I did promise I’d have a whole rant prepared about characters. Well, here it is.
What it feels like a lot of other developers do is try to make all of their characters meet a certain standard of viability. So if Character A absolutely stomps the floor with Character B, they’ll make some attempt to even the scales. Sometimes they’ll nerf A, and sometimes they’ll buff B. During this process it’s possible to introduces a bug, an infinite, anything unintentional really, that throws that character out of sync with the rest of the cast. I would imagine these things often happen. You can theorycraft as much as you wish, but when you actually go in and make the changes anything can happen. Eventually this back-and-forth game reaches a semblance of equilibrium and you ship it. Or you run out of time during development and your game is unbalanced as hell; such is life.
Capcom releases a game, let’s say Street Fighter 4, in arcades, and gets a ton of feedback. They release an update for the game; update the roster, move properties, all that jazz. A real meaty patch. Finally if you’re, say, a Vega player, or an El Fuerte player, or maybe even a C. Viper player, you can hope. You can pray that Capcom has recognized the comically pathetic status of these characters and has made a few tweaks that will improve them. You’re not looking for top-tier powerhouses, you just anticipate your opponents watching El Fuerte run around like a psychopath during battle and laughing in fear.
Then Capcom asks to borrow your shirt and shits in it. Just shits all up in it. Balls it up, uses a clean scrap of sleeve to wipe their collective asshole and then hands it back to you. “Here’s your patch you retardedly hopeful motherfucker,” they say to you. They got sick of your positive outlook, your optimistic forum posts. When they saw your smug, ugly-ass face after you won against a Ryu one guy literally snapped his pencil in half.
This is because there are some characters the design team likes, and some it hates. And guess what? They hate your character. Hate your character. Not just because you play him/her/it, but that definitely helps because guess what they also hate you.
The point I am laboriously arriving at is that Capcom does not try to make its characters equal because Capcom does not want its characters to be equal. As a fighting game fan, one who never really got into other Capcom fighters, it seems very strange. Look, for example, at the tier lists for the past three Guilty Gear XX iterations. You may notice a surprisingly high degree of fluctuation between versions, even of characters no one thought redeemable (hello Zappa how are you doing down there). Do you know what this tells me? This tells me Arc Systems is trying.
Now look at the tier lists for Street Fighter 4’s lifecycle so far. A few people move up, a few people move down, but almost all remain in their designated tier zones. Finding a glass ceiling in fighting games is depressing, honestly. If you played a shitty character before (excluding Viper; I have a feeling her being that low was a real mistake), that character is still shitty. They had almost a year to change it, and they didn’t. There’s no way that’s an oversight.
Take my personal example. I really like Cammy. Cammy in SF4 is shit. I wouldn’t mind too much if A) there was hope that Capcom will elevate her in the future, or B) there were other characters I wanted to play. Unfortunately, the chances Capcom will improve her seem remarkably slim; none of her moves are safe, her command inputs have been re-complicated to Super Turbo levels (while others, like Sagat’s Tiger Knee, have been simplified), and the properties of those moves have been tuned way, way down. It took me a while to admit, but there are way too many problems to ignore; this was a blatant act of setting a character at the bottom of the barrel. Which is what Capcom does, and I suppose I can’t get too mad at it. What I can get mad at is the character designs. They’re shit, let’s not dance around it. Let us all just say it straight out, it’s bracing. They are shit. Chun-Li, Crimson Viper, Abel, Rufus, Seth – Seth! The guy looks like a gray Gumby extra – I could go on, but the truth is the old characters look worse than they ever have. The new characters just look bad. And bland, my God do some of them look bland. El Fuerte is a small wrestler with a Luche Libre mask on; I’d have thought we’d seen the cliche enough in the past that someone would add something to make him stand out. Oh, they did, a frying pan in his intro. Guess the team wanted to leave work early that day. In the end, none of these characters make me want to play them. At best I’m indifferent, and I really don’t want to be the ten-thousandth Ken or Ryu player.
I usually don’t pay much attention to tier lists, since I’ll never reach the level of competition where they come into play too heavily. I’ve always played Dizzy in GGXX, and she’s never been very good, but I really like the character and I like her playstyle. But when I’ve been playing a game for a week and I’m noticing crippling problems with a character (Hooligan Throw, in addition to requiring an EX bar to be worth anything, can’t grab ducking characters? Really?) something is seriously amiss. Well balanced? Maybe, but don’t tell Vega or he might suicide.
He’s been having problems at home.
