Thursday, July 21, 2011

Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition Review

Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition, developed and published by Capcom.
The Good: Slick mechanics with assorted strategies and forgiving control input, many characters with varied special moves, lag-free online play with comprehensive modes, pleasing presentation runs very smoothly, competent AI with assorted difficulty levels
The Not So Good: Steep learning curve, level selection has no impact on fighting, no repercussions for players who quit online matches mid-game, Games for Windows Live required
What say you? The classic fighting franchise returns to the PC with an excellent, accessible package: 8/8

MY POORLY WRITTEN INTRODUCTION
The two most famous fighting franchises in video gaming history are Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat, and since Mortal Kombat routinely ignores the PC (with the fourth version being the last to appear on computers 14 years ago), screw it. My first/only exposure to Street Fighter was the second version on the Super Nintendo, where my friend routinely defeated me because I would just press random buttons. Now that I am older and wiser, I can perform more complex strategies like pressing random buttons more quickly. While the original Street Fighter IV was released on the PC in 2009, we missed out on the “Super” version thanks to pirates (because piracy never occurs on the consoles, right?). In any event, let’s get your hadouken on and see if the latest version of the venerable fighting series is worth your time and money.

GRAPHICS AND SOUND
Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition looks and sounds good. The character models are detailed with great, fluid animations when moving and fighting, exhibiting great reactions to a solid kick to the head. The textures could be a bit more detailed on a couple of the characters (especially the chests of the shirtless men…not that I look at…shirtless…men…moving on), but each character is easily identifiable by looks alone, which is good since people will be swapping positions early and often. The backgrounds are varied and vibrant without being distracting, and the special effects for the different combat moves are colorful and effective. Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition is not taxing on your system, either: I was able to crank everything up to the maximum levels and skill pull in 100 frames per second in the benchmark, although the game can drop frames if your system is struggling to keep up with the action. I can’t use my native screen resolution (1280 x 1024), though. The sound design is pleasing to the ear, complete with chaotic battle effects, good voice acting for each of the characters (including an appropriately over-the-top announcer), and suitable music for the intense fights. Overall, I was pleased but not overwhelmed by the graphics and sound in Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition.

ET AL.
Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition is a fighting game, where you fight fighters willing to fight. The matches are quick, fast-paced events that can be enjoyed a number of ways. First is the classic arcade mode, where you take one hearty warrior against a series of foes; you can customize the difficulty, number of rounds, time limit, and whether you want to get interrupted by fight requests from online players (pretty cool integration, and you will get constantly bombarded with challenges). There are also versus battles, where you can take on the computer or another person on the same PC in a single match. The twenty or so maps never impact the battle in any way. Beyond simply battles is the challenge mode, where you are offered over twenty trials for each character that teach basic moves and suggested combos while unlocking icons and titles you can display online (the time attack and survival modes from the original Street Fighter IV have been removed, oddly). Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition also features a training mode against dummy opponents (or ones that fight back, if you choose), where you can analyze your input and see why you can’t land that Illusion Spark. However, the training mode does not explain basic strategies or non-specific moves (like focus attacks or throws, for example). Finally, Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition features an enhanced replay channel so you can marvel at people much better at the game than you.

