Interesting, colorful, good variety of characters and fighting moves. BUT -- the fighting itself could use refining.
Street Fighter IV is pretty decent, though, having a good array of characters with completely different moves and styles of play – in fact, it takes a long time to master just one character; and so the replay value is definitely not to be taken lightly. Graphics are crisp and interesting, characters have ... well, *character*. The "surface polish" is impressive.
That aside, there are some factors that significantly hurt Street Fighter IV. First of all, I personally think the franchise would be better served if some of the moves were not so over-the-top and outright cheap. It could have done better by "glorifying" the fundamentals – sticking with a wide variety of good, solid, realistic strikes landing with a satisfying crunch, augmented with some flashy unique combos and perhaps a few quasi-supernatural moves as in the classic Kung-Fu flicks. Hell, even the Hulk-like shockwaves are OK.
Street Fighter IV does contain some solid, core fighting elements, and although they are not done as well as I think they should have been, there are a lot of good meat-and-potatoes moves that can dish out damage and lay out your opponent tidily.
Then there's fireballs and sonic projectiles flying out of fingertips. There's Stretch Armstrong and teleportation and inexplicable distance-closing maneuvers. Worse still, there are some really cheesy characters that go into "cheap-o" mode with badly conceived "special moves" – for instance, you go to perform a flying kick against your opponent's head, and he somehow intercepts your move – and you don't get to see how he does it, he just does – and the game goes into an animation sequence where your character is hurled around like a ragdoll and/or lifted thirty feet into the air and pile-driven into the ground.
Zangief is the most obvious example of this type of nonsense; he vacuum-cleans anything that comes near him, triggering the ultra or pile-driver cutscene/animation even as your mighty uppercut apparently should have smashed his unprotected ribs. The consistently cheesy way the offending opponent pulls this off – you don't see how he caught you, the game just breaks off your control in mid-attack and snaps into the "combo movie" routine – really sort of sucks. Hard.
Worse still, the overcomplicated button combinations required to pull off some of the special moves, is really just too much. Too much memorization, too fluky. Yeah, I get that "special moves" are supposed to be difficult and all, but this is crap. Fighting games should be about timing and reflexes and grasping opportunity – and yes, the special attacks should not be easy – but there should be a limit to how much exercise your fingers are put through. Get your attack meter filled, get the timing and sequence right for at most a *couple* strings of commands – that's acceptable and accessible. On the other hand, having to go "down-and-away-for-two-seconds what next oh yeah then up down backward forward up + heavy kick" to pull off a special that there's a good chance might not work because you were a nanosecond off on your kick+up synchronization ... how is that fun? It isn't. It's a pain in the ass – even when you get the hang of it it's a pain; I find little gratification in "mastering" such over-contrived control schemes.
All that excessive gamepad-finagling leads to too much SLOP. I don't care how good you are at this game; don't pretend controls are as tight as they should be; don't pretend some of the action isn't a throwback to the days of "Dragon's Lair," what with the cutscenes.
Better to have perfected and enhanced the more basic moves and combos – better to reward successful attacks that are strung together in REAL TIME, give the ol' straight-right + left uppercut + right roundhouse a little more pizzazz and flash – rather than requiring a complicated series of button pushes beforehand to get that animated combo action.
Timing and variation, throw in some sensible unique moves, and within that framework it should be possible to add all the flash and glamor you could want. The wait-to-charge-up-down-up-left-right-diagonal-sideways-up+punch deal isn't for everyone, that's for sure, although there are proud "virtual heroes" who will defend it with the laughable "the controls are so tight I learned everything in five minutes and beat everyone with one hand tied behind my back the moves are easy and you must suck" line.
As it is, the control scheme being so flaky around the edges, tends to drive you down the path of "spamming" certain moves you grow comfortable with, because a LOT of the moves and combos just don't hit it.
One more thing: the defensive aspects of Street Fighter IV just feel wrong to me, both in execution and in effect. The ability to "turtle" is way too ironclad, and adding to the cheapness, there's the new "focus attack" where you absorb incoming damage and can then apply a nasty counter-attack.
Street Fighter IV is semi-addictive and quite interesting; but it is also aggravating and annoying to no end. Dubious fighting mechanics and controls, silly super/ultra/special cutscenes disrupting the heat of battle – often intruding in mid-MOVE, and the subsequent tendency for spamming, make the overall experience a bit lacking ... and sometimes downright obnoxious.
That GameSpot gave it a "9" and an "Editor's Choice" is yet another example of just how whacked-out the "expert" reviews here are; I can understand the gushing "fan boy" user reviews from players who are obviously into the whole Street Fighter dynamic from way back; but the GameSpot review is unbelievably forgiving and subjective.
Once more for good measure: the convoluted control scheme that seems intent on making you a spammer; some of the half-assed character kits with the cheeseball "cutscene supers" and the cheap, cheap, CHEAP way of overriding the victim's control in mid-move to go into super-attack movie-mode – these things often have me quitting back to desktop not long after launching.
Street Fighter IV *IS* quite a bit of fun, but there's just too much BS. I can only take it in measured doses.
**** EDIT: PROBLEMS WITH THE SEAMY AI: I came back and lowered the score further when the issue of what seems like a cheating AI went beyond being an eyebrow-raising annoyance and into the realm of insufferable. I had read other reviews relating to the ham-fisted, poorly implemented AI. For example, complaints about the following: Seth pulling off ultