Typical, isn't it? The main presentation at Nintendo's European 3DS Showcase finished mere moments ago, and already a snaking queue has formed in the massive chamber next door. The line is at least 30 bodies deep, with journalists and retailers - plus the odd competition-winner - eagerly shuffling forward at the first opportunity. But these people aren't waiting for their first go on the new handheld; no, they just want to get their mitts on a free hotdog - plus onions, natch.
By contrast, I find that I'm relatively free to stroll right into the "Ono's Dojo" area, home to several chained 3DS units playing Super Street Fighter IV 3D Edition. Admittedly, the booth fills up rather swiftly as I tuck into my first fight, but I still feel that the occasion should be marked with a bit more grandeur. I'm playing SSF4, on a handheld unit, in no-glasses 3D. And this isn't some mutilated port we're talking about - it's the genuine article.
For anyone who's ever played a hacked-up, watered-down portable version of a classic fighter - and let's be honest, we've been getting them since the Game Boy - the scale of this achievement cannot be overstated. SSF43DS may have a horrible acronym, but it also has pretty much everything you'll find in the home console version: a full roster of 35 characters, a complete movelist for each fighter, and a full six-button layout. The latter allows for a full set of normal attacks, while the usual two-button commands are used for throws, taunts and focus attacks. On first impressions the action feels a tad slower, a bit less buttery than its big brother - but only by a small fraction. In short, it plays like a very close replica of domestic SSF4.
Naturally, there are a few points of difference. While the fighter models resemble their usual gorgeous selves, the backdrops have been simplified. So, while you'll still scrap at the Historic Distillery, you'll find that it's no longer possible to knock the big stack of barrels over. If you take your eyes off the battle at hand (more fool you), you may notice that there fewer spectators in the background of each stage, and that they've now been reduced to simple 2D cut-outs. Thanks to the 3D effect, this gives the impression that you're fighting on a low-budget film set.
On the whole, the 3d-ness works rather well - which is to say it looks pretty without getting in the way of the gameplay. Actually, that's not entirely true. There are two camera angles to choose from, and if you elect to play from the Dynamic view you may struggle to retain your usual form. Here the game shifts to an odd 45 degree perspective, with the camera sticking close to your fighter at all times. It certainly shows off the stereographic effect, but unfortunately makes it tricky to judge whether or not certain moves will hit. The controls also feel a bit weird, as you're effectively fighting into the screen, and yet all the inputs are based around a sideways-on view. A quarter circle-towards is no longer a quarter circle towards, if that makes sense.
While we're on the subject of controls, the 3DS's Circle Pad (which from here on I insist is called the C-pad) seems to be a fairly solid tool. It's certainly a lot better than the iPhone's on-screen stick - but then a used syringe poking up out of the console would have been better than the iPhone's on-screen stick. The important thing is that Shoryuken, Hadouken, and charge inputs are both easy and comfortable to perform. There is, however, a slight issue with pulling off the double-hadouken motions that trigger Super and Ultra combos. However much I tried, I simply couldn't nail the moves with the required speed and clarity. Under such duress the C-pad seemed a bit gummy, but hopefully it'll just be a case of learning how to handle it properly.
For the amateurs and casual players, it's worth noting that the lower screen of the 3DS offers four large "buttons" during a match, each corresponding to two special moves plus your Super and Ultra. This is an extremely powerful aid, and the purist in me wrinkles with distaste at the shortcuts it facilitates. Normally it takes a fair bit of skill and practice to successfully cancel a special move into an Ultra, but here you can pull off such tricks with two quick finger taps. In Zangief's case, this means that you can thread a Banishing Fist into a Final Atomic Buster with virtually no effort at all, which is very good for you, and very bad for your opponent.
While this may sound like a serious concern for hardcore players, Yoshinori Ono has given assurances that you'll be able to turn off this assist. More importantly, you'll also able to specify your preferences when playing online, ensuring that you'll only be matched with other players who've chosen to eschew such game-breaking assistance. If that's true, then the casual-friendly touches should do no harm. You certainly can't blame Capcom for trying to open the game up to a wider audience, after all.
Indeed, for all its fidelity to the console-based original, there's a definite sense that SSF43DS may be a game for the casual market. After all, it's hard to escape the fact that anyone who takes the genre seriously would rather be playing on a stick, or at the very least a full-sized pad. After two copies of Street Fighter IV in as many years, do people really want to shell out for a third version - even if it is portable and in swanky 3D? Only time will tell. Still, it's certainly clear that Capcom has a put a tonne of effort into making this a decent port. For the time being, that's enough to leave me feeling encouraged.
Super Street Fighter IV 3D Edition will be released during the 3DS launch window.