It's been just under 12 years since the last proper Street Fighter sequel. That game was 1997's Street Fighter III: New Generation. Now, that long wait is over. Now, Street Fighter IV is upon us.
To look back at Street Fighter III and ask what's new seems pointless, not only because it came out so long ago, but because there have been so many iterations of the series since: 2nd Impact: Giant Attack, 3rd Strike: Fight for the Future, Marvel vs. Capcom, Marvel vs. Capcom 2, Capcom vs. SNK, Capcom vs. SNK 2... For those oblivious to the passionate tournament scene it's all a bit... confusing. Indeed, comparisons with a single Street Fighter game are equally pointless. Instead, Street Fighter IV is best compared with all of them.
That's because it feels more like a Street Fighter: Greatest Hits game than Street Fighter IV perhaps should. Yes, it is based on the superb Super Street Fighter II Turbo engine, but elements from the EX, Alpha and III series are felt strongly. Bar the intriguing Revenge Gauge and the innovative Focus Attack, Street Fighter IV is a markedly conservative effort.
Which is the point, if you're Capcom. Its goal with Street Fighter IV is not to rewrite the fighting game rulebook, or to appeal to the fighting game hardcore exclusively, but to somehow bring back to the fold a decent swath of those millions of people who played Street Fighter II when it was the biggest game on the planet. Street Fighter II down your local arcade. Street Fighter II on the SNES or Mega Drive. Even Super Street Fighter II, and, at a stretch, Super Street Fighter II Turbo.
If you played any of those games about the time they came out Street Fighter IV will feel like a "next-gen" drenched trip down memory lane. For the first hour or two of play IV feels remarkably similar to II. All eight original World Warriors make an appearance: Fireball and dragon punch stalwarts Ryu and Ken, giant Russian wrestler Zangief, Ghandi-esque Indian Dhalsim, queen of the thigh Chun-Li, electrocuting half animal Blanka, sumo wrestler E. Honda and the sonic booming American Guile. Add to the mix the four original Street Fighter II bosses, Balrog, Vega, Sagat and M. Bison, and you've got a virtual Street Fighter reunion.
A quarter circle forward and punch for a fireball, forward down forward for a dragon punch, charge down then up and kick for Guile's flash kick or Chun-Li's spinning bird kick, 360 degrees and a punch for Zangief's spinning pile driver, mash the punches for Blanka's electrocution or Honda's hundred hand slap - all the iconic moves and motions remain. If you could do them back in the day, then the knowledge will come flooding back and your thumbs will magically begin to bust them out. This is a special feeling indeed. A bit like riding a bike after a 12 year break.
If you've kept up with the series, however, pumped hour after hour into Street Fighter game after Street Fighter game down the years, mastered parries, cancelling, cross ups and reversals, then your first hour or two with IV won't feel familiar, it'll feel... weird. It's about the slowest version of Street Fighter since II. So slow is the speed of that game that, if you've played the recently released download only Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix, it will at first feel like you're asking oil rigs to Hadouken, not muscle-bound martial artists. The wonderfully expressive character models, animated in 3D, are sluggish, and this has a massive bearing on the kind of 2D fighter IV is.
This is a deliberate move on Capcom's part, one intended to make the game less about insane quick reactions and more about anticipation and strategy, an admirable philosophy. The upshot is that IV has a grounded feel, almost like boxing. Rounds last much longer than fans will be used to. Jumping in is usually ineffective, since your opponent has plenty of time to react with an anti-air move. Instead, it's best to focus on well-timed ground attacks, think more thoroughly about analysing your opponent's game and utilise the brilliant new Focus Attack.