Parting Thoughts on Street Fighter IV

Last week, we posted a quick entry on Capcom’s Street Fighter IV for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. An update was promised, so here it is.

Wow. Well, at least, mostly wow. We think back to years ago when 3-D modelers first began to construct amazingly complex three-dimensional versions of the Street Fighter characters, merely to show that they could do so; dreams were shattered when Capcom and Arika’s Street Fighter EX series debuted with far less detailed, unimpressively animated versions of Ryu, Ken, and the gang. It was a suggestion that Capcom either didn’t know how to bring its 2-D characters to life, or didn’t care about doing so properly.

Street Fighter IV proves that the company now both knows how, and cares about doing this seemingly small but critical thing the right way.

With the exception of a couple of characters—the now meaty, big-handed Chun Li and the awkwardly angular Fei Long—Capcom’s character models seem like believable if cartoony versions of humans, and some go beyond that. Ryu, Cammy, and Zangief look phenomenal, Dhalsim, end boss Seth, and former end boss M. Bison are all far better in 3-D than one might ever have imagined after seeing Street Fighter EX, and new characters blend all but seamlessly into the familiar crew. To underscore one point there, the Cammy model is quite possibly the best in the entire game, with equally amazing animation; her inclusion is greatly appreciated. Similarly, when the backgrounds are great, they’re truly amazing: a recreation of Chun Li’s street scene is now more conspicuously set in Shanghai, and Blanka’s Brazilian jungle scene is shackless, but both offer animations and other little details that can’t help but blow the minds of people who last saw these levels as flat.

We’d argue that the only things missing from this game are obvious: 3-D versions of the rest of the backgrounds, and proper remixes of more of the old music. While completely redoing the prior Street Fighter II in 3-D mightn’t seem original, the truth of the matter is that virtually all of the settings dreamt up by Capcom’s prior crew were so classic and smart that very little since then has compared with them in memorability: Dhalsim’s Indian elephant palace, Ryu’s Japanese rooftops, Sagat’s reclining buddha in Thailand—these are the types of backdrops for fights that can’t be forgotten once seen.

Somehow, seeing Ryu take on opponents under an overpass, Dhalsim fight in a brewery, and Sagat in a dim temple just doesn’t compare; even when these backgrounds are nicely detailed and animated, the visual focal points just aren’t that impressive. We’re guessing that Capcom will add more backgrounds around the same time as it splices Dee Jay and T. Hawk back into the game, along with a few more Street Fighter Alpha characters; how exactly Rose, Dan, and Gen wound up in here is beyond us. But Gen turns out to be a worthwhile addition, anyway.

From a gameplay standpoint, we wouldn’t fault any but one of Capcom’s decisions here. Between their old moves and their new Ultra Combos, which make more dramatic use of the 3-D graphics engine than in any other game we’ve played—including Virtua Fighter 4—the characters are almost all a joy to play, a combination of furious action, some strategy, and some practice doing unfamiliar combinations of joystick motions and button presses. They perform quite ably even with the stock PlayStation 3 controller (sorry, Xbox players), and the concept of unlocking additional characters by beating the game with various rivals is a sound one, if a bit too tedious thanks to Seth’s unbearably cheap attacks.