Even though Street Fighter IV is going on six years old, Capcom, as always, still insists on performing CPR on the most recent entry rather than just make the sequel already. So with the new version coming next year, I figure now would be an opportune time to give my formal two cents on the game. After all, anyone who knows me as a gamer knows that Street Fighter is my favorite fighting franchise and one of my top favorite game franchises period.
Street Fighter IV debuted in arcades in 2008, with the home console releases following in early 2009. It kicked off what many refer to as the new fighting game rennaissance, as the popularity and prevelance of fighters had died down significantly at the turn of the millenium. The inevitable "SUPER" update followed the summer of the following year, but to be fair it did give players alot of bang for their buck with a significantly larger roster, and a plethora of new stages and game modes compared to the original version which was rather bare bones.
The first thing many fans noticed about it was the new art style...which I personally don't care for. I definately think that they could have made the character models look better. True, Street Fighter is supposed to be cartoony-looking and a bit silly but, these 3D renders I just found...ugly, to be frank. But that is more of a personal nitpick really, and the backgrounds do look lovely.
One thing they did get right with Super Street Fighter IV was the roster. Chronologically, Street Fighter IV is set between Street Fighter II and Street Fighter III, which gave them many options as to the characters that could be in the game. For the most part they took the fan favorites from each game; there are the classic characters from the Street Fighter II era such as Guile, Chun Li, and E. Honda, some Street Fighter III reps such as Makoto, Ibuki, and Dudley, and Alpha series reps like Rose, Gen, Sakura, and Dan Hibiki, and the return of Final Fight guests Cody and Guy. It's like a dream match except it's canon! And the best part is, you get the entire roster right out of the box (well, until the Arcade Edition update).
There are some brand new characers too...but well they are honestly kind of bland and sucky sans Gouken, Juri, and perhaps Abel. But that part is just my personal opinion, the point is many fans should be pleased and there is a character for everyone. The only objective roster related complaint is that Street Fighter III enthusiasts might be dissappointed at the lack of Street Fighter III reps since the three I mentioned earlier are actually the only three, though Yun and Yang were added in the Arcade Edition update and even more are going to be included in the upcoming Ultra update.
Gameplay wise, SFIV is kind of a mixed bag. I will just outright say that I am not particularly in love with the engine. It is pretty stiff feeling which often leads to pretty slow paced games of turtling and projectile camping. I mean there are times when it works and it is great fun but it is different. I suppose you could say it is more of a thinking man's fighter as it ends up being like more of a chess game, considering that there are many variables to take into account during the match as well. However it takes a bit of getting used to compared to the faster paced nature of the other games.
SFIV introduced two new mechanics: the focus attack and the ultra attack. Focus attacks function like counters. The counter is activated automatically if you are attacked while charging the focus, but some attacks can break through it. I have no problem with the Focus mechanic as it does add another layer of strategy. Right next to each player's Super meter is the Revenge Meter, which once adequately filled allows you to input a combo to perform an Ultra attack. The more full the meter is, the stronger the ultra attack. Some players don't seem to like it much as they feel it is too much of a reward for taking damage but I really don't mind it. It keeps you on your toes and adds yet another layer of strategy.
Balance wise it is not perfect, but at least all the non-Ken/Akuma/Sagat/Zangief/Blanka characters are viable. They toned down the characters that needed to be from the original version. They also added some more modes. There is the requisite arcade mode in which you pick a character, witness a horribly drawn anime intro, and fight your way through to the final boss and the horribly drawn anime ending. There is also training and playing with the AI but the livelihood of any fighter has always been multiplayer and SSFIV delivers with plenty of online modes. The game still has a relatively robust online community which will grow again with the coming of the update.
While Street Fighter IV is not my favorite, it is a fine game on its own merits and still worthy of its brand name. Even though it is about to be six, it has held up over time and is still fun to come back to from time to time. If you didn't pick it up during its heyday, I say it is still a worthy purchase if you are a Street Fighter fan. That said, bring on Street Fighter V, Capcom. Or better yet, Street Fighter Alpha 4.