Review: Capcom Street Fighter IV
Even one year ago, today's release of Street Fighter IV ($10) for the iPhone and iPod touch seemed inconceivable. Having augmented Capcom's tried-and-true one-on-one fighting game series with a radically enhanced graphics engine and 25 different martial artists to choose from, the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 fighting game made such impressive use of the advanced 3-D hardware in these consoles that we believed a proper touchscreen port to be unthinkable, writing:
“The gulf between the gaming experience that Street Fighter IV provides and what we are accustomed to playing on the iPhone and iPod touch these days is too huge to fully explain. People who have played even the original Street Fighter, let alone II or any of the other sequels, know already that these titles are impossible on Apple’s devices until a proper controller is released.”
Yet here we are today, playing the final—well, maybe?—version of Street Fighter IV on the iPhone, and though Capcom has come nowhere near knocking this particular ball out of the park, it has laid the groundwork for what could eventually become a very solid series of fighting game ports to the App Store. Serious fans of the world-famous franchise might find it more appropriate to call this game Street Fighter 2.5, as the translation does away with virtually all of the major innovations Street Fighter IV brought to the series: 3-D character and background art has been flattened into 2-D, there are only eight characters from the console game—all but one of them taken from Street Fighter II—and the gameplay has been dumbed down somewhat given the continued lack of a proper controller for Apple’s devices. Though the game has a whopping 200-Megabyte footprint, the storylines, explanatory anime movies, and plenty of other in-game AV content have been dumped, too; consequently, though this port feels more like an overambitious Nintendo DS title than a good or great Sony PlayStation Portable game, preserving just enough of the essence of Street Fighter IV to be a step beyond what gamers would have expected from a translation of the older Street Fighter II.
But before dismissing the iPhone version of Street Fighter IV as a complete loss, consider what’s been kept. Ryu, Ken, Chun Li, Guile, Dhalsim, Blanka, M. Bison and new SFIV fighter Abel all appear, with most of their key moves, whittled down to a virtual joystick and four-button controller plus an optional auto Ultra Combo activation button—tap the meter to activate it. Unleash an Ultra and you’re treated to a 3-D close-up animation of your character powering up the attack, trimmed only a little from the original game, and every other special move from fireballs and dragon punches to yoga flames, electric shocks, and psycho crushers remains intact. For those who may be unfamiliar with the series, the fun is in learning the different kicks, punches, and special attacks each character possesses; Dhalsim has arms that stretch across the screen, Abel is most deadly up close, and virtually everyone has at least one supernatural projectile attack complete with flames or mystical energy.
In addition to preserving some of the music and most of the sound effects from the console game—basically, enough of the good stuff, and minus the awful character selection vocal track—Capcom includes six backgrounds, all of which are completely flat and lacking in parallax layering or animation; only the floors move, and then, modestly. The levels are roughly twice the height and three times the width of the iPhone’s screen, enabling frequent horizontal scrolling and limited zooming-out, plus the occasional vertical bounce upwards with jumping attacks. Surprisingly, a grab and vertical throw from the wrestler Abel just pitches his opponent off-screen rather than tracking the move with camera adjustment, a sign that Capcom either didn’t want to fully zoom out of the background, or adjust the character animation physics to accommodate the new 2-D perspective.
So why does the game need 200MB of storage space? It includes two movies, one the original ink-washed SFIV introduction, and the other a very limited and frankly somewhat confusing promotion for the upcoming sequel Super Street Fighter IV, featuring pre-rendered particle effect animation; no platform, in-game footage, or release date is given. It mostly made us wonder whether we should have just saved our money for the inevitable iPhone followup.
To Capcom’s credit, this port of SFIV is a good enough fighting game that casual players will be able to enjoy it, but serious players will be less than completely impressed. The controls overlap the bottom half of the screen, and significantly so, but can be made transparent and thereby much less intrusive via a simple settings menu. Charge moves, special moves, and combos work, though obviously not responsively enough to replace a proper controller, and diagonal jumping attacks in particular feel imprecise and not quite right—even on the speedy iPhone 3GS, which should offer a very smooth experience. Performance suffers only a little on original iPhone and iPod touch hardware, with a very slightly lower in-game frame rate, and modestly longer loading times. A two-player Bluetooth mode is available for those who want to fight their friends in the same room; the original iPod touch does not include this two-player mode, but other iPods and iPhones with Bluetooth hardware do.
Single-player “tournament” mode is only decent. On easy or even normal difficulty, the game is a complete pushover, and can be blown through in 4 minutes playing one-round matches; playing 3, 5, or 7-round matches will only prove more challenging if you boost the difficulty level to “hard” or “grueling.” Big SFIV fans may be disappointed to find that M. Bison is, as in Street Fighter II, the final boss rather than SFIV’s brutally difficult Seth, yet Bison possesses none of his furious SFII-vintage ferocity; other new characters such as Crimson Viper, Rufus, and El Fuerte are nowhere to be found. “Rival” matches do take place in tournament mode, but with no introductory dialogue for those who might care.
Ultimately, our big gripe with Street Fighter IV for the iPhone and iPod touch is the $10 price, which would be reasonable enough for a more complete though similarly 2-D and control-crippled port of the console game, but feels like reaching given the very limited scope of this version. There’s something dissatisfying about a game with so few backgrounds that you can expect to see one twice during the course of a single play-through, and with so few characters that you lose the original final boss—and 16 other console characters—in the process, leading to “that’s it?” feelings very soon after purchase. Thus, Capcom has delivered a title that proves that its storied collection of 2-D fighting games could easily find a new home in the App Store, and we’d love to see Darkstalkers, Warzard, Street Fighter III Third Strike, and other classics make their way to this platform, but in order to be worth paying for, they’re going to need to arrive more intact than this. It will be interesting to see whether the company is up to the task of making that happen, and improving Street Fighter IV through post-release updates. We certainly hope so.