Online play, obviously a huge draw for any fighting game, comes with plenty of tasty options in Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition. Regrettably, the game uses the always-annoying and patently unnecessary Games for Windows Live, but I must admit that I’ve had a relatively low number of problems (still more than zero, of course) with this use of the much-maligned software. The basic method of pummeling people online is through ranked matches, where you can engage people of similar skill levels. Thankfully, you can browse for opponents instead of having to rely on the always-terrible quick match system, and potential adversaries are displayed along with color-coded ping indicators and a computer system rating for maximum enjoyment. Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition also includes endless matches, where a lobby of up to eight people take turns fighting the winner of the last match, and team games, where the lobby is split into two sides. Finally, there are tournaments that utilize a bracket-style system. Winning a match will earn you experience points (both overall and per-character), but even if you barely lose each round, you gain no experience online at all for a loss. Of course, experience isn’t actually used for anything other than matchmaking, so I suppose it’s actually OK, since, if you keep losing, you’ll be matched up against people of similar terrible skill. Speaking of being matched up, I'm not the greatest Street Fighter player, but every time (not exaggerating, seriously 100% of the time) that I came close to victory, my opponent would quit the game (probably alt-tabbing out of it, my guess), losing the connection so he wouldn't be charged with a loss (and I wouldn't get the win). Jerks. I'd like to get at least a tie and some experience since this happens with disturbing regularity. A final note: you don’t see your opponent’s character until both have been selected, a great feature that prevents picking the “counter” for a particular fighter. In all, the online options of Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition are quite robust and enjoyable.

Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition has thirty-nine characters, and you can thankfully play them all right from the start (though you can easily unlock new outfits and sayings simply by playing). I used a gamepad to play the game, although you can use a keyboard or a six-button arcade stick, too; in any case, you'll need six inputs for the array of punches and kicks the game offers (light, medium, and hard of each). There are similar actions among characters: most fighters either use quarter circles (down, down-right, right for example) or back-and-forth motions for their special moves, so it’s just a matter of learning which movements are used with which kicks and punches for each character. Each combatant has three special moves, a super combo, and two ultra combos (you pick your favorite to bring into battle) to compliment their basic attacks. There is seemingly good balance between the characters, since there are endless discussions online on which “tier” each character belongs to. Generally, fighting becomes intuitive once you get the basics down, but the game still allows for some advanced tactics.

What kind of advanced tactics, you say? Things like combos, which require good timing to pull off two (or more) moves in a row. You can also dash (which can cancel some moves), jump, taunt, block high or low, counter incoming attacks, and throw your opponent using both “light” buttons. Pressing both “medium” buttons will start a focus attack, which will block one enemy move, and then immediately attack and knock down your foe; they are easy to pull off and helpful to swing momentum in your favor. You can also perform more powerful special moves by using a portion of your super combo bat and pressing two punch or two kick buttons simultaneously. As you can see, there are a lot of options at your disposal, and Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition strikes a great balance between accessibility and still having options for veteran players. The length of the battles is adjusted nicely: not too long, but not too short, and close contests with each player close to their demise are not uncommon. The AI is good without resorting to outright cheating (though they pull off super and ultra moves with near 100% accuracy, unlike a human opponent), and the game offers plenty of difficulty levels to provide a challenge at any skill level.

IN CLOSING
Fighting fans will be quite pleased with Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition. The game starts with lots of unlocked characters, so everyone should be able to find at least a handful of fighters who appeal to them. Each combatant has three punches, three kicks, three special moves, a super combo, and an ultra combo to differentiate themselves. Add in combos, blocking, dashing, throwing, and more advanced moves like countering, focus attacks, and EX moves, and you have a lot of options at your disposal. And once you learn how to do a quarter-circle (and especially two in quick succession), performing almost all of the in-game moves is simple. Of course, executing them in the right order is the key to victory, which separates the veteran from the novice, but the lenient controls still allow for beginners to get in to the game. Still, Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition is a bit intimidating to newcomers, especially when you try to take on experienced players online who actually know how to “cross up with a jumping hard punch into a focus attack dash cancel” (whatever that means). The AI puts up a good fight, but easier options are available for those who struggle against competent opposition. The arcade and versus modes are the typical fare, while the challenges will keep people busy for a while earning new outfits and testing new characters in the training mode. The online game, despite using the pure evil that is Games for Windows Live, is well done, complete with ranked matches, endless “winner stays on” games, team events, and bracket-style tournaments. You can also browse for opponents to find the player with the best connection (although lag was never an issue), but I'd like to have some consolation for players who quit the game right before I defeat them. In short (too late!), even if you are only mildly interested in the genre, Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition is a great choice as one of the best fighting games ever made.