looking to get into the genre, but haven't touched a Street Fighter in years, let alone the original iteration of Street Fighter IV. If you're ready to take the plunge, do so with confidence. And if you're a returning player, know that you've still got plenty to uncover. Shoryuken!
THE VERDICT - Ultra Street Fighter IV
Reviewed by Brittany Vincent