With Ultra Street Fighter IV, the masterful Street Fighter IV series has reached its fifth, and possibly final, incarnation. Five years of tournaments, balance patches, and community input have coalesced to form the definitive version of a fighter that continues to evolve to this day. In his review, former GameSpot editor Dan Chiappini described Street Fighter IV as "undoubtedly one of the finest examples of the fighting genre in this generation." It's a worthy accolade, and one that still holds true today.
Ultra Street Fighter IV brings with it a whole host of changes and additions to the game's previous releases: Super Street Fighter IV Arcade Edition and its 2012 update. Six new stages, five new characters, and three new game mechanics are successfully integrated into an already feature-rich game and introduce new strategies that help keep this seasoned fighter feeling fresh.
Any major Street Fighter expansion wouldn't be complete without adding some new fighters to the fray. Poison, Rolento, Hugo, and Elena will be instantly recognizable to Street Fighter fans from their recent outing in Street Fighter X Tekken. However, these characters aren't just cut-and-paste copies from SFXT; instead, they have been reworked to fit naturally within SFIV's play style. Newcomer Decapre rounds out the roster. While she bears a striking resemblance to another world warrior, Decapre has her own distinct fighting style, which deftly mixes charge-based attacks with rushdown tactics, two fighting styles that traditionally do not mix.
Outside of the five new challengers, Ultra Street Fighter IV brings with it a myriad of tweaks and changes for the existing cast. None of the existing 39 characters have gone untouched in this expansion; however, the bulk of those changes will likely go unnoticed to the untrained eye. Increasing the damage of Rose's crouching light punch by 10 or reducing the startup of Dudley's medium kick by one frame may not sound like much on paper, but taken as a whole, these changes and dozens more combine to create a more equally balanced roster.
While the character-specific tweaks are not as apparent, ultra combo double, red focus attacks, and delayed wake-up are much more disruptive additions to the core mechanics of Street Fighter IV. The ultra combo double is a third ultra combo option that lets you go into battle armed with both of your character's ultra combos, but at reduced damage for both. This gives you more options in the fight, and is an especially effective addition for characters such as Zangief who have both antiair and close-range ultras.
A red focus attack functions in much the same way as the standard focus attack, except that it can absorb multiple hits at the cost of one energy block. This makes it a great tool for absorbing multi-hit attacks--looking at you, E. Honda--or for punishing a random ultra combo. Rounding out the trio is the delayed wake-up. Being able to delay when your character rises is a much more subtle addition, but an important one nonetheless. The delay does not last long, but it is enough to throw off the timing of a practiced opponent's next attack. Together, these three changes have a tremendous impact on the higher-level strategies of Street Fighter IV and offer new strategies for series veterans.
Ultra Street Fighter IV's updates don't stop at its characters. Online, you can compete in the new Elimination mode or work alongside distant friends in the Online Training mode. Elimination is a competitive mode where two teams of three duke it out to see which team is the best. When a player is defeated, the next one on his or her team swaps in until one side has no combatants left. To help prevent one player from steamrolling an entire team, Elimination mode does not restore health between rounds (naturally) or matches, similar in structure to the King of Fighters series.
A couple of new options for the truly dedicated round out Training mode. Save states let you take a snapshot of the current battle and return to it at any time with the push of a button. This is a handy addition for those who want to practice location-specific attacks or combos rapid-fire without having to reset the character blocking over and over again. Network simulation is the other upgrade, but it's really more of a novelty. This option lets you simulate increasingly severe levels of input lag to make you feel as if you're playing against someone with a poor Internet connection.
While so much of Street Fighter IV has been touched up in this new expansion, Trials mode continues to receive the cold shoulder. This mode is now horribly out of date and still uses character data from Super Street Fighter IV. It lacks trials for all five of Ultra's newcomers, as well as the previous batch of newcomers: Evil Ryu, Oni, Yun, and Yang. Since this mode is a good way to get acquainted with new characters, it's disappointing to see that developer Capcom has not yet updated it. Capcom has said it plans to release some sort of update later on down the line, but the absence of a fully realized Trials mode is certainly felt.
Trials aside, Ultra Street Fighter IV is a great expansion that smartly builds upon the core game. With all of its tweaks, new mechanics, and extra game modes, Ultra will definitely appeal to the diehard Street Fighter IV fans who still remember the tyranny of vanilla Sagat. Nearly every aspect of the game has received some sort of enhancement or upgrade, and the result is an expansion that makes a great game even better.