"Slimy Brit. No-one has that power. You exploit the game; I'll rob you of your wins, every time. Pussy."
Nice chap, D357ROYER X. Good rank too, somewhere in the 300s. I was expecting the voice message alert though. He had been just as 'passionate' throughout the fight, screaming into his mic as poor Ryu met his end at the Sonic Booming hands of Guile. I hadn't responded to his exploit accusations, instead preferring to concentrate on battling my foe as well as the lag. But it wasn't too much of a challenge: I eat Ryus and Kens for breakfast.
Thing is, I wasn't using any exploit. I was just kicking his ass. I was quite excited about it as well. Destroyer was ranked a few hundred above me, and this win would have done my ranking a power of good. But the voice message wasn't the only predictable outcome of the bout. The dreaded 'establishing connection' count down made an unwelcome appearance, like some thieving bandit robbing you of your ice cream with strawberry sauce on a really, really hot day.
This is the reality of Street Fighter II Hyper Fighting on Xbox Live - a horribly laggy, quite depressing experience. But can we complain, when the game is downloadable for just 800 Microsoft Points, or £8.50 in actual money? Pah. Just watch me.
SFII online is something I've been waiting to play for over half my existence. I was there on Streatham Common, when the fair was in town, pumping my pocket money into the arcade like some deranged gaming mentalist. I was there in my bedroom, playing a Japanese import of the game on my SNES, months before its PAL release, using Super Mario World and a converter to get the damn thing to work. And I was there, in Movie Time Video Rental in Clapham Junction, where some crazy version of the game allowed zig-zagging air fireballs. Yes, I was there in the beginning, when bleeding thumbs and crazy Japanese Triads were all the rage, and if you didn't get Zangief's devastating Spinning Piledriver off first you were, to quote the star of this review, a 'pussy'.
Which is why, after once again tearing the skin off my thumb, I feel as if Capcom and Microsoft have conspired to climb into my head and excavate my childhood memories with a pickaxe delivered by Satan.
First the lag. OMFG the lag. Around half of the fights I play on Live are so laggy they're almost unplayable. And I've got a five and a half meg Internet connection, so it 'aint my end mate. The matches can be so slow you feel like putting the pad down mid jump to tear every last hair from your head, while watching with curiosity as blood sprays from a burst temple vein.
I'm exaggerating, but it really can be bad. And for me it's soul destroying. All those years spent honing reaction speeds and timing - and for what? For some n00b to kick you into 2007 because he's hosting the match? No thanks. When other Xbox Live titles exhibit next to no lag, to see it here is really disappointing.
Then there's the woeful oversight on Capcom's part to not penalise players for disconnecting during or at the end of a match, thus avoiding any negative impact on their ranking, and robbing you of your hard fought victory. This problem simply needs to be fixed with a patch very soon. In fact, the whole game needs to be fixed with a patch. The leader board is already full of players who disconnect, and while you can avoid that player and leave negative feedback, affecting their rep, who cares about rep? These gits certainly don't. Should I blame the devs for the actions of these people? Yes, because if you leave a system vulnerable, people will always exploit it to their advantage.
There are also issues with match making. The game organises bouts, thus preventing you from cherry picking easy opponents, which is fair enough. But at the time of writing, it's a rare occasion that I get to play anyone either around the same ranking as me, or above. You also time out of bouts quite often, so when you think you've hit the jackpot and are about to fight someone with a high enough ranking to make it matter, think again. Don't believe it until the fat lady, or in this case, E Honda, sings. It does get better after midnight, when the Americans start to play, but anytime else, it can take a while to get a game.
Oh, and let's not forget the 360 d-pad, which makes tried and trusted special moves much more difficult. As a Guile specialist, I don't have it nearly as hard as quarter-circle players have it, who I can see fluff their moves because of the pad. I know a poor workman blames his tools, but enthusiasts are going to want to get an arcade stick and go old skool after about an hour of their first Dragon Punch.
So, let's sum up: lag so frustrating you want to gouge your eyes out with a spoon, tiresome deliberate disconnections that make a mockery of the ranking system, and a d-pad designed to make you jump around the screen like some deranged monkey on speed. Not particularly positive.
And yet, as soon as I finish this review, I'm jacking in for a fight. I'm not mad, or hypocritical. It's just that around one bout in twenty provides a tantalising glimpse of what the game should be - a lag-free fight against an opponent who is as honourable in defeat as he is modest in victory. It doesn't happen very often. But when it does, it's euphoric, and reminds me why I play these damn games in the first place - even with all the problems, when it works it all seems worthwhile.
But then that feeling dissipates and reality kicks in like a Spinning Bird Kick to the nuts. E Honda disconnects for the thirtieth time of the night, and you just can't be bothered to add him to the exponentially growing avoid list you seem to have spent the majority of your time accumulating. Actually, I've just had an epiphany - the reason why there's so much lag is because of these damn avoid lists! It's just too much data for the poor old Internet to cope with.
Having ordered my thoughts like this, I'm really quite sad about the whole thing. I may even be depressed. Maybe depressed is too strong a word. Tell you what, here's a metaphor that'll keep you up at night: I'm a horse, and someone is sitting on my back with a carrot on a stick. Except the guy on my back is actually Capcom; the carrot is what looks like a lag-free, disconnect-punishing Street Fighter utopia; and I'm not really a horse (although I would like to point out that some people have suggested that, in the right light, I sometimes, quite unnervingly, remind them of a horse). A week ago, I managed to snatch a bite of the carrot. But I think it's rotten, because my heart sank as soon as I swallowed it. Now I'm getting weary of this endless journey, and I'm not sure if the carrot, that beautiful, shiny, delicious carrot, is really worth all the trouble.