First thing’s first: I was really hoping combos wouldn’t lean so heavily on links. Links are when you chain two moves together, giving the opponent no chance to block. The timing on links opposed to normal moves (usually jab -> something) is the stuff of nightmares. The window is usually less than a dozen frames, a frame being 1/60th of a second. Hit it too late, and your opponent can block it. Too early and nothing happens; that’s when you get a flaming bone sandwich shoved into your skull. I like to stand my Street Fighter 4 box next to my TV and, whenever this happens, give it a big fuckin’ thumbs up. YOU’RE THE MAN CAPCOM, YOU ARE THE MAN.
(That was a very clever reference to the Samuel L. Jackson/Eugene Levy comedy. I am basking in your silent applause)
As for the online…well, the netcode is fantastic. That’s really the most important part, and they nailed it. Of course, they took that excellent netcode and encased it in a capsule of shit, but you can’t win ’em all. No multi-person lobby? Matchmaking searches which take forever? No recordable video? I know these problems will supposedly be addressed by a patch in March, but goddamn, Dead or Alive 4 had this features at launch. Over three years ago.
As far as character balance goes…I can’t really say. Sure people have been playing the arcade for months (and the newly updated arcade version for a little while too), but the console-specific characters? Total mystery. Well, I suppose they’re not a total mystery, since so many people have come forward to inform us that yes, these console characters are actually quite lame. You know what, I shouldn’t make terrible generalizations like that. Some are decent, some are worse. You know, I often hear that Capcom games are well-balanced. That’s a rant for another time; all I’ll say is I wish I was attracted to tall muscular cycloptic Thais so I could have spent the last fifteen years laughing instead of crying and having boiling coffee poured into my eyes.
And then there’s everything else. SF4 has a ton of bonus shit. Time Trial, Survival and a move/combo execution mode, all yielding more character colors, titles, icons, and gallery artwork. The graphics are great; everyone knows this. The animation is as slick as the grease build up on my face which glistens with the reflected glow of my television in the darkness as I destroy scrubs online. “Fall on your knees, salvation has fled; your doom is approaching. Its name is Dan.” That’s a line from a song I’m writing, about Street Fighter 4, but you can use it if you give me credit. I sing it over Live all the time anyway.
So far yes I like SF4, I’m just not sure if I’ll be able to stick with it and gain any real proficiency. Linking sucks and the more elaborate combos seem like more work than I’m willing to put into a game I don’t flat-out love. I truly believe Capcom’s goal was to make the game really easy to pick up for any moron, but make serious play insanely difficult. For no real reason. I don’t like when something is overcomplicated just for the sake of it. In fact, you could say it is one of my least favorite occurrences. At least I got the anime movie that came with the game. Man I love anime, I’m gonna watch some right now.
There’s this new game that came out a week ago. It’s been getting some pretty good reviews. Like 10 out of 10 good. With all the hype surrounding the game, I bought it and played for about two to three hours each day since release. So, is it a 10 out of 10? Not really. 10 out of 10 would imply that there’s nothing wrong with the game or at least nothing major that would leave a sour experience with certain key areas. Anyways, let me break it down:
I really like the graphics. The animation is smooth and flawless. The facial expressions of each of the characters are hilariously exaggerated. The stages are very vivid and eventful. The art style is refreshing and, for lack of a better term, stylish. Unfortunately, while Capcom was too busy trying to get everything I just mentioned above right, they forgot to don their creativity and originality hat while designing the characters themselves. El Fuerte? It’s like they kidnapped El Blaze from Virtual Fighter 5, put him in a sauna for 72 hours and hypnotized him so he’s convinced that he’s El Fuerte, the wacky cook. Hey, you know who else was a wacky cook? That’s right, Chef Brian! Bet you didn’t see that one coming did you? I don’t think I need to get into Rufus much. Honestly, I would be fine if he was just a joke character, despite the fact that the only joke character Street Fighter 4 needs is Dan (well, two if you count Vega ho ho ho), but he’s not a joke character. He’s a fast moving motherfucker who apparently is worthy of fighting alongside top tier characters such as Bison and Balrog. That is fucking depressing is all I have to say.
