What We Liked
Hallelujah Haduken!: When Capcom's Street Fighter II broke out in 1991 it was a phenomenon in the arcades and soon after on the SNES (1992). Great depth, many playable characters and awesome head-to-head battles gave the game its magic. While several incarnations of the franchise have come and gone, fans have long been waiting for a jump to the next-generation consoles. And thankfully the wait was worth it.
2D Or Not 2D: SF4 stays true to itself by keeping the action in 2D. Many recent fighting games have gone 3D, which mostly allows for sidestepping. The backgrounds in the game are 3D, as are some of the special move cinematics, but the graphics do not suffer. The art direction of the game is stylized, though the fighters are probably a tad on the beefy side. Chun-Li's legs are simply ridiculous -- I've seen smaller thighs on a T-Rex. The animations and fluidity of the movement and combat are very impressive and ultimately immersive. When you get hit hard you'll see it.
Game On: SF4 offers a solid amount of modes that will keep you busy. You can fight your way to the top in Arcade mode against the CPU. Challenge mode gives you time attack, survival and trial (to perform specific moves). There's a throw-in mode where you can beat on a training partner. The real meat is online play where you can find and create matches based on connection stability and player skill. You can also set the game to allow online challenges while you're playing the CPU in Arcade mode. It can be turned off but it's a nice ode to the era when someone could drop a quarter and jump into your game.
Character Driven: Returning characters include Ryu, Ken, Chun-Li, E. Honda, Blanka, Zangief, Guile, Dhalsim, Balrog, Vega, Sagat, M. Bison, Fei-Long, Dan, Sakura, Cammy, Gen and Rose. Four new characters make their debut: Crimson Viper, Rufus, El Fuerte and Abel. Hidden characters include Akuma, Gouken and Seth. All 25 characters are playable but to start you only have access to 16 of them. The rest are unlocked as you beat the game with various other characters in Arcade mode. Overall the characters are well-balanced though you're sure to gravitate towards characters that suit your style of play.
Deep Impact: Each character has an array of special moves and throws, some of which are more or less shared with other fighters. Mastering the basic moves isn't too tough. Capcom has added extra layers of depth with Focus Attacks, Super Combos and Ultra Combos. Focus Attacks are charged by holding buttons and can be released in different levels. They're effective as a counter attack. Super Combos are based on special moves with additional pad or button presses. These attacks become available/charged up by landing regular attacks. Ultra Combos are available/charged up by taking damage which fills a "revenge gauge". When executed they deliver a lot of damage. Learning when and how to use each on top of the regular moves has a significant learning curve. You can also cancel these moves which creates great cat-and-mouse tension against human players as you attempt to anticipate the other player to gain the upper hand. When you figure it out you're going to be dangerous.
Watch M. Bison take on Seth:
What We'd Change
Who's The Boss?: In SF4 it's a bald, blue fellow who looks as if he missed the casting call to play Watchmen's Dr. Manhattan. Despite his unfortunate, and ultimately unintimidating name, Seth is hardly a pushover. His arsenal includes many moves from other Street Fighters that are effective in keeping you off balance and low on health. Getting past Seth on easy isn't easy. When you get better and try him on medium, well, it can be frustrating. If you can beat him on hard then consider yourself "the man."
Are You Shoryuken Me?: Playing online is really the best way to see if you're as good as you think you are. And it's a great place to try and learn from the folks that are truly better. And trust me when I tell you the competition out there is fierce. Unfortunately a lot of people online don't like to lose. So be prepared to play folks that will more or less do the same move over and over unless you can stop it. You Ken-using, shoryuken-repeating SOBs know what I'm talking about!
Stick It To Me: Mad Catz has the official peripheral license for SF4. For the game they produced two high-end joysticks as well as a fight-pad. Both feature the six-button layout common to arcades. If you're serious about the game you're going to want something better than the PS3 and 360 controllers, which simply aren't equipped with good d-pads and appropriate button layouts. The problem here is the first wave of product from Mad Catz sold out very fast as demand was more than they figured. In the meantime free-market monsters are gouging on e-Bay and Amazon. More product is on the way but this should have been anticipated.
Street Fighter IV is a must for fans of the franchise and for fighter fans than want to test their mettle. The learning curve of the game is significant but it's also a game you can pick up and play, and enjoy, as you learn the ropes.
-- Reviewed by Aaron Samus, SI.com