With "Street Fighter IV," everything old is new again. American arcades have long since gone the way of the dodo, but Capcom is making a conscious effort to recapture the magic of throwing down quarters on an arcade cabinet.
"Street Fighter IV," however, refuses to ride on a wave of pure nostalgia for its success. This is a bona fide successor to Capcom's prized fighting franchise, not some offshoot where Ryu and Guile take on Wolverine and Cyclops. The returning characters and maneuvers are unmistakably classic Street Fighter, but new stages, characters and fighting mechanics give "Street Fighter IV" its own identity.
The occasion of this game's release feels nothing if not momentous; 10 years have passed since the last proper entry. "Street Fighter IV" draws its inspiration from the "Street Fighter II" series of games, forsaking any gameplay evolution (and characters) from the "3rd Strike" arc. "Street Fighter II" is certainly the series to pick when replicating the arcade atmosphere, but the core gameplay takes many steps backwards in the process.
When you've grown accustomed to the new coat of paint, it hits you: they just made "Street Fighter II" again. The only substantial new combat mechanic, the Focus Attack, is an unblockable strike allowing players to absorb a hit without flinching. It is a welcome addition, but otherwise very little has changed in the way of tactics. Many expected "Street Fighter IV" to revitalize the fighting genre for a modern era, but how can it do so while sticking to its ancestor's blueprint?
On the other hand, a contingent of devoted fans will view the "they just made 'Street Fighter II' again" sentiment in a totally different light. Online gaming and fighters haven't gotten along so well in the past, marred by infuriating lag on button inputs, but "Street Fighter IV" gets it right. It actually brings real competition to a global scale without sacrificing in-game performance. This alone should get hardcore fighting fans riled up.
"Street Fighter IV" cannot, however, escape the less-than-optimal performance of standard game controllers. Neither d-pads nor analog sticks are reliable for pulling off the game-changing super and ultra combos. Nothing sucks more than failing to execute a Metsu Hadouken because you accidentally tapped an intermittent direction on the stick.
A pricy and rare arcade-style joystick may be the only option should you decide to stick with the game. And like any good fighting game, "Street Fighter IV" hooks you from the moment you try it, encouraging improvement with every step. Even after all these years, the Street Fighter formula is still tremendously fun and exciting.
The graphic style, permeated with ink brush strokes and vivid colors, gives the game a unique, if not impressive look. Bulging eyeballs and other outlandish facial expressions on the characters also create a light-hearted cartoonish vibe, which kids and adults alike should find appealing.
Capcom unfortunately skimped on the surrounding presentation. The anime prologues and epilogues for each character look cheap and don't last for more than thirty seconds. Navigating the menus feels somewhat soulless while staring at static backgrounds and just enough text to get by. The arcade port quality feels rather sloppy overall.
Is "Street Fighter IV" the best fighting game of this generation? No. Its peers have evolved, expanding in depth and substance, while "Street Fighter IV" takes a regressive approach. But it's a damn solid fighting game nonetheless, and Capcom has treated the beloved characters with the same respect fans have held for years.