Let's start with the basics: Super Street Fighter 4 is Street Fighter 4, but better. It's got eight new characters (three of which I've played), more stages, rebalanced gameplay and improved online functionality. It'll be cheaper, too - although Capcom is yet to confirm by how much. Put simply, it's a must buy for all Street Fighter 4 obsessives.
That said, there lingers an argument from some that the game, or more specifically the new features it'll bring, should be made available as downloadable content and not via a standalone title. That's an argument for another day, one for the review perhaps. Here I'll assume you're so excited by the thought of playing as giant Native American T. Hawk, Jamaican kickboxer Dee Jay or Korean evil bitch Juri that there isn't space left in your brain for arguing.
Juri is the headline new character and Street Fighter 4 head-honcho Yoshinori Ono's personal favourite. She's the series' first Korean fighter, a fact that becomes less puzzling the more you read up on Japan-Korea relations. She looks like a female Goth version of Tekken kickmaster Hwoarang, he of the unpronounceable name. She wears white Taekwondo trousers, has a lovely midriff (am I allowed to fancy a cartoon?), is fond of purple, and sports an evil fake eye powered by evil organisation S.I.N. She's also got something to do with cheap ass evil end boss Seth.
Don't hold her creepy looks against her, as she's absolutely bitchin', perhaps too bitchin'. In the build I played she felt overpowered. All of her special moves use quarter circle motions, but as a Taekwondo expert they all involve kicks, not punches. She has a curious projectile (quarter circle forward and kick), which sees her perform a high kick followed by the release of a small ball of purple stuff - apparently it's nature channelled through ki energy. The height of the projectile depends on the kick button used: light kick sees the projectile travel along the ground; medium sends it horizontally and hard sends it diagonally up. She can hang on to it, if the player holds down the button, and unleash it by letting it go. She's also got a whirlwind kick of sorts (quarter circle backwards and kick), which seemed pretty useless in standard form. Juri's strengths lie elsewhere.
Her Akuma-like dive kick (quarter circle back and kick in the air) can hit multiple times if you keep hammering the kick button. On its own it's a useful mix-up, but in EX form it becomes one of the most devastating moves in the game. The last kick bounces her opponent off of the edge of the screen. That's right, I said bounces. No, you're not reading a Tekken preview; you're still in Street Fighter territory, but only just. This is Super Street Fighter territory.
If you're positioned correctly and are quick-fingered, you can follow the dive kick up with a special move, her Super or even her Ultra - a lengthy attack which sees the vixen spin in a purple haze of kicks, then land an eye-watering blow to the spine before slamming her opponent to the ground. Her Ultra can even be juggled after her basic whirlwind kick, if her opponent is in the corner. Juri's juggle potential is almost up there with Ryu's, and this should cement her place in the game's top tier.
Juri is already deep in Tekken territory, but Capcom clearly feels she's got further to go, because the developer's added a counter to her already varied repertoire. A quarter circle back and punch triggers an altered stance, a bit like a taunt. If she takes a hit while in this pose, she'll change her position in the blink of her... er... purple eye. Use light punch and she'll dart backwards. Use medium and she'll slip underneath her opponent and stand up behind them. But use hard and she'll jump straight up. From there you can do the EX mid-air dive. If it connects, it's easy to throw out a follow-up special move/Super/Ultra. Devastating.
In the many matches I played with her, this move proved incredibly useful. It's great for mixing up your game and making your opponent think, but it's at its best used after a barrage of blocked attacks. When you know your opponent's going to bust out a move just to try and escape your onslaught, throw out the counter and you'll be back on the offensive.
In short, Juri is fantastic. Her high priority crouching light and mid kicks can easily be cancelled into special moves, which can then lead to juggled Ultras. She's one of the fastest characters in Street Fighter history. She's got a counter and a wall juggle, and her Ultra potential is up there with Ryu's. So what are her weaknesses? At the moment, there aren't many. She's not great on the defensive, has no invincible move, and her only real anti-air is her Ultra. Still, I reckon that before the game is released, Capcom will reduce her damage output and stamina so she'll do less damage and take more. One thing I'm absolutely fascinated to discover: will the Korean Juri prove popular with Japanese players?
