Street Fighter IV
In the not-too-distant future, Street Fighter fans are going to get something they've wanted for a long time: A proper Street Fighter sequel that aims to maintain the classic, 2-D style of gameplay that Street Fighter II turned into a phenomenon all those years ago, while at the same time boosting the visuals into 3-D. How successful the game will ultimately be at this goal remains to be seen, but based on the demo version of the game we checked out at this year's Game Developers Conference, the potential for something really cool is definitely there.
Capcom brought the same demo of Street Fighter IV that the publisher had on display recently at the AOU show in Japan. The arcade machines were running an unfinished version of the game that featured 10 characters, including eight classic fighters -- Ryu, Ken, E Honda, Dhalsim, Blanka, Chun Li, Zangief and Guile -- as well as two new fighters -- the secret agent Crimson Viper and the amnesiac MMA fighter Abel.
Right off the bat, SF IV comes at you with a sense of nostalgia. Pick any of the classic characters, and you'll find that all the old standbys are on hand. Nearly all of the characters' primary moves are ripped right out of the SF II era, albeit with plenty of animation updating and adjustments in timing. In fact, some of the timing in the build we played seemed ... off. This feeling was most pervasive in characters that use a lot of charge attacks. E Honda's torpedo attack, Blanka's roll attacks and Chun Li's spinning bird kick, for instance, seemed to take quite a long time to charge.
Then again, the game as a whole had a generally slower feel to it than many of the last several entries in the Street Fighter series. That's not to say it felt overly sluggish, but the movements of the characters and general feel of the moves had a slower, more methodical pace overall. Capcom is still working on a great many things, including general game pacing and balance, and the release date is still a good ways off, so odds are what we played will end up being considerably different from the final product.
Slow as it may be, the gameplay feels like it's on the right track. It feels like proper Street Fighter, albeit with a 3-D twist. The game still takes place on a 2-D plane, but all the visuals have been revamped into 3-D. It's all looking pretty sweet, too. Character animation is fantastic at this stage of development. Hits look incredibly brutal across the board, from Zangief's murderous-looking body slams to Ken's flaming shoryuken. The characters each have distinctive looks that retain the basic qualities of the classic 2-D sprites, but give a great deal more life to the characters. If there's any qualm to be had, it's that sometimes the faces appeared a bit goofy. Many of the characters have bulging eyes that get even more bulging at various points in the game. It's one thing to see eyes popping out of someone's skull when they're getting hit, but it's another when the game quickly cuts to a close-up during an ultra combo and Ryu still looks like he's just wandered in from the last scene from "Total Recall."
Aside from the new 3-D look, one might be wondering if SF IV does anything different from the old Street Fighters. Well, yes, it does. One new addition to the game is the revenge meter, a meter that sits just below your character's health bar and fills as you take damage. The revenge meter lets you do a number of different things. You can use a small amount of the meter to deal an instant attack that stuns your opponent for a moment, or charge it up by holding down the attack buttons longer to unleash an unblockable attack that drains most of the meter, but also does a ton of damage. There are also new ultra moves. These are ludicrous combinations of moves for which the camera cuts to a cinematic view as a character goes straight up to town on an opponent. Just as an example, Zangief's ultra move is to give an opponent a rather harsh-looking German suplex, which he then parlays into a severe looking backbreaker, and then finishes off with a spinning piledriver. Ow.
By the by, don't think we forgot about those new characters. Admittedly, we didn't get to see a great deal of them in our time with the game, but we did get a decent feel for each one. Abel is most akin to some of the larger, slower types from the franchise's past. His MMA skills evidently translate to a lot of close-range attacks, and he's got some pretty devastating-looking strikes. Crimson Viper didn't appear to be quite as cool as Abel, looking like something SNK would probably have rejected from one of its numerous 2-D NeoGeo fighters, but her attacks make up for her lackluster appearance. Most of her special moves involve high-flying feats, like a leaping knee attack and a dashing punch move. Again, we only got a small taste of these two, but both seem to have their merits and could potentially be memorable additions to the franchise's lexicon.
At this early stage in its development, Street Fighter IV can't help but leave one with a great sense of anticipation and excitement. Hell, the event we attended to see the game was filled to the brim with eager players waiting their turn like teenage boys in a sweaty, concrete-floored arcade circa 1991. The consensus among the crowd seemed to be that, while the game has a long, long way to go, it's on the right development path, and could end up being exactly what the franchise needs to become relevant again outside the hardcore EVO circuit. Here's hoping that it stays on the right track.
While this demo featured the arcade version of this game, versions for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 are in development.
This preview was based on an unfinished demo version of the game that was playable at GDC 2008.