The company name Capcom brings to mind several things; Street Fighter, Resident Evil, and incessantly releasing updated versions of games you already bought. While they might be the master of releasing a game, waiting a few months and then re-releasing it with a few tweaks they really seem to know their stuff when it comes to putting out top quality games. When it comes to a series that has waited ten long years before releasing a new entry in the series Street Fighter IV couldn't come out that gate swinging any harder, pleasing hardcore fighters and casual fans alike with its blend of stylish graphics, deep combat system and absolutely tight controls.
Let's get the simple facts out of the way; Street Fighter IV is an absolute success of a fighting game. Taking the familiar faces from Street Fighter II, pairing them up with characters introduced in Super Street Fighter II as well as a few from the Alpha series of games and then throwing in some new blood makes for an interesting mix. Add some Super Combos into the pot while mixing in new Ultra Combos and Focus Moves and you have a game that is designed to be a loving throwback to the older Street Fighter games while adding its own spin to the franchise.
Almost every fighter plays in an entirely unique manner requiring plenty of time and patience if you plan on mastering them. Picking up a character you've never played before is fairly easy but mastering them will take you quite some time and effort. Even when playing the game on the basic controller you will find that moves are fairly responsive (PS3 has a superior d-pad while the 360 has a superior analog stick) and you should be able to pull of most any move in the game with enough practice.
The presentation here is top notch and one of the most talked about features in the title. Taking advantage of a fairly unique art style gives everything in SFIV a hand painted look to it. Every character, every background and every attack were rendered in 3D before having this look applied to them giving depth and vibrancy, making them stand out like never before. Something as simple as watching a Hadōken strike someone is exciting now as the move looks like water flowing over and around the target. Certain moves, notably focus attacks, also produce what look like calligraphic brush strokes along the attacking characters hands or feet while performing the move. It looks almost like something out of Okami come to attack your foe.
The combat has been about as well balanced as anyone could possibly hope due to the new additions. Ultra Combos are incredibly powerful attacks that become available as you take damage - think of them as revenge attacks - and can tip the scales in your favor even as you are taking a beating. However focus attacks are the real show stealer here as a skilled player can pull off some crazy stunts with them. Dashing through enemy fireballs without recoiling, cancelling your special attacks to make some crazy combos and breaking an opponent's block are all within the capabilities of the focus attack. Mastering these is just as, if not more so, important as learning how to pull of your super and ultra combos.
One of the best parts to all of this is how the incredibly well done audio really enhances each stage. From the disgustingly catchy theme song to the music that plays in each stage everything is a treat for the ears. There are also plenty of ambient noises from the cheers of the crowd to the animal noises in the jungle stage to help immerse you in the game. Possibly one of the best additions to the series has to be the ability to set each characters voice to either English or Japanese individually in-game or in the cut scenes. So you could have all the Japanese speakers using their native tongue during a fight while all cut scenes are voiced, rather well, in English or any other variation on that. It's a small touch that's intensely appreciated.
In addition to the standard Arcade option there are a number of other game modes to choose from. Most of these are fairly standard "defeat X amount of opponents" but with a time limit or health limit but they serve a dual purpose. This is how you unlock new costume colors but they're also a great place to practice your fighting skills against enemies who grow tougher over time as opposed to the sudden spikes you will see when playing arcade mode on anything but the easiest of the difficulty settings. Honing your skills here will serve you well in the rest of the game.
Speaking of arcade mode this is where one of the major failings of the game really brings itself to head. There is one seriously imbalanced new fighter who comes up quite often and an absolutely atrocious final boss to contend with. Abel, the amnesiac French grappler, is one of the few characters in the game with a move to counter nearly every situation. With a very small bit of practice to learn how his moves work it becomes far too easy to spam specific moves and rake in perfect victories left and right. With his speed, power and counter moves he's just a bit too much and more than a bit annoying to fight.
Seth, the final boss with the most boring name in existence, comes from the same combat school as the obnoxious Necrid from Soul Calibur II. Take an original, but uninteresting, character design and give it access to several of the best moves from other characters - huzzah for a new character! Using Dhalsim's stretching arms, Guile's Sonic Boom, a variation of Zangief's spinning piledriver, an improved Shoryuken and a variant of Chun-Li's hundred kick maneuver he's about as cheesecake as it gets. Tack on a ridiculously overly useful vacuum attack that renders him entirely invulnerable to any form of fireball (supers and ultras included) and Seth wins the award for final boss that should never have been.
Brushing that major frustration aside there's plenty of good times to be had with Street Fighter. With the ability to accept challengers while playing through the arcade mode as ranked or player matches, go hunting for fights online or simply play any of the various single player modes there's no lack of enjoyment to be had with Street Fighter IV. If you aren't willing to put the time and effort into the game don't be surprised if you spend a lot of time on the easiest difficulty levels as the computer can be punishing at times. But overall this is an incredible package that is without a doubt already a contender for game of the year.