Now, on to Dee Jay and T. Hawk. First, a frisky factoid: the musically gifted Dee Jay is the only Street Fighter character designed outside of Capcom Japan. Perhaps that's why he's probably the most unpopular Street Fighter character. For me though, he's always been underrated. His cross up and high priority crouching medium kick are gold. And those teeth.... how can you resist those teeth? His Super Street Fighter 4 incarnation is mostly the same. He looks, as do most returning characters in the game, just like he did back in the day, with bright orange trousers adorned with the word MAXIMUM, and floaty dreads. But he looks great, and he moves as fluidly as you'd hope.
His special moves are, bar a few tweaks, exactly the same, and so is his defensive, counter-heavy style. He recovers from his Max Out projectile (charge back, forward and punch) so quickly that he can overtake it by dashing across the screen. His Dread Kicks (charge back, forward and punch) hit twice as before. His Up Kicks (charge down, up and kick) hit three times, as before. His Machine Gun Upper (charge down, up and punch) lands a flurry of punches, as before. I found his classic combos worked just as well as they did. His cross up medium kick, crouching light punch, couching light punch, crouching medium punch, Machine Gun Upper is a safe, high damage combo. You can switch the Machine Gun Upper for EX Up Kicks - a useful tactic when you've got your opponent hemmed in the corner, because you can then juggle his Ultra. But some key weapons are less useful. His high priority crouching medium kick, so powerful in previous Street Fighters, seems less handy now. And his sliding kick (crouching hard kick) is so slow it's reprehensible. Still, he feels better than Guile, my favourite character from yesteryear. I imagine that Dee Jay will be a popular option among charge fans who feel Street Fighter 4's slower pace devastated the spiky-blonde-haired one.
Finally we have T. Hawk, perhaps Super Street Fighter 2's worst character. Like Dee Jay, T. Hawk's Street Fighter 4 incarnation works almost exactly the same as his previous one. All his classic special moves return, including his Tomahawk Buster (shoryuken and punch), his Condor Dive (all three punches in the air) and his signature special move, the Hawk Slam (360 motion command grab). But he's got a new move to add to the list: the Condor Spire (backwards shoryuken). This curious move sends T-Hawk flying forward horizontally, but only slightly. At first I thought it was a way to attack while closing in on my opponent, but it seems to have other properties. When the normal version hits, both characters ground reset - i.e. they are left standing next to each other with no apparent advantage for either. The EX version,meanwhile, knocks T. Hawk's opponent down. It seems impossible to juggle off of the move, so what's its worth? Surely, there's more than meets the eye with T. Hawk's new trick.
I reckon T. Hawk's got potential. He's big and slow, as before, but he deals and takes loads of damage. The Hawk Slam has the same input as Zangief's Spinning Piledriver, but it requires better timing, so it's more like Abel's command throw. His Tomahawk Buster is a great anti-air, and the EX version can even be cancelled into the EX Condor Dive. Still, he's not as instantly gratifying as Juri, or as obviously top tier. At this stage his best asset is that he's great fun to use. His Ultra is hugely satisfying - he slams his opponent into the ground from mid-air then lands cross-legged onto their crushed body. In a final insult, he raises his hand in an open-palmed salute. There's a reason why this move is called the Raging Typhoon.
T. Hawk and Dee Jay are predictable additions, perhaps, but Juri is a surprise, and destined for greatness. In a nutshell: Juri's brilliant, T. Hawk's brilliant fun, and Dee Jay's got a brilliant smile. But there's even more brilliance to come. Five characters are still to be announced, although don't expect anyone from Street Fighter EX - amazingly Capcom doesn't own the rights to any of them.
When you add the already confirmed online improvements to the eight new characters, the "should be DLC" argument starts to sound less convincing. But when you consider there are a few unconfirmed bits and bobs that we can safely predict with an educated beard scratch, the argument nears redundancy. I anticipate new stages, nerfs to Sagat (to his Tiger Shot, specifically) and to Akuma (to his keep away power, specifically), and improvements to lower-tier characters, specifically those with "dead Ultras" - Vega, Guile etc - the idea being that poorer characters are made better so they match up more favourably against the top characters.
Perhaps the most interesting change of all, however, is that every character will have two Ultra combos. You can tell they're coming because all of the officially released screenshots and trailers show a "II" next to Juri's Revenge meter. Expect to be able to select which one you want to use before each fight. This has huge ramifications for the game, the current tier list and all your established combos. It's also exciting - very, very exciting.
Super Street Fighter 4 is due out for the Xbox 360 and PS3 in spring 2010.