Ultra Street Fighter IV – Review

Title   Ultra Street Fighter IV
Developer  Capcom
Publisher  Capcom
Platform  Arcade, Xbox 360, PS3, Windows PC
Genre  Fighting/beat 'em up
Release Date  August 5th, 2014
Official Site  http://www.streetfighter.com/us/usfiv

Edmund Honda drifts across the screen head first. Ryu freezes like a rabbit in headlights, doing nothing as the chubby flying man crashes into him and throws him across the scene. Honda, damage done, reverts back to a defensive crouch, ready to fling himself back onto the horizontal plane at a moment’s notice. My opponent can’t quite hide his smirk. He actually knows a bit about what he is doing and, against me at least, is quite capable of turning a relatively unthreatening sumo wrestler into a flying and somewhat comical doom dispenser. On the other hand, I was raised on Tekken and Soulcalibur. Without the ability to be constantly aggressive, my Ryu is about as threatening to Honda as the average squirrel is to a brick wall.

I think it is safe to say that my introduction to Street Fighter 4 was a torrid one. On the other hand, Street Fighter 4 in any of its iterations – vanilla, Super, Arcade Edition, AE2012 and, finally, Ultra – is hardly the most welcoming of fighters. With an emphasis on execution, spacing, whiff punishing, and half a dozen other arcane terms, it is impossible to simply leap into a match and play effectively. It is especially punishing to those who resort to button bashing, watching bemused as your characters thrash around, before punishing you severely for it. Normally that would be enough to rule a game out for a man as workshy as I am, but all my losses to E. Honda proved to be enough motivation spur me on until I started beating the AI on a consistent basis. By then, I was addicted. Now, with the release of Ultra Street Fighter 4, I feel like I’m being rewarded for my perseverance.

To get the most out of Ultra, it helps to know the basics. For the most part, they will be familiar; the foundations of the series haven’t really changed all that much since the vanilla version was released in 2008 (or, for that matter, since Street Fighter 2 was released in 1991). Street Fighter 4 is played in two dimensions, and this limits the character to moving in only a few directions: forwards, backwards, and upwards (by jumping). They can attack using one of six options: light, medium, and heavy punches or kicks. Light attacks are the fastest, but tend to do the least damage and have the shortest range, while heavy attacks are slow and damaging, with medium attacks skirting the line towards some sort of balance.

Allied to these basic options are special moves, like the iconic Shoryuken and Hadouken, accomplished through more complex combinations of direction and attack buttons. Normal and special attacks form the basis of any offence, while defence is mostly accomplished by holding back to block. There are more options that spiral out of both offence and defence – all governed by the four bars of meters that allow for advanced offence – but, at its heart, Street Fighter is a game of strong, consistent basics.

In many ways, Ultra feels like an extension of that philosophy, as the majority of the changes introduced by this update are tweaks and tiny adjustments. Some moves are faster or slower, others now hit only once, or hit in a slightly different way. Each change in isolation is almost impossible to discern. In unison, however, they make their presence felt, giving the impression of improved responsiveness and laying the groundwork for the bigger system changes that Ultra introduces.

It is a good thing that the tweaks to each character make every movement seem sharper, because one of the major system changes – delayed wakeup – makes the action feel a whole lot more sluggish. This allows the player to choose to extend the time they remain on the floor for a moment longer, allowing a wily combatant to defuse any tricks and traps awaiting them when they stand up, which is a welcome change, but when allied with Street Fighter 4’s natural contemplation, it can sometimes lead to positively glacial stretches of gameplay.

The second system change can also lead to cautious stretches of battle, but also has the potential to totally redefine offensive options for most of the characters on the roster. Red Focus is ostensibly a defensive option – it allows the fighter to absorb unlimited amounts of damage while it charges and, if it connects, crumples the opponent on impact to allow what is essentially a free follow-up attack or combo. Such a valuable ability is tempered by its cost in resources; it costs two of the four available bars of meter, and thus can’t be used at will. It can also be used to attack for the cost of an extra bar of meter (if you’re willing to pay the cost) opening a variety of extra damage options. Most moves can be cancelled into Red Focus, cutting through the recovery periods of stronger, riskier moves.