So, moving right along, next up, we have Crimson Viper. I hate to sound like a giant homo but I love picking the female characters most of the time. I’m not going to write a huge article on why I like picking female characters and I’m sure I’m not the only one who does so. I’ll just say that I pick them because they’re either hot or cute. C. Viper is neither of these. Of course, that’s only 35% of the reason why I don’t play as her; the other 65% is her character mechanics and playstyle. That’s all I have to say about her. Abel on the other hand is alright. Alright if you ignore the fact that he’s French and generic. The only reason why he gets off easy is because he’s my main right now and I don’t want to feel depressed every time I play as him. Then there’s the rest of the cast. They’re all characters that have appeared in the past Street Fighter games and really, what’s there to say? Nothing has really changed my opinions on the standard Street Fighter cast. There are certain character that I do like (e.g. Guile, Zangief, Bison, Chun-Li) and then there’s are certain characters that I don’t like (e.g. Dhalism, Honda, Akuma, Vega). Of course, I can’t play any of the characters that I like because I really hate charge characters. Now, it may seem rather noobish not play a perfectly good character just because that character design doesn’t suit my taste but let me just say this: if I’m going to practice hours and hours to get good at a game, what’s even the point if I really hate playing as that character? It’s like driving a super fast car on the race track except the car is made out of cardboard boxes and the word “faggot” is spray painted on both sides of the vehicle. Sure, you may win some races but at what cost?
There’s nothing really noteworthy to say about the audio track. A hadoken sounds like a hadoken and a shoryuken sounds like a shoryuken. The soundtrack is pretty much the standard music we hear in most fighters. It gets the job done and doesn’t distract from the actual gameplay. If I have to compare it to other fighters, I would put it right above Soul Calibur 4’s soundtrack but below 3rd Strike.
Single Player Mode:
The single player mode is pretty mediocre. The AI can either be an extreme pussy or an absolutely unfair asshole. I expected this though since most, if not all, fighters uses the same god damn single player setup. Come on guys, can you at least put in some damn effort? For the uninformed, the setup usually starts out with your first fight all the way to your second to last fight (where you fight your rival/destined encounter) being incredibly easy. When you get to your rival, the difficulty usually varies between fighting games. Sometimes the difficulty doesn’t change at all and you fight your rival like normal (e.g. Street Fighter 4, Soul Calibur 4, etc). And sometimes, the difficulty shoots straight up through the ceiling and if you’re using the Xbox 360 or Dreamcast controller, then you’re all kinds of fucked up (e.g. Guilty Gear X, KoF series, etc). Now we’re on the final boss. His difficulty is usually pretty high because he is, after all, the final boss. I understand the boss fights have to be more challenging but seriously, this is a fighting game. Isn’t giving him an arsenal of cheapass moves too much? Couldn’t you just raise the difficulty bar by 2 points or something and just be done with it? Not only does it require little effort but now you have another character that you can actually use in a versus match without feeling guilty. How can you argue against that? But nope, gotta give these bosses instant teleports, life regeneration/resurrection (fuck you, Gill), instant and safe projectiles, unblockable attacks that cover the entire screen, etc. So, yeah, that’s pretty much Street Fighter 4’s single player mode in a nutshell. As for the actual story and cut scenes, it’s at least better than Soul Calibur 4. I know that doesn’t say much since Soul Calibur 4’s single player mode is god awful but oh well. Also, you have to unlock characters in single player mode, which is bullshit but not surprising since we all saw it coming.
Other than character designs, everything else that I’ve said about the game just now is pretty insignificant when compared to the most important aspect of the game, the multiplayer mode. Fighting games generally aren’t very good when you play them alone. But I’ve been buying them for years despite the fact that there was practically zero competition for me to play against, which doesn’t make any sense. Maybe I just loved the potential fun each fighting games held and hoped that one day, I’ll find somebody competent to play against. Fortunately, I’m now living in a era of fast online games and good local competition. So, after playing the game for about a week with friends online and offline, is the game good enough to redeem its failing qualities in character designs and single player play? The answer is a resounding yes. Now, the multiplayer is far from perfect. The lobby and match making system is complete and utter trash. Come on Capcom, how is it possible for a game like Dead or Alive 4, which was released within a month of the 360 launch, has a better lobby and match making system then Street Fighter 4? Hell, Soul Calibur 4 has a better lobby system even though the game is lagged to all hell online. I mean, I know Street Fighter 4 will be getting a “Championship” downloadable pack which will address all these issues but still. For the uninformed, Street Fighter 4 can only put you and one other person in a lobby at a time. So, you can’t invite your other bros and homies to spectate and queue up for the next battle. Despite all this, there’s one thing Capcom got right in multiplayer and that’s the latency. Moves come out as if you’re fighting the person offline. Although there may be some occasional hiccups and slowdowns, it doesn’t happen nearly enough for it to affect the outcome of the game much. And if it does happens, it’s only there for 2 seconds or so.
