Street Fighter IV Updated Hands-on

We finally get an extended play of Street Fighter IV without the need for a stack of 100-yen coins.

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We've had plenty of glimpses at Street Fighter IV over the past few months, most notably at last year's Tokyo Game Show. In addition to playing the full arcade version for hours on end, we finally got a proper sit-down with the game on consoles, and we were incredibly impressed with the conversion.

Sakura may long to learn from Ryu, but she has plenty of tricks of her own.
Sakura may long to learn from Ryu, but she has plenty of tricks of her own.

We've been lucky enough to have the Tokyo Show build in the office for some time, and having had a chance to properly thrash out endless battles between characters old and new, we have good news to report. The new characters who proved solid in the arcade release--Rufus, Crimson Viper, Abel, and El Fuerte--may take a little getting used to, but they're impeccably balanced and fit well into the Street Fighter style. That's no mean feat, given that El Fuerte's unusual move set is concentrated mostly around rushing and throwing. Of the nine new playable characters for the console editions--Seth, Akuma, Gouken, Sakura, Dan, Fei Long, Cammy, Gen, and Rose--only the first four were available, and we wasted no time in checking out them all.

Sakura, who debuted in Street Fighter Alpha 2, has a very similar move set to Ryu and Ken but with a few twists. Her hard dragon-punch equivalent, the shuoken, is actually a double rising punch that is immensely satisfying to connect with. That said, timing the move to deliver its full force can be tricky because the distance needs to be finely judged to ensure that both impacts connect. The upgraded version of her shunpukyaku spinning-kick attack--performed by pressing two kick buttons instead of one--is similarly structured, given that it contains two blows from the spinning kick followed by a high kick that sends the opposing character spinning up and across the field of battle. Her ultra combo is one of the most pleasing of all the characters', and both her short and long throws are as easy to pull off as they are good to watch.

Seth is the next character with whom we became enamoured. As with Bison in Street Fighter 2, he can seem a little overpowered due to his mix of moves and flashy style, but after all, he is the arcade game's final boss. However, delving a little further shows this isn't the case, and his special moves are all explicitly stolen from other characters; he has a dragon punch, sonic boom, spinning pile driver, and yoga teleport in his arsenal. His ultra combo is a particularly silly move: It sucks his opponent into the swirling Taijitu in his torso and then expels them at speed across the level. Gouken is another take on the familiar Ryu/Ken fighting style, which one might expect, considering that according to Street Fighter lore he trained them both. His tatsumaki moves--rising aerial spinning kicks--are very satisfying to fully connect, especially when pulled off in midair. He also has the ability to control the angle at which his fireballs travel, unlike Ken, Sakura, et al., which provides for another potent antiair defence. Although he doesn't have a dragon punch as part of his standard arsenal, one does feature in both his super and ultra combos. The final new playable character we had some extended time with was Akuma, Gouken's younger brother. Again, he's a riff on the familiar Ryu/Ken model, with an aerial fireball and an interesting flying-sweep combo move to add to the mix.

Overall, the addition of these three provide an excellent jumping-off point for anyone used to Ryu and Ken from Street Fighter II and its incarnations, but they contain more than enough nuance to make them worthwhile additions in their own right.

Akuma sits well among the more familiar faces.
Akuma sits well among the more familiar faces.

Despite this being an incomplete preview build, it looks and plays very well indeed. Our only gripes at this stage are the occasional visual inconsistency, in which the animations seem to indicate hits that simply don't register, and the below-par D pad on the Xbox 360 controller. Despite the D pad's problems, it's still perfectly possible to pull off all of the special moves and combos using it, but you will find yourself failing more often than when using a stick, and frustration is inevitable. The problem persists when you use the upgraded D pad on the special-edition controller supplied for this year's Pro Evolution Soccer, mostly because the circular nature of the pad makes it very hard to tell precisely which direction you're pushing in at any given moment. The PS3's D pad is much better and feels closer to the controllers of yore that many gamers will be used to playing Street Fighter II on, as well as feeling much more precise, given that you're never in doubt about which direction you're indicating.

Overall, we're really excited to see the final levels and characters in Street Fighter IV. So far it has augmented the basic mechanics from Street Fighter II with the best ideas from many of the iterations thereafter, and wraps them all up in a sumptuous visual package, while--so far--maintaining the feel, spirit, and balance of the earlier years of the much-loved franchise.

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