Alongside these new additions to the system, Ultra also introduces five new characters. Pleasingly, the new introductions are not only fresh and exciting but relatively unique among the already hefty Street Fighter 4 cast. Unsurprisingly, the new characters all fit comfortably in the new system, each taking advantage of the changes in their own way. They also fit in the complex web of character relationships that serves to spice up Street Fighter 4’s admittedly slender story offering.

The available modes, such as story mode, leave something to be desired. Ultra offers the standard arcade, versus, and online battle modes along with the compulsory training mode It also claims to offer a trial mode, the goal of which is to complete pre-designed combos. If you were to go looking for trials for any of the nine characters added since Super Street Fighter you’d be disappointed. This is a massive let down, especially as the physical version that I got my hands on was slightly delayed in comparison to the digital upgrade. It shouldn’t have been an unreasonable expectation to receive a game that was completely finished, but that’s not what I ended up receiving. Instead, the remainder of the trials are meant to be in the works, but will arrive in the form of an update at a later – unspecified – date. It may be a small gripe, but the trials have proved invaluable to me when struggling to get to grips with a character and their absence was keenly felt. This was rendered even more inexplicable by the hordes of YouTube videos with their own versions of the trial system just a few clicks away.

YouTube plays its own part in Ultra, with a new direct upload function being added. Simply link your YouTube account, select the replay you want uploaded and a cup of tea later you could be watching your own disappointing play online. If you’re anything like me, the first thing you’ll do with that particular function is to upload one of your online matches, which does a little to remind you that – in comparison to some of its contemporaries, such as BlazBlue and Persona 4 ArenaUltra’s online mode remains something of a disappointment. There’s a faint hope that something might be done about the slightly sluggish match-making and the noticeably slower online play. In comparison to offline play, it still feels like you are playing underwater, even on the better connections. It may have been naive to believe that they would have fixed such an issue by this point in the game’s life-cycle, but it would still have been a welcome improvement, especially considering how wonderfully smooth more recent online modes have become.

Disappointing though they may be, these little gripes are unsurprising. This is clearly an edition for the long-time fans – those who have spent years grinding away and perfecting their characters, who know all the tricks of the trade, and who would most keenly notice the adjustment of their favourite move to be just a hair slower or a hint faster. In that light, Ultra takes on an almost reverential tone, celebrating and renovating Street Fighter 4 at the same time. The physical version comes with every costume released so far, turning it into a minor explosion of colours and fashion faux pas.

Although it might be technically unrefined, long-time fans of Street Fighter 4 won’t be able to help but fall in love again. The tweaks to the system, both minor and major, give a sense of freshness that is nostalgically compelling. Online it still feels sluggish, but offline it is sharper and slicker than ever before. If you have never taken the leap, there is no better time than now, but be warned; you won’t be welcomed at first. Struggle on however, and you’re rewarded with the best version of Street Fighter 4 by far, even if it is unpolished.

  • Tweaked systems give a sense of freshness
  • More offensive and defensive possibilities than ever before
  • Still the deepest fighting game around
  • You can embarrass your friends by forcing them to watch you beat them on YouTube
  • Unfriendly to newcomers
  • Still lacking a few of the advertised features
  • Did we really need another Street Fighter 4?

I’ve been playing Street Fighter 4 for a year now, but I’m not entirely sure that this was aimed at me. I’m not quite getting all the benefits of the tweaks to the system and the new characters, but the potential is clear. I’m loving Ultra Street Fighter; I won’t be putting it down any time soon. There’s so much to explore, so much to improve upon, and plenty of tricks to learn and master. I’m still getting to grips with the possibilities that Red Focus is adding to my offence, and although slowing the action down might not be to my taste, delayed wakeup has already thrown me for a loop. I could talk for hours about specific matches, combos that I’ve pulled off, or even just moments that I particularly enjoyed.

Despite being far from perfect, it's still fun. I’m going to play more. I might even get better. E. Honda is waiting.

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  1. Mark R MarkuzR says:

    Can’t fucking stand Street Fighter. Give me Double Dragon or Mortal Kombat any day. Yeah, I know Double Dragon is a different genre but they looked a bit like Ryu and Ken, so shut up.

  2. Victor Victor Anfu says:

    E Honda is ALWAYS waiting. I love the review and wish this was available on Xbox One or PS4. But I will get it nevertheless.

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