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EGM Review: Ultra Street Fighter IV

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Posted on June 9, 2014 AT 09:00am

22-Combo Jumpkick Street

I know I’ve said this in reviews before, but let me say it again: Fighting games are hard to review at launch. What a fighting game is on day one is very different than what it becomes weeks and months later, once the community has really dug into it, found all of the new quirks present in characters and the tweaks they’ve received, and decided whether or not they’ll be sticking around for the long haul. Then, of course, there are things like netcode or new online-focused features, options that you really can’t get a sense for until the game is out there and active for all players. (One of the reasons I tend to prefer to wait a few days after launch before doing a review for a fighting game, such as I did here.)

Because of all of that, reviews end up being more an attempt to predict the potential a particular fighting game has—not an end-all, be-all judgement of what it is and will be. That remains true here for my opinions on Ultra Street Fighter IV. I know what Capcom has done for the game, I’ve tried out what Ultra now offers players, and I have a sense for how a number of its elements sit as of this moment. So, that’s what this review will be about—looking at this fifth (if we’re counting Version 2012 as its own release) iteration of Street Fighter IV and how it stands for both longtime fans of the game and those who may be coming in new.

The best place to start would probably be the five new roster additions: Poison, Hugo, Elena, Rolento, and Decapre. Adding new characters to SFIV at this point has to be a bit of a weird decision, because while the pool of not-yet-included Street Fighter alumni is getting smaller and smaller, the choices on who to bring in aren’t always clear. For example, where’s Alex? Once standing tall as the official-yet-unofficial protagonist of Street Fighter III, Alex seems like someone who should be in the game—and yet, he still isn’t. Or what about much-requested options like Karin or R. Mika? Both would (and could) absolutely fit in with the style and attitude of this latest Street Fighter.

The reasoning behind four of the five choices we get in Ultra is actually pretty easy to explain: They were all in Street Fighter X Tekken. While the character models aren’t exactly the same and movesets need some tweaks, a majority of the grunt work on making these new additions was already done. That doesn’t mean that they aren’t welcome inclusions to the roster—they are. On a personal level, Poison alone could have made me happy. I was one of those people who bugged producer Yoshinori Ono to add her to SFIV back when Arcade Edition was being planned, and while her inclusion in SFxT was something, it wasn’t what I really wanted.

Of course, if you’re going to have Poison, it only makes sense to bring her partner-in-crime Hugo along, and his history as a fighter in SFIII means that he’s got every right to be here. Joining him from the SFIII cast is Elena, another character I’m really glad to see get more screen time. (The SFIII crew don’t always get the respect they deserve, and I always thought she was a standout in the games.) Then there’s Rolento, and yet again, I’ve got a smile on my face. To this day, the Alpha roster—well, excluding the SFII invasion—stands as my favorite cast of Street Fighter characters, and Rolento was definitely a favorite of mine due to his more unique playstyle.

Finally, we get to Decapre. Considering she was hidden in the shadows for some eight months as the “secret fifth character,” I was pretty disappointed to see the reveal turn out to be another of M. Bison’s “Doll” clone soldiers. I’ve never really liked knockoffs—I say as I give a nasty glare to characters like Akuma, Oni, and Evil Ryu—and having yet another Cammy clone as the big anticipated reveal felt more than a little sketchy on Capcom’s part. However, getting past the initial disappointment, she’s an interesting inclusion, and calling her a “Cammy clone” probably isn’t fair. While her charge-based playstyle makes her a character that won’t be easy to pick up for all players (or me a fan of hers), I see some real potential for evil when Decapre is in the right hands.

In fact, I’d say all five characters are great roster additions, but their implementations feel a little mixed at the moment. To my utter surprise, Poison might be one of the strongest of the group, followed by Hugo, Rolento, and Elena in my own completely unofficial and unscientific rankings list. Elena’s the character I most want to see in terms of how well (or poorly) she works in the Street Fighter IV universe. SFIII was a very different game, and at times, its fighters played very differently than other SF combatants, and what worked for her then simply might not work now. I’d love nothing more than to be proven wrong in that concern, though, and hope Elena fans indeed show my fears were for naught.

Of course, a major Street Fighter update isn’t just about new characters, but also changes made to those that already existed. Depending on who turned out to be over- or underpowered the last time balances were made, some get weaker, while others get stronger. Favorite tactics that worked before no longer do, and new tricks are waiting to be found (and exploited). In fact, some new tricks have already been found, but nothing serious enough that Ultra should be considered a flawed game until the next patch arrives. (With my luck, as soon as my saying that goes live, some major, game-breaking combo will be discovered.)

Roster changes aren’t the only new element on tap in Ultra Street Fighter IV, and for me, what’s presented here feels like one of the biggest collective shakeups that’s happened to Street Fighter IV so far in that regard.

Leaving behind Street Fighter III’s powerful-yet-casual-unfriendly parry system, SFIV introduced Focus Attacks, where pressing both the mid-punch and kick buttons resulted in a move that could not only go through an opponent’s attack, but then knock down said opponent while they were still trying to recover. Now, by adding a third button to the mix (and burning some of your super meter), characters can perform a Red Focus. Unlike the standard Focus Attack, a Red Focus can allow you to safely pass through moves that hit for more than one instance of damage. A good example: While a Focus Attack can defend you from one of Ryu’s standard fireballs, a Red Focus can get you through one of his multihit Metsu Hadoken ultra move fireballs. Is Red Focusing through a Metsu Hadoken the best use of your precious super meter? Maybe not—but, man, does it ever feel satisfying.

