Hot on the heels of our UK office getting its hands on a preview version of Street Fighter IV, we met up with Capcom at CES and got our paws on a near-final version of the game. And we got a whole lot out of our time with it, since we were able to use all the new characters and also play the new Challenge mode. Better still, we played using the upcoming Mad Catz fightpad and arcade sticks, which seemed fantastic.
The version of the game we played was running on the Xbox 360, which is where we spent the bulk of our playtime. We hopped into the arcade mode to start trying the new faces and got to watch the anime intros for each of the characters. The sequences are of modest length and offer some context as to why each particular fighter is getting involved. Most of the videos stay true to the known lore of the fighters' motivations, and even Dan Hibiki's hilarious intro is accurate for the lovable loser.
The segments feature English and Japanese voice-overs, so fans with a preference can set things up to their liking. The in-game presentation has also seen some changes, namely some new dramatic camera angles--which are different from those in the arcade version--for the start of rival fights. The game will also include a variety of new taunts for each fighter, which you can assign to them, as well as a host of new costume colors, plus alternate costumes, some of which are whimsical and some of which are just cool.
As far as the specific characters go, Cammy, the blonde-pigtailed, scantily clad Battle Angel Alita look-alike of Super Street Fighter II fame has the same familiar-but-still-new feel that the other returning fighters in the game have. She has all her core moves from previous games, as well as focus attacks and ultra attacks. Her super moves are in line with her classic moves. In terms of balancing, she feels about on par with her former 2D self, although her forward dash is faster than her backward dash. She seemed to be a very playable character, and a fair number of her classic combo attacks still work perfectly.
Next, we tried out Dan Hibiki, the pink-gi-wearing martial artist who, despite the fact that his initial appearance on the Street Fighter scene in Street Fighter Alpha (Street Fighter Zero in Japan) was as a joke character, has apparently received a pretty serious SFIV makeover. While he still has his fair share of goofiness (his idle, run, and throw animations will probably get a chuckle out of you), his suite of moves is no joke. His dragon punch and infamous lunging "dankukyaku" kick have respectable range and damage. His equally infamous short-range "gadoken" fireball, though still anemic in range, packs a punch. His super attacks are also not to be taken lightly, although everyone will get a laugh from his ultra taunt (assuming you're far enough out of its range). His charged focus attack should also be feared, since it seems to have surprising range.
Fei Long, the martial artist with a strangely coincidental resemblance to legendary martial artist Bruce Lee, is also from Super Street Fighter II. He didn't offer as many surprises but remains a worthy fighter. Even though he, too, has received a makeover of sorts, his SFIV version remains faithful to his previous appearances. His original suite of moves has been updated for the game and is as deadly as ever. In addition, he has been given a new throw attack that lets him roll over opponents on their backs to get behind them. The motion is so fast that you'll have a very brief opportunity to get off at least one free attack. His supers and ultra are variations on his old moves and should be feared, thanks to his blazing speed.
The wily old kung fu master Gen, whose most recent appearances in the series were in the Street Fighter Alpha games, seems like a mixed blessing on the roster. The faithful update he has received for SFIV hasn't made the quirky character any easier to handle effectively. Just like in the Alpha series, Gen has two different kung fu fighting styles that you can change to on the fly, each with its own unique set of special moves, which can make him challenging to control. That said, he handles somewhere around his SFA2 appearance but seems to do more damage.
Last but not least is Rose, also from the Street Fighter Alpha series, who is arguably our favorite among the new additions in the home version of the game. Her classic moves have been updated and are as effective as ever. We were a little disappointed to see that she didn't have multiple supers like some of the other fighters, but what she does have is very effective, so we can't complain too much.
Besides being able to try out the new fighters and content, we were able to try out the new Challenge mode, which is one part training mode and one part fighting tutorial. The mode offers six challenges for each fighter, and these initially start out as primers on the basic attacks in the game. The primers lead up to familiarizing yourself with each character's special moves. The challenges we tried were made up of six different tasks, such as performing Ryu's standard arsenal. However, once the basics are covered, the later challenges introduce more-complex tasks, such as combos, crossovers, and other advanced moves that are key to kicking butt in the game.
Playing through the new content in Street Fighter IV was especially fun since we were able to use the new Mad Catz controllers that are being created especially for it. The recently announced peripherals were developed in conjunction with Capcom and felt great. We were able to try all three of the different variations. The low-end controller was clearly aiming to re-create the great feel of the old Sega Saturn six-button controller--which just happens to be one of our all-time favorite controllers for home console fighting games. That controller and this one feature six buttons on the face and two shoulder buttons with a flexible D pad. We especially liked that the other buttons, such as start, select, and the Xbox 360 guide button, were moved well out of the way of the face buttons, which should ensure that even the most enthusiastic players don't call up their Xbox 360 guide or PS3 XMB in the heat of battle.
The next controller we used was a solid arcade stick of modest size but good weight, which featured eight buttons on the face in a unique layout. The staggered layout of the buttons lets you customize button assignments to either the curved layout typical of Japanese arcade cabinets or the horizontal rows that are more common on American cabinets...which is a nice touch, as was the fact that the non-game buttons were also out of the way of the face buttons. The final stick we tried was the deluxe version, made with arcade-quality parts and a broader base. Arcade enthusiasts will also be pleased to hear that the stick is very mod-friendly, accommodating upgrades to most of its key parts if you so desire.
Based on what we saw and played, Street Fighter IV appears to be coming home fully loaded and ready to throw down. The enhanced Arcade mode, Challenge mode, and the promise of online competitive play add up to a strong home conversion of the arcade game. As of right now, Street Fighter IV is looking like the home conversion to beat in 2009. Fighting fans should be very pleased by the game's substantial offerings. Stay tuned to GameSpot for more Street Fighter IV updates.