Okay, so we got the multiplayer component down but what about the actual gameplay/combat mechanics? Obviously, Street Fighter 4 needs more than great netcode in order to considered “good”. For those who are new to the fighting genre, the game is very easy to get into. There are three ways to punch and three ways to kick. You can also throw by pushing both jab and short, focus attack by pushing both straight and forward, and taunt by pushing both fierce and roundhouse. And then there are special moves (which is usually limited to 4-6 per character), super moves, and ultra moves. Now, remember when I said that this game was easy to get into? Well, by easy, I really meant that anybody can just pick up a controller and start duking it out with their friends in less than a minute. I didn’t say that this game was easy to play because deep down, this game is highly complex. Some may even argue that the game is way to complicated for its own good. I can understand why to some extent, too. Like for instance, making ultras take three punches/kicks is a very poor design decision in my opinion. A friend of mine was complaining how the focus attack system is a good mechanic but falls short of greatness due to how awkward it is to focus attack dash cancel out of special moves into another combo. Minor griping aside, this is a fantastic competitive game to play against live opponents. Every battle, you learn something new and gradually become better. And as you get better, the matches become more intense which in turn makes the game better. It’s a little hard to explain what is it that makes this game good to most newcomers but if you have ever tried playing a fighting game seriously against other like-minded folks who wants to win at all costs, then I’m sure it’ll be easy to understand. Having six different types of normal attacks instead of the usual four buttons other fighting games utilize definitely opens up a wider variety of tactics you can use to defeat your opponents. And then there’s focus attacks, which I covered a little bit of. A move that can be utilized both offensively and defensively, it can absorb one hit and one hit only. Depending on the level of focus attack you used and what your opponent used, if you release the focus attack, it can send your opponent into a crumple state. You can then use this opportunity to unleash a punishing combo/ultra as long as you correctly time your moves. Not only that, but you can dash cancel out of a move that would have been otherwise unsafe if the move had been blocked. Not surprisingly, this opens up a giant floodgate on the types of mind games you can play with your opponent.
What attacks are can be canceled into a special move? What’s a good move you can use to jump in and get close to your opponent? What’s a good ground anti-air move that you can use to punish an opponent foolishly jumping in without warning? What EX moves can you use that has armor properties and when is it a good idea to use them? These were all questions that was going through my head as I played online. Now, when I played online, I usually only played with Bob since playing with my other friend, who is a beast when it comes to Capcom fighters, would only be suicide. Still, my win:lose ratio was about 1:9 when I first started but by the end of the week, it started looking more like 2:3. Bob started out by spamming dragon punch whenever possible, whether it was halfway across or on wake up, and by the end of the week, it was probably one of the moves he used the least unless he was sure that he’d be able to hit me with it or he was trying to play mind games. There was one game where we both were at 10% health on the final round. One mistake would cost us the game and for the next ten seconds in the round, we both did nothing. Absolutely nothing. I’m sure Bob was waiting for me roll so that he can throw me out of it and I was waiting for Bob to jump in so that I can tornado throw him as soon as he landed. Or if he threw in a fireball, I could just jump in over it and land a kick on him. So, we just stood there, staring at each other. Finally, I got impatient and jumped towards him in order to land the final kick on him. He blocked and I ate his dragon punch shortly after and lost the match. I lost the battle but I was having fun. And really, if you’re having fun, who cares about everything else (excluding character designs god damn it Capcom).
I didn’t expect this “first impression” to be so long but hey, it happens. If you managed to read the entire article, then you already know what I think of the game. If you’ve just skipped the entire article and you’re only reading this section, then let me bottom line it for you. The game probably has some of the worst character designs since Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter: The Movie, and the single player mode is nothing worth writing home about. But if you can get past the lackluster multiplayer lobby and matchmaking system, then you’ll find a game with a lot of depth and replay value. If you don’t like fighters, then this game will not change your mind. If you do like fighters but will only play a fighter “casually” (and I use the term loosely as it’s very possible to play a game seriously and still be casual like me) and will only play by whatever fucked up rules you have, then go back to Super Smash Brothers Brawl and stay there. If you’re like me, then this game is for you and it’ll keep you hooked until the next big fighting game comes out. With all that in mind, I give this game my stamp of approval.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
- Play Dead or Alive 4 online.
- 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.
Actually it was released two weeks ago. But PUPPYRUSH.NET is releasing our Street Fighter IV First Impressions this week, which is probably even better. After two weeks a lot of people would figure they’ve played enough, and write a whole review, replete with actual number demonstrating game quality. We here at PUPPYRUSH.NET are serious casual fighting fans though, and wouldn’t presume to pass total judgement on a game until we got some extensive quality time with it. One impression will be posted a day in order to best extend the pleasure. All three at once would possibly (definitely) be way too awesome for the human brain to safely consider.