It took Capcom a couple of years to capitalize on the success of "Street Fighter 4," but that capitalization is finally on the cusp of arrival. This week "Super Street Fighter 4," the once-update turned full retail package drops in stores. Of course the experts will gobble this up -- but should you?
"Super Street Fighter 4" offers an additional Ultra Combo for each of the 35 combatants and ushers in the Arcade Mode bonus stages from "Street Fighter 2," which will pit users against dropping barrels or an abandoned car.
On the online side, the game features quarter-match and team-match play for up to eight and four players respectively and an emergent Replay Channel that allows players to save and view their own fights or others' single-player and online matches.
In most respects, "Super Street Fighter 4" feels like the "Street Fighter 2" series of releases with its back-to-the-basics, straightforward approach. Doing a move is a rotation of the joystick coupled with a button press, while defense is little more than a combination of brick-and-mortar blocking and movement. It's sublime simplicity.
The newer mechanics include a series of gauges that, once full, can be used to activate a bone-crushing Ultra or Super Combo. These turn the tide of battle in seconds and parallel the intricacies of combat. "SSF4" is a mix of infinitely intriguing wrinkles -- a diverse, frantic, entertaining, and easy-to-perform collective of special moves, combos, blocks, and jumps. Ultra and Super Combos are the end-alls, but they're also just a part of a dynamic whole.
Convergence: A Tale of Two Fighters
"Street Fighter" experts can still cancel out of moves, counter, and fluidly activate chin-rattling combos born from meticulous study of movement permutations. But the game was designed with an eye for accessibility. "SSF4" is functionally straightforward, giving even the utter novice modicums of success via it's easy-to-understand fight mechanics and grounded move sets.
A total of 35 fascinating, over-the-top, and differentiated characters bolster the game's various offline modes: Arcade, Versus, Training, and Challenge. Arcade Mode is the most interesting of the bunch, as it features several animated cut-scenes and can provide a decent string of player-vs-AI challenges to those that don't wish to venture online.
But for those who do, expect the near total deliverance of a social experience. Endless Battle is an eight player, quarter-style mode that allows for plenty of trash talk and an endless amount of play. Team Battle is a slight riff on this, offering up four-on-four bracketed action. One-on-One, though, is the sole ranked match set. It's also the only mode with a hook in Arcade Mode, allowing bounces between AI opponents and battle-ready users whom the game has acquired via the game's good enough points-based matchmaking.
Failure Is The Teaching Tool
The Training and Challenge modes fail in their instructional purposes. Neither provide appropriate combat context for practicing advanced combos, nor do they bother with serious higher-level tactics.
The Replay Mode's vast selection of player-on-AI or player-on-player replays can instruct via observation, but that's a steep, steep hill to climb on the way to understanding the nuance of "SSF4." So in this regard, Replay does little more than give you something fun to show to friends.
Strip "Super Street Fighter IV" down to its barest and it's nothing more than a fighting game -- a mishmash of animations and frames, of inputs and odd electronic music. But it's more. It's a smorgasbord of technical awareness, a meticulously refined, balanced, almost unflawed fighter. It's proof that a game can be modern and challenging, yet accessible, simple and captivating. It's just about everything a game wants to be: a genre benchmark. Also, the netcode is pretty good.