Street Fighter IV stays true to classic arcade roots

Legends: these are the games that have stood the test of time. These are the games that changed and adapted to the renovations of the gaming world while still enticing their fans with every new release.

Few are worthy of this title—to be able to transcend consoles, to be able to help old fans relive the glory days while drawing new ones in. Today, a new team stands to be judged and accepted into this list of legends. They are the Street Fighters.

Back in the days when multiplayer options were limited by technology, the popularity of head-to-head fighting games surged like never before. Capcom’s Street Fighter II became one of the most defining games of the genre. Its impact was so overwhelming that its characters and moves are instantly recognizable even by today’s players. A single shout of “Hadouken!” would bring back endless memories.

However, with the rise of wireless communication technologies and the rapid evolutions of gaming consoles, fighting games soon fell to the FPS, Sports and MMORPG genre. Not only do these games show off the consoles’ visual capabilities more effectively, they are also able to host a large number of players at the same time.

The legacy once left by Street Fighter II and other similar fighting games soon became history’s dust. The franchise and its later installations were rarely revisited except by the most die-hard fans. The lack of new creative materials with each new release, along with the introduction of a long list of trite characters, marked the franchise’s downfall.

Capcom’s latest release, Street Fighter IV, will soon change that. With a complete makeover in the game’s visual display, Street Fighter IV is an amalgam of modern technology and the classic arcade gaming experience. While staying true to the 2-D fighting frame, it offers a beautifully designed 3-D presentation of the fighters and the different countries that make up the game’s stages. The visual aesthetics are further enhanced by a calligraphic display. Ink replaces blood, smoothly transforming violence into art on arcade machines, home consoles and soon the PC.

As far as the storyline of a fighting game is concerned, the mythology behind the Street Fighter franchise is quite fulfilling to the audience. The relationship between the characters pushes the sub-themes of revenge, honor and friendship, making the story much more fascinating and relevant than those of other games of the same genre.

Each player’s storyline in the arcade mode of the home console version begins with an animated clip. Sadly, the cheap illustrations and the terrible English voice-over made a mockery of the newly improved visual style of the game. On the bright side, these are all rather negligible once the real action begins.

The home console version of Street Fighter IV offers a fully satisfying roster of 23 playable fighters. Since the game’s story is set between Street Fighter II and Street Fighter III, old fan favorites such as Ryu, Ken, Chun-Li, Blanka, Guile, Vega and the rest of the cast make a very welcome reappearance. Capcom also introduces four new characters in the latest installment: Crimson Viper (US agent), El Fuerte (Mexican luchador), Abel (French martial artist) and Rufus (rounded American fighter).

The legendary Gouken (Ryu and Ken’s sensei) and Akuma (Gouken’s brother) become unlockables through playing the game.

The game’s control is the classic six-button combination of kicks and punches. The system is easy to get used to for beginners, while remaining familiar to the experienced players.

Iconic moves such as the Hadouken, Chun-Li’s Lightning Kicks and Blanka’s Electric Thunder all have the same input combinations as earlier games. The same can be said about other basic commands such as blocking, throwing and taunting, making the latest installation true to the Street Fighter franchise.

Another new aspect of the game is the introduction of the Ultra Combos. While the Super Combos had been an integral part of the franchise after Street Fighter II, the Ultra Combos are more powerful attacks that trigger beautiful cinematic cut-scenes upon activation.

While the Super Combo gauge is built up by attacking and using special moves, the Ultra Combo gauge is filled whenever the player takes a hit. This is a very nice way to bring more depth into the fighting strategy as well as balancing the gameplay. However, the wonderfully redesigned game still tragically suffers from the two-player limitation.

Overall, Street Fighter IV is a very solid game that provides a high list of options for the players. It is the phoenix rising from the ashes of a dying franchise. The $60 price tag is worth it for the gameplay renovations in an old classic. Street Fighter IV is impressive, especially for a fighting game in today’s competitive field of gaming, dominated as it is by high expectations and hard-to-please players.

With this latest installment, the Street Fighters can surely be added to the list of gaming legends. Hadouken!