We haven’t posted much about games on Backstage in recent months, but today’s North American release of Capcom’s Street Fighter IV for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 ($60 each) had us dusting off our consoles for the first time in ages. It may or may not be a mild exaggeration to say that gamers have been waiting 17 years to play this title: for those who may be unfamiliar, Street Fighter II was a literally breakthrough one-on-one fighting game that appeared at a pivotal point in the history of arcades, inspiring every major fighting title that came afterwards—Fatal Fury, Virtua Fighter, Tekken, and dozens of others. Between Street Fighter II, its many pseudo sequels, and its clones, the one-on-one fighting genre was directly or indirectly responsible for the subsequent decade of arcades’ continued survival, yet neither Capcom nor its subsequent competitors ever quite came up with a 3-D game that could fully substitute for SFII; there were plenty of impressive alternatives, but nothing quite like it. Capcom and its development partners tried on countless occasions to develop something worthy of being called a sequel, and found each time that its efforts required retooling: Street Fighter III went through three iterations before players warmed to it, Street Fighter Alpha did the same, getting better at version two, and the sorta 3-D Street Fighter EX series never quite took off. All three of these series, say nothing of forgettable titles such as Street Fighter: The Movie, offered “fan service” to hard core players, yet turned off novices and many casually interested gamers.
So Capcom brought in a new producer, Yoshinori Ono, to thoroughly reboot the Street Fighter franchise, and he took a novel approach, mixing ink and cartoony art with more detailed characters, finally doing the animated SFII proper justice in 3-D. Thanks to the PS3’s and Xbox 360’s superior graphics hardware, Ono was able to transform characters and themes that were miserably handled in Street Fighter EX into more lifelike, vibrant versions, while ignoring most of the post-SFII titles as if they had never been released. Virtually all of the new characters invented after Street Fighter II—and there were many—are ignored in Street Fighter IV, in favor of the entire original SFII cast and a handful of offbeat new creations, including a Lucha Libre wrestler, a techno femme fatale, a really fat guy, and a French grappler. Only three of the Super Street Fighter II crew, fan favorites Cammy, Fei Long, and Akuma, appear in SFIV, while lesser-known characters Rose, Sakura, and Dan have been brought over from the Street Fighter Alpha series; no one new from Street Fighter EX or Street Fighter III is included. Several familiar Street Fighter II backgrounds have been rebuilt in polygons here, along with a number of new ones, and everything is presented from a side-scrolling perspective… until the semi-secret “special moves” get whipped out.
At that point, the camera dramatically pivots inwards, closing in on characters’ faces and supernaturally blazing limbs to give you a better than ever view of the martial arts action. Ono unquestionably got at least 90%, possibly more, of the “what should Street Fighter II look like in 3-D?” equation correct.
Is SFIV going to be a massive, game-changing phenomenon like SFII? Probably not. High console and game prices aside, Capcom has an uphill battle to win back all of the Street Fighter fans it has shed over the years during its less impressive development efforts, and since there are no local arcades where we—or most other people, these days—could play Street Fighter IV before buying it, it’s a leap of faith. But even though there’s no doubt that the first-day sales for this title are not going to be as impressive as they were for the original Super Famicom/SNES version of Street Fighter II in 1992, we’d strongly encourage fans of the genre to get their hands on a copy, or at least a friend’s second controller, anyway.