TOKYO--It has been nearly nine years since Capcom released its last Street Fighter game, Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike. Despite its age, the game is still popular in arcades, and its graphics are considered by some to be the epitome in 2D fighting-game animation. But for their 20th-anniversary sequel, the developers at Capcom decided to take a step into the next generation and create Street Fighter IV with 3D graphics rather than hit the same old 2D road. Although Capcom reassured fans that the game would play using the same two-dimensional mechanics that the series is known for, the shift in graphics has still become a hot topic of debate amongst longtime fans. Will the game be like the other 3D renditions of Street Fighter in the past, or will it be something different? We've seen the screenshots, we've seen the illustrations, and today we got to play the real thing.
As Capcom had promised, Street Fighter IV was presented in playable form at Japan's 2008 AOU Show today. While only four months have passed since the announcement of Street Fighter IV's development last October, the game was already solid. Anticipation for SFIV was high amongst visitors to the AOU. By noon, there was a 60-minute wait in line to play a single game, despite the fact that Capcom had around 16 arcade cabinets. This was on a business day as well, so we can only imagine the crowd that will be forming tomorrow when the AOU show is opened to the public.
Street Fighter IV runs on the Taito Type X2, a PC-based arcade system with an Intel Q965 chipset and Windows XP-embedded SP2. All the SFIVs at Capcom's booth were running on Taito VEWLIX arcade cabinets, which complemented the game with its high-resolution 32-inch widescreen LCD.
The graphics in Street Fighter IV resemble something between cell-shading and an oil painting. It actually looks and moves a bit like 3rd Strike, or at least that's the feeling the developers appear to have aimed for with the characters. In fact, when Ryu and Ken do their hadouken, their costumes puff for a brief moment in the back, just like in 3rd Strike.
Just a glance at the game told us that SFIV is unmistakably 3D; the character movements are very smooth, and there are shadow effects placed on the characters when they go into a dark portion of a background. There are also character self-shadow effects at play. It didn't take too long for us to get used to the new setting, because SFIV plays quite true to the 2D game mechanics the series is known for. It authentically plays as a standard side-scrolling 2D fighter without doing any weird shifts in the camera angle during battle, except at instantaneous moments like an ultra combo animation or a victory pose. The timing and controls for doing moves and canceling normal attacks felt quite similar to traditional 2D fighting games.
The shift to 3D graphics presents some advantages to SFIV, particularly in terms of animation details. For example, when you knock out opponents and they fall to the floor, you can see that they're still breathing (albeit just barely...they did just take a beating, after all). The shift to 3D has been exceptionally good for Dhalsim, who looks as rubbery as ever with his stretched attacks.
All the characters announced up until now were fully playable at AOU, which includes the eight world warriors from the original Street Fighter II and the new female challenger, Crimson Viper. A tenth character, named Abel, was also unveiled and playable.
The returning characters play very similarly to their Street Fighter II series renditions, and they seem to have most of their moves intact. For example, Guile, aside from his sonic boom and somersault kick, also retains all of his normal moves, including his sobat and knee kick. Blanka, whose hair looks as spiky as ever, has his signature rolling attack and electric thunder, as well as his sliding move. The old characters might not bring freshness to the game, but it's still a treat to see them convincingly rendered in modern 3D graphics.
As mentioned, there are currently two new fighters revealed for Street Fighter IV. Crimson Viper is an American female agent with a unique hairdo, shades, and a black suit. In 2P color, her suit turns to complete white. Crimson Viper's facial rendering is a bit reminiscent of Angelina Jolie, at least when she takes off her shades in her victory pose.
Unlike other fighters who depend on brawn to get their job done, Crimson Viper uses hidden gadgets to boost her fighting skills. Her special moves make her dangerous in both close combat and at a distance. Her thunder knuckle is a punch attack where she thrusts forward for a good distance. Executing the attack with a weak punch makes her attack low, while middle punch makes her attack high, and fierce punch makes her jump and punch diagonally into the air. Viper burning kick, as the name would suggest, is a move that makes her hop into the air and do a flaming kick towards her opponent. She also has a move where she hammers the floor and causes a shock wave through part of the ground, which location can be determined by the strength of the punch used in executing the move.
Abel is a blond French man adorned in a blue dougi karate outfit, and his fighting style is mixed martial arts. He's said to have amnesia, and he's chasing the trails of remaining Shadoloo crews with whatever clues he can find. As an MMA fighter, Abel has a muscular frame and appears to be the second-largest character in SFIV, following Zangief. His battle style seems to be mostly close-range. Abel has a combination attack that can be switched to finish off with either a punch or a kick; an aerial kick reminiscent of Terry Bogard's crack shoot in the Fatal Fury series; and a ground roll move that lets him close in on the opponent for a one-circle command tornado throw.
Capcom has put a nice bit of care into showing pain in SFIV. You can see pain in the faces of the characters whenever their opponents hit them. The developers have also made the effort to create electrocuted models of the characters. When you use a character with an electrical attack like Blanka or Crimson Viper, you can do their moves and see the skeleton of the opponent, just like in the old days. We've also seen characters get dizzy if they're hit too many times; the classic chicks appear on the players' heads when that happens.
Every match in SFIV starts off with an introduction sequence for the two fighters, which enhances their individual personalities. For example, Crimson Viper comes out talking on her cell phone, showing that she's all about work and that fighting is just a business for her. Ryu, being the serious fighter that he is, simply stands in one place waiting for his opponent. Blanka, as a creature from the wild, is seen sitting on the ground facing away from the fight and scratching his rear end until he realizes that his opponent has arrived. When the match is over, the winner does a victory pose as the camera zooms in, and a transparent window on the bottom of the screen shows the winner's victory quote.
Street Fighter IV adapts a similar control to SFIII. There are three buttons for punching and three buttons for kicking. Throwing is done by pressing both weak attacks (punch + kick) simultaneously. Personal actions (taunts) are executed by pressing both fierce attacks. Quick wake-up is also in the game, which can be done by holding down on the joystick when you're just about to hit the ground.
One thing that SFIV will not be inheriting is the parry system from SFIII. Although the decision has caused some debate, Capcom's developers believe that the system is too hardcore and not friendly to casual gamers. In place, there's a new system called the "saving attack," which can be done by pressing both middle attacks. The saving attack guards one hit from the opponent, regardless of whether it's a standing attack, jumping attack, or low attack. When you let go of the buttons, you do a counterattack. You can hold the two buttons for a while to level up your attack and change its effect. At level one, opponents will sway back when hit. At level two, opponents will fall on their knees, giving you a small time frame to bash in another attack. And at level three, your attack becomes unguardable.
The saving attack may not be as challenging as parrying, but it still requires some skill and timing to work effectively. It seems to be a good counter against single-hit moves, such as projectiles or distance fierce attacks, but it's a self-invitation to masochism against multihit moves such as E.Honda's hundred-hand slap or a flurry of weak kicks. We've seen some people using it as an antiair measure, but some players held down the buttons for too long, which let the opponent land on the ground and do a combo before the counter was released.
Based on what we've played, the power meter in SFIV can be used for three kinds of attacks. One is for super combos, which have been a part of the Street Fighter series since their appearance in Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo. Attacking will gradually fill up the power meter at the bottom of the screen. Once it reaches maximum power, you can execute a super move that does heavier damage attacks. The AOU version of SFIV had a fixed super combo for each character, and they seem to be identical to those in SSF2T. Ryu had his shinku hadouken, Ken had his shouryu reppa, Chunli had her senretsu-kyaku, E.Honda had his oni-musou, and so on. Whether the final product will feature more super combos or some kind of a selectable system like in 3rd Strike remains to be seen. Like in 3rd Strike, you can do "super cancels," which is to cancel what a special move motion is to a super combo.
The second use of the power meter is for EX attacks, similar to those in 3rd Strike. By pressing two buttons instead of one when executing a special attack, you can do a buffed-up version of it. For example, using Ken and doing a hurricane kick with two kick buttons will let you hit the opponent more times than usual with just one button.
The third use for the power unit is somewhat interesting. While the saving attack in SFIV is normally meant for defensive measures, it can also be used in offence as part of a combo. By pressing middle punch and kick while in the motion of doing another attack, you can cancel the attack and connect it to the saving attack. Since it's not being used in the normal method, it depletes a bit of the power meter.
In addition to the power meter, SFIV features a new "revenge" meter at the side of each fighter's life bar. Whenever the fighter gets hit, the meter rises. Despite earlier reports, the revenge meter doesn't seem to be a requirement for the saving attacks. We were able to pull them off in the beginning of matches with no meter accumulated.
Ever since the first pictures of Street Fighter IV were released, we've been seeing screenshots where the game's camera is zoomed into Ryu as he powers up for a hadouken that looks a lot more powerful than usual. In those pictures, Ryu is actually doing an ultra combo, which is new to SFIV and has remained somewhat of a mystery until now. As we found out today, the ultra combo is like an EX version of the super combo, albeit more powerful and extremely flashy. It's done with the same controller command as super combos, except with two buttons instead of one.
Ultra combos can be done only under certain conditions, which unfortunately weren't disclosed at the AOU. We know that one of the conditions is to have enough of the revenge meter filled up. It also seems that you need to be losing a bit of life in order to pull them off.
The developers at Capcom seem to be trying to get the best out of the hardware capabilities of Taito's Type X2. For the first time in arcade fighting-game history, SFIV will feature an automated matchmaking system, which Capcom calls the "link match system." Though it's limited within the store, SFIV machines can be connected together via LAN so that a player entering for a game will automatically be matched up with another player within the arcade who's not fighting a human opponent at the time. This seems to be a nice concept for large-scale arcades, and we were able to try it out at the AOU show. Sometimes we were fighting against the person right next to us, while other times we weren't sure where in Capcom's booth our opponent was.
Street Fighter IV, at least in Japan, will also feature a networked ID card system that will let you customize your gaming experience. Details apparently aren't hammered out yet, but a few of the plans include name registration, guild registration, and battle point registration, which will show how strong you are in the game and let you join the nationwide rankings.
The question remains as to how long we'll have to wait before we get our hands on Street Fighter IV. In a sales leaflet given to arcade dealers and members of the press, Capcom confirmed that Street Fighter IV is on course for a summer release in Japan. Arcade operators purchasing the game board together with a Taito VEWLIX arcade cabinet will receive their orders in late July, while those purchasing the game board alone will receive their orders a bit later in mid-August.
For gamers unable to wait until the summer to try out Street Fighter IV, there will be two chances during this month to play it in Japan. The AOU show will be opened to the general public tomorrow, and next week from February 22-24 the game's first beta test will take place at Plaza Capcom in Tokyo. Of course, we'll be bringing you the latest SFIV news in the months ahead, so stay tuned.