Playing online ranked matches earns you battle points, which feed in to the leaderboards, as expected. Adding to the experience is the ability to set titles and icons to your player status - what opponents see next to your name online. These are unlocked as you play, and will prove a popular incentive for the show-offs among you. Expect Street Fighter IV to be more popular online than any fighting game in recent memory.
The mark of a brilliant fighter, as all fighting game fans know, is a balanced roster. Having one or two characters that are by a country mile better than the rest is what you want to avoid. Capcom has done an admirable job in this respect with Street Fighter IV. No single character seems overpowered. Ryu will be popular, due to his ability to hit juggled opponents with his Ultra. Sagat is his usual powerful self. Newcomer Abel is fun and, with his invulnerable roll and command throw, is a dangerous threat. The characters will be ordered into tiers, of course, but what appears to be the case is that every character has, in the right hands, a chance against every other. You can't ask for any more really.
Why isn't Street Fighter IV a perfect 10? The four brand new characters are a mixed bag. Abel is fun, and Rufus, despite his jelly-like belly, is fast and potent. But El Fuerte is pointless, just rubbish, and Crimson Viper looks ridiculous - an SNK character lost in a Capcom game. Seth, a creation from one of Bison's Shadoloo labs, is not only cheap to fight against but a lazy effort on Capcom's part. He looks like a rip-off of Dr. Manhattan from The Watchmen comic book, and has moves nicked from Ryu, Guile, Zangief and Dhalsim. Capcom's had over 10 years to think of a new Street Fighter boss. One with such a silly name, and moves from existing characters, can't be considered anything but a disappointment.
Also disappointing is the game's failure to offer some kind of tutorial for people in need of a refresher, or seeking to improve their game with expert advice. Why not have videos with voice over explaining how it all works? Or videos showing how to nail some advanced techniques, like cancelling, combo timing and strategy? Trials, found In the Challenge mode, set you a series of character specific combos, which are a useful way of learning some advanced techniques, but the game simply asks you to do them and that's it. There's no effort to explain how they're done or what timing is required. You can't preview them either, a feature fighting games have provided for years now.
This disappointment fuels the feeling that Street Fighter IV's single-player experience is bare bones, at least in comparison with other leading modern fighting games. There's the standard Arcade, Challenge and Training modes and that's pretty much it. Bar some gallery stuff, there's nothing to unlock, no character creation mode, no accessories to dress your favourite fighter in. The animated shorts that play before and at the end of a character's journey through the Arcade mode are bitterly disappointing. They're poor quality and embarrassingly bad on the dialogue front. Think Power Rangers spliced with Pokemon and you're approaching the cringe-worthiness of proceedings. If you hoped for snippets on a par with the excellent Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie, hope for something else. Overall, the result is a game that, unless you're planning on playing local matches with friends or online, feels boring.
But that's the case for all fighting games really. Character creation, dressing characters up like Barbie dolls or pointless efforts at story have never been the genre's point. It's all about the multiplayer and the thrill of victory against real-life opponents. That's how it's been since day one, since you put your first 20p into the arcade version of Street Fighter II and challenged that joker who thought he was the dude.
Street Fighter IV effortlessly captures the Street Fighter spirit, of that there is no doubt. It's instantly familiar but with enough innovation to interest fighting game fanatics willing to dig a little deeper. Yes it's a conservative effort, a safe bet if you will, but it's still the best 2D fighting game since Marvel vs. Capcom 2. There's a magic to playing it - whether that's down to the game rekindling memories of a childhood spent drilling shoryukens, or the excitement of mastering the Focus Attack and eking out the nuances of this Greatest Hits Street Fighter engine, it doesn't really matter. What matters is that Street Fighter is back, and that long wait is finally over.