In addition to the Red Focus, a new option called Delayed Standing allows you to slightly delay how quickly you recover from being knocked to the ground after certain moves, in order to hopefully throw off your opponent’s timing. Meanwhile, Ultra Combo Double allows you to use both of your character’s high-powered ultra moves during a match instead of picking one or the other on the character-select screen—at the cost of both those ultra moves doing less damage than they normally would if chosen on their own.

Finally, and probably most interesting, is Edition Select. Now, when choosing a character, you can play them as they played in any previous version of Street Fighter IV in which they appeared. Think Saga was more fun in the original SFIV before he got nerfed? Is the Super SFIV version of Cammy your favorite to this day? With Edition Select, you can experience your favorites as they were once again—at least when you’re playing against friends in local matches. Yes, Edition Select doesn’t work online, and for good reason: to preserve the latest rules for character balancing as established by Capcom.

I’m especially happy with the additions the game has received in Ultra in regards to its online options. The first of these is Team Battles, where players can connect together to form two teams of two, three, or four members in order to square off against one another. Two win condition options are then presented: Elimination, where the winner of a particular round moves on to fact the next opponent from the other team, or Continuous, where a victory in each round means a point for that team, and the winner is determined by which team has the most points at the end. Sure, it’s not some groundbreaking new concept in fighting games—but Team Battles are a lot of fun, especially when you’ve got a good group of players. Their downfall comes when you don’t have a good group, or when you have someone with a poor connection, since waiting players dropping out mid-game or less-than-stellar connections can result in matches being reset and restarted numerous times.

And, while it may not get a lot of use in the long run, I’m really happy to see Capcom make a change to Ultra’s training mode in order to make it playable online. Using this option, you and a friend (or random stranger) can practice moves, combos, or simply spar without any concern for rounds being over, time running out, or a winner and loser being declared. I remember sitting down with a friend playing Asuka 120% back in the Saturn era, and we’d just muck around in the training mode fighting against each other in order to get better at the game or a particular character. It’s a good way to really learn the ins and outs of a particular fighting game, and by taking it online, that potential is exponentially increased.

Looming over anything to do with playing fighting games online is that mysterious beast known as netcode, and while Street Fighter IV’s online has generally always been up to snuff, cracks do still show at times—and that remains the case with Ultra. So far in my time with the game, I’ve had a pretty smooth going against opponents online, but one new hitch is that, at times, matches will pause and a “Waiting for Player” notification will pop up on screen. I haven’t seen it enough to explain what the exact circumstances surrounding the pop up are, but it can be a real momentum killer when you’re in the middle of a good match. Thankfully, outside of those occasions, Ultra’s netcode feels no better or worse than it was before so far. Of course, as always, with as tricky as fighting games are due to bandwidth and potential lag, your milage may vary.

Thankfully, my biggest complaints about Ultra Street Fighter IV all focus on things outside of what’s most important: the fights themselves. Since I’ve been spoiled by the extensive work Arc System Works puts into training modes in its fighting games, the fact that there’s no real explanation for all of Ultra’s new gameplay features beyond what amounts to a PDF instruction manual is more than a little embarrassing. The included Challenge mode does run you through a particular character’s repertoire, but it’s not a stellar teaching tool for beginners—not to mention that Ultra’s roster additions are shockingly absent from the mode. Street Fighter IV’s deep integration for recording, saving, and viewing replays would be a fantastic alternate tool for learning how to get better with the new cast, but the game’s Replay Channel still offers no way to search for matches featuring a specific character.

Then again, the upside to having such gripes is that they’re a reminder of how far fighting games have come on home consoles. It wasn’t so long ago that offerings in the genre struggled to get online or provide value other than straightforward 1-on-1 competitions. Street Fighter IV has done a lot to make the fighting-game experience a more enjoyable one, and Ultra’s roster additions, gameplay tweaks, and new online modes make a great game even better for a reasonable upgrade price. (Totally new to the game? Wait for the full non-upgrade release that’s hitting in August, which will also net you the full roster of DLC costumes for $40.)

Will this be the final iteration of Street Fighter IV? If there’s one thing you learn about Capcom and Street Fighter, it’s to never say never. And, honestly, at this point, I won’t be happy until every possible Street Fighter character has been added and the roster has collapses under its own weight.

Developer: Capcom • Publisher: Capcom • ESRB: T for Teen • Release Date: 06.03.2014
8.5
While most of Ultra Street Fighter IV‘s new characters are little more than port-overs from Street Fighter X Tekken, the characters are still welcome additions to the roster—and the rest of Ultra‘s features and expanded online modes make upgrading a decision worth making for fans.
The Good A nice selection of additions and revisions that make for a worthwhile update.
The Bad Cast balance and character play styles may need some tweaking.
The Ugly Players who still refuse to move on from Ryu, Ken, and Akuma.
Ultra Street Fighter IV is available on Xbox 360 and PS3 as a downloadable upgrade. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox 360. Review code was provided by Capcom for the benefit of this review.
Eric L. Patterson, Executive Editor
Eric L. Patterson got his start via self-publishing game-related fanzines in junior high, and now has one goal in life: making sure EGM has as much coverage of niche Japanese games as he can convince them to fit in. Eric’s also active in the gaming community on a personal level, being an outspoken voice on topics such as equality in gaming and consumer rights. Stalk him on Twitter: @pikoeri. Meet the rest of the crew.

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