Street Fighter II: Hyper Fighting - Xbox Live Arcade Feature Preview

We get an exclusive look at the classic 2D fighter's Xbox Live incarnation. Does it live up to our expectations?

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Street Fighter II' Hyper Fighting
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One of the most anticipated games on the horizon for Xbox Live Arcade is Capcom's upcoming conversion of Street Fighter II: Hyper Fighting. The classic 2D fighter has a special place in the hearts of gamers of a certain generation, as it was the fighter to cut your teeth on in the early '90s. The title was the third iteration of the Street Fighter II series and is widely considered to be the best in the bunch. We've had the chance to see the game a few times since it was announced earlier this year at Microsoft's CES keynote, but hadn't yet been able to try it online. Thankfully, we recently had the chance to try out a near-final work-in-progress version of the game to see if it can live up to our lofty expectations, and we made a record of our experience in a host of new gameplay movies that you shall not miss.

For those that haven't followed the Street Fighter series too closely, Hyper Fighting was the last of the series to appear on Capcom's CPS1 arcade hardware, and, in keeping with Capcom's tradition, contained a number of tweaks to the SFII formula. The game was released in response to the various hacks arcade operators were installing on the game's predecessor, Street Fighter II: Champion Edition, that were messing with the delicately tuned gameplay balance. In an effort to restore some order, Capcom released Hyper Fighting, which incorporated some of the popular elements from the hacks while keeping things balanced. The key additions to the experience were faster gameplay; new special moves for some of the roster, including Chun Li's fireball and Dhalsim's yoga teleport; the ability for some characters to perform existing special moves in midair, such as Chun Li's spinning bird kick and Ryu and Ken's hurricane kick; and new costume colors for the fighters. The end result of all these tweaks and additions was a finely honed installment most have come to view as the best in the series.

The work-in-progress version of Hyper Fighting we played was basically complete but was still in the process of being optimized. So while we've been able to go over it with a fine-tooth comb, it's still not running the way it should be, as Capcom is still tweaking everything. Still, complete or not, we've been able to get a good idea of how it's looking.

When you fire the game up, the title screen will feature the basic selection of options that you'll find in most Live Arcade games. You'll find two game-mode choices, arcade and Xbox Live, as well as leaderboard, achievement, and help & options. Arcade mode is the offline component of the game. When you hop in, you'll find three initially selectable modes: arcade, versus, and training. Arcade is a re-creation of the classic arcade game and features 12 playable characters--the international cast of eight world warriors and four bosses. The mode will send you on a world tour of butt-kicking as you face off against your opponents in their native countries. Purists will notice that the typos that were part of the original game's charm have been corrected. Versus is an offline two-player competition and training is a practice mode where you can hone your fighting skills against a CPU opponent whose behavior you can set. In addition to those three modes, you can unlock CPU Battle, which lets you face off against an artificial intelligence opponent.

Zangief grinds Ryu's face into pulp in Ryu's classic Japan stage.
Zangief grinds Ryu's face into pulp in Ryu's classic Japan stage.

When you select an Xbox Live game, you'll be taken to an online menu that features several options, these being my ranked stats, ranked match, player match, and quarter match. My ranked stats lets you review the eight bits of info the game will track on your performance. You'll see your overall rank, overall skill rating, average opponent rating, total points scored, total matches played, total wins, total losses, and total draws. The ranking system in the game is a new addition to the typical stat-tracking and uses a variant of the ELO rating system that's used in chess. Basically, all players will start with a default rating of 1200. As you play, your rating will go up and down based on your wins and losses and on the rating of the players you're fighting. Players that choose to prey on less-skilled fighters won't see their rating increase as much as those that take on players that are their equal or greater in rating.

As you'd expect, ranked match is where you'll engage in fights that will affect your rating. This mode features three options--quick match, custom match, and create match--and follows the basic formula of Xbox Live games. If you select quick match, you'll be thrown into a fight against a random player that's closest to you in skill rating and has the best connection speed available. Custom lets you look for battles that meet specific criteria. The version of the game we played only let you set one element of the search--whether or not voice chat is enabled. Other elements, such as number of rounds, were preset. Finally, create match lets you create a match for others to join. The one thing to note is that there are no rematches when playing online, so once you've won or lost, you'll be taken back out to the menu. Of course, it's possible to track someone down via their gamertag if you're looking for some redemption.

A game as competitive as this better have extensive rankings--and luckily, it does.
A game as competitive as this better have extensive rankings--and luckily, it does.

The player match mode is a traditional one-on-one match and has the same quick, custom, and create match options. The big difference from the ranked matches is that wins and losses don't affect your ranking. From the sound of it, Capcom is viewing the mode as a low pressure, social way for players to hone their skills online. As a result, rematches are possible in these bouts.

The quarter match mode is Capcom's grand experiment to re-create the vibe of playing in an arcade. You'll be able to go into or create a lobby that holds five people. Two will be engaged in a fight at all times, while the other three will watch via spectator mode. During the match, the spectators will have their "quarter" up and be in the queue to take on the winner of the match. The loser will swap out into the virtual crowd and wait for their turn again. The quarter is an avatar you can set in the game's options (more on that a little later). As with the player match mode, the quarter matches are social battles that won't affect your ranking.

