Fists-on with the new­est ad­di­tions to


Yoshi­nori Ono, Street Fighter IV’s grin­ning mas­cot pro­ducer, is off the project – as is, more wor­ry­ingly, Dimps, the fight­ing-game specialist team set up by se­ries cre­ator Takashi Nishiyama to han­dle the de­vel­op­ment of each of it­er­a­tion of Street Fighter IV to date. Cap­com is un­will­ing to dis­close the com­pany work­ing in its place, but what­ever stu­dio it is will ben­e­fit from a supremely bal­anced foun­da­tion on which to build this, the fi­nal up­date in Cap­com’s flag­ship fight­ing se­ries. Five new fighters – the fifth of whom is still yet to be re­vealed – bring the ros­ter to 44 char­ac­ters, the largest in the se­ries’ his­tory. Two new on­line modes, a hand­ful of new stages and a host of re-re­bal­anc­ing tweaks for the es­tab­lished cast aim to make this the per­fectly bal­anced pack­age, if such a thing were ac­tu­ally pos­si­ble.

Three fun­da­men­tal changes pro­vide the great­est threat to that bal­ance. The Red Fo­cus At­tack is a new, more pow­er­ful move avail­able to ev­ery char­ac­ter. It can ab­sorb mul­ti­ple hits, in­stead of the sin­gle at­tack of the stan­dard Fo­cus. The cost for the additional de­fen­sive ca­pac­ity is two blocks of spe­cial me­ter, but when any Red Fo­cus At­tack causes an op­po­nent to crum­ple to the floor, giv­ing ev­ery char­ac­ter in the game a way of com­bo­ing into Ul­tra, it’s a price worth pay­ing. Then there’s De­layed Wakeup, which lets you stay on the floor a lit­tle longer af­ter a knock­down to put your op­po­nent off their rhythm. It’s pri­mar­ily de­signed to nerf char­ac­ters like Cammy, Akuma and Ibuki who are at their most ef­fec­tive when an op­po­nent is get­ting up off the ground, but mak­ing it a uni­ver­sal me­chanic risks hurt­ing those of the cast who need all the help they can get.

There’s help for ev­ery­one, how­ever, in the new Ul­tra Combo Dou­ble sys­tem, which lets you take both of a char­ac­ter’s op­tions into bat­tle, rather than hav­ing to choose be­tween them be­fore a match. The trade­off is that whichever one you de­ploy will do less dam­age,

Street Fighter IV’s but the choice can of­fer huge ben­e­fits to cer­tain char­ac­ters. Zang­ief is the most ob­vi­ous: one Ul­tra grabs grounded foes, the other snatches those that jump away, so tak­ing both puts his op­po­nent in a dan­ger­ous guess­ing game. Of the new ad­di­tions to the cast, it’s Elena who’ll ben­e­fit most. She’s the only char­ac­ter to en­joy both of­fen­sive and de­fen­sive Ul­tras, the lat­ter of which re­stores up to half of her health bar. The gi­gan­tic Hugo is com­fort­ably the largest and slow­est char­ac­ter in the game, but he com­pen­sates for his sloth with dev­as­tat­ing power, though our hands-on con­firms he is nowhere near the force he was in Street Fighter X Tekken.

Nei­ther, thank­fully, is Ro­lento, al­though he re­tains his in­fu­ri­at­ing hop move (in which he uses his ba­ton as a pogo stick to al­ter the an­gle of his jumps) and has plenty of ways to combo into Ul­tra. Poi­son re­tains her hy­per­sex­u­alised SFXT an­i­ma­tions (Love Me Ten­der sees her wrap her legs around a foe’s neck; Kissed By A God­dess trig­gers a kiss then a face slap and, fi­nally, a kick to the groin) but she is the most im­me­di­ately playable char­ac­ter of the new set.

With launch months away now that vague early-2014 re­lease date has slipped to June, and most of the game’s new fea­tures fully work­ing, Cap­com and its mys­tery part­ner face the long and ar­du­ous task of bal­anc­ing the game. It’s some­thing that’s hap­pen­ing in closer col­lab­o­ra­tion with Cap­com’s com­mu­nity than ever be­fore through lo­ca­tion tests across the globe. Daily builds show its com­mit­ment to get­ting this right – a ne­ces­sity if this sup­pos­edly fi­nal it­er­a­tion of Street Fighter IV is to stand the test of time like Su­per Street Fighter II Turbo and SFIII: Third Strike.

Smells like team spirit

The sin­gle­player game re­mains iden­ti­cal to pre­vi­ous ver­sions, but there are two new on­line modes to fill out the game. On­line Train­ing is a Neten­abled ver­sion of the off­line train­ing mode in which two play­ers can spar, try out new moves and combos to­gether – a use­ful if be­lated ad­di­tion. An ex­panded Team Bat­tle lets you play on­line in teams of three, in a form of Street Fighter co-op de­signed to al­low weaker play­ers to play with more com­pe­tent friends. Dur­ing matches con­trol passes to the next player in line when an op­po­nent KOs some­one. Char­ac­ters’ health bars don’t re­plen­ish be­tween rounds, though, so teams have to strate­gi­cally or­gan­ise their or­der of com­bat­ants.

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