First Impression,  Street Fighter 4

Street Fighter IV: Street Fighter the Voyage Home

Now that everyone on Xbox Live and their down-right quarter-circle punching grandmothers have air fireballed my 360 into a steaming pile of melted plastic, it’s probably time for some sort of review.

A not-really-that-long story short, I’m beginning to think that Capcom programmers don’t want to make games for the PS3 or the 360. It sounds stupid, but seemingly every Capcom game from the past five years has some sort of arbitrary game design decision thrown in that hangs around until the Metacritic score is exactly 10% lower than where it would be were the game made for general enjoyment, then the Special Edition comes out for the PC and ‘fixes’ all the problems or adds in features that counter-balances them.

Dead Rising had a moronic save system and a font size measured in nanometers, both of which Capcom stubbornly refused to change until the upcoming Wii version. Lost Planet had a terrible matchmaking system and a ‘why-the-fuck-aren’t-you-dead-didn’t-I-just-shoot-you’ rolling/invulnerability frame system. Devil May Cry 4’s level designers apparently thought they did such a good job on the first half of the game that they should just use it for the second half, and so on. Street Fighter IV, unfortunately, has the same affliction as these games, but rather than make this An Introduction to Street Fighter IV: A Treatise, I’m going to split this up into a few areas and say why I thought they were good, bad, and where the bad design choices ended up.

SOUND

The first of the arbitrary design decisions that I noticed involved the horrendous voice acting. You see, you can’t change the voice acting from the U.S.-Manga-Corps-level dub work to the Japanese voices until you actually beat the game first. Sure, it will take you about 10 minutes on Easiest, but why is it even set up like this?

One sound for each attack is another awful choice. It isn’t so annoying until you realize that, like the other Street Fighter games before it, each character has about 5 special attacks total. After several matches of getting my ass handed to me by a Dhalsim that shouted YOGA YOGA FIRE YOGA BLAST YOGA YOGA TELEPORT YOGA YOGA over and over and a CPU Abel who said I SAW THAT I SAW THAT I SAW THAT ad nauseum I was about ready to set all my matches to one round to reduce the amount of time I had to listen to them.

GRAPHICS

The actual gameplay graphics look amazing, and little details such as Okami-like ink flourishes during some attacks makes SF4 stand out from other fighting games on the 360. Other details to look out for are the backgrounds, which can be a little distracting when you have dudes in the marketplace stage falling off balconies and crashing bicycles, but is otherwise a nice touch and shows polish.

What doesn’t look good is the animated cutscenes; they look worse than the actual Street Fighter anime (which looked cheap to begin with). The character designs in these scenes look off – Dan is built like a brick house, Sakura looks a little too boyish, and Ryu’s shoulder span makes him look like a pinhead. Combine that with cringe-inducing voice acting and you see why I rapidly hit Start during every cutscene that comes up.

GAMEPLAY

Quite honestly, the last time I played a Street Fighter game was vanilla Street Fighter II, so I was a little surprised to turn on SF4 and find that not much has really changed. Sure, there are new gameplay modes (Time Attack, Trial mode) and some new mechanics like Ultra Combo Attacks, but the game is still all about down quarter-circle-forward punch.

Speaking of which, you might want to master that particular motion, as practically a third to a half of the fighters use that same motion for their special attacks, and therein lies one of SF4’s greatest strengths and weaknesses. If you master one set of characters (the Ryu, Sakura plain-Jane set) you’ve pretty much mastered a large fundamental portion of the game, and the other portion (charge move-centric characters) is so frustrating and works so rarely you’ll probably not want to bother.

ONLINE

Bar none the worst feature of SF4. Seriously, I can’t quite understand why this portion of the game design continues to be such a difficult portion for developers, particularly when designing this portion should only be a two-step process:

  1. Play Dead or Alive 4 online.
  2. Do what Dead or Alive 4 did.

The worst arbitrary design decision here (and the worst in SF4, in my opinion) is the fact that you can only make 1v1 lobbies until the March patch comes out. Fighting game matches are quick, and playing the same person over and over with no spectators (another feature absent for no reason) can get dull after a while, especially when you play player matches online and play a nasty Akuma for 10 matches. What was so imperative about getting SF4 out in February without what should be standard features?

Not that you should bother trying to play matches without friends. With network indicator working only rarely, quick match not actually putting you in a match (seriously Capcom, what the hell), and the result list being made of mostly games that you can’t connect to or games that are already full, the matchmaking system descends miserably to a level of uselessness not seen since Team Butts tried to play Gears of War. SF4’s matchmaking is still an improvement though, because in the words of Bob, “Even when you did get a game in Gears of War, you still had to play Gears of War.”

BOTTOM-LINE: The best way to illustrate playing SF4 is this – it’s a lot like talking to a not-so-smart friend before he takes an exam. You want him to do well because he’s your friend, but you can’t quite help but feel he’s missing key points.

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