The leaderboard option lets you check out four boards: overall, monthly, character, and consecutive wins. Overall shows your all-time standings for every match you've played, monthly shows where you stand for the particular month, and consecutive wins shows your runs of plowing through all comers without a loss. Finally, the character rankings are a nice touch, as you'll find 12 boards, one for each character, to show you how well you stack up against other players using a particular character. Anyone who thinks they're great at using Ryu may be in for a wake up call if they check their place on the board. As with other leaderboards on Xbox Live, each board can be filtered to show world rankings, your friends' rankings, and your own standing.

Punch your way to points as you unlock Hyper Fighting's list of achievements.
Punch your way to points as you unlock Hyper Fighting's list of achievements.

The achievements list shows off the game's 12 achievements, which will cough up 200 points for those looking to rack them up. As we mentioned earlier, the version of the game we played was still undergoing tweaking, so the point totals for each achievement weren't accurate, although the individual achievements were. So we can at least clue you in on what tasks you should prepare for. Bonus Bonanza requires you to complete a perfect bonus round in single-player arcade. Twelve World Warriors requires you to play a match with all 12 characters in single-player arcade mode. Perfection requires you to complete a perfect match at default difficulty or higher in a single-player arcade game, while World Champion requires you to complete a single-player arcade mode.

But that's not all! Seven stars requires you to complete single-player arcade mode at the highest difficulty. Hyper World Champion requires you to complete single-player arcade mode without losing a match. Perfect World Champion requires you to complete a single-player arcade mode without losing a round. I Got Next requires you to play a match in the online quarter mode. Ten Tokens requires you to play 10 ranked online matches. Fifty Tokens requires you to play 50 ranked online matches. Ten Ranked Online Victories requires you to, wait for it, achieve 10 wins during ranked online play. Finally, 30 Ranked Online Victories requires you to achieve 30 wins during ranked online play.

Help & options takes you to a submenu that offers information on how to play the game, as well as the chance to adjust different options in the game. Choosing help will take you to a series of screens that show you the basics on how to play and include a rundown of everyone's special moves. The options you can tweak break down into four subsections: control setup, game options, video settings, and audio settings. Control lets you configure the buttons any way you like. A nice touch is the option to save up to three control configurations--as a, b, and c--that you can swap to on the fly from the pause menu in the game.

The quarter match option should help recreate that arcade feel, with a group of spectators who can put down their quarters to call next.
The quarter match option should help recreate that arcade feel, with a group of spectators who can put down their quarters to call next.

The game options menu lets you tweak the game's difficulty, selecting from one to seven stars; turn the time limit and vibration on or off; and set the avatar for your quarter in quarter match. When choosing an avatar, you'll be able to pick from portraits of the fighters in their original and alternate color schemes. The video settings option lets you adjust screen size, allowing you to manually stretch the default 4:3 presentation to full screen, and screen position. In terms of HD settings, the game will support 480p, 720p, and 1080i and will automatically display in whatever mode you have your Xbox 360 set to. The audio settings let you adjust music and sound-effects volume, as well as toggle the spectator voice on or off.

So, now that we've laid all that out, the big question is how does it play? As we've mentioned in our previous looks at the game, the offline arcade modes all handle and move well. The game looks as though it's going to nail the crazy speed that the arcade game ran at. If it's been a while since you've played a Street Fighter, you may find that the action is almost too fast, but it shouldn't take long to limber up and get your game back. Control is responsive and feels just about right. The customizable control and the three saved configurations should be enough to sort out anyone's needs.

As far as the online game goes, we were able to try out player matches using the entire roster. We'll cut to the chase and say that yes, there is lag, which is sadly a fact of life for any online game. Handling was a bit off, and the game's performance took a hit. Despite that, the game was extremely playable, although, as you'd expect, its performance didn't match the offline experience. Still, it was entirely possible to pull off all the moves and get a solid fight in. Would we like to see things run smoother? Definitely. And the possibility that the game will improve definitely exists, as Capcom is well aware of the hell a legion of displeased fighting fans will bring if the game isn't as tight as possible. How much it will improve remains to be seen, but we could almost live with what we played as things are, so even some modest improvements would be a good thing.

Capcom expects the game to hit Xboxes everywhere in the second quarter. We're certainly waiting as patiently as we can.
Capcom expects the game to hit Xboxes everywhere in the second quarter. We're certainly waiting as patiently as we can.

In terms of its presentation, the game's default is to run in a 4:3 box bordered on either side by a blue background, with the occasional speed line that runs through every so often. As noted earlier, you can stretch the screen to full in the game options. The art has remained faithful to the original arcade game, though there have been some tweaks to ensure nobody's eyes start bleeding. Also, the game's color palette has been brought up to 32 bit. Though the game isn't doing full-screen antialiasing, filters have been added to tone down the rough look of the sprites in HD. The audio is coming straight from the original game, as well. We didn't hear anything amiss while we played, so it sounds like everything is spot on.

Based on what we saw of the work-in-progress game, Street Fighter II: Hyper Fighting is looking solid. The offline game is looking good and the online experience, though there's still work to be done, has potential that it's close to realizing. As it stands right now, what we've played could pass for "good enough," but we're hoping that Capcom will be able to do the work needed to get it to be better. Though there's still no word on exactly when the game is releasing or how much it will cost, Street Fighter II: Hyper Fighting is still expected to ship in Q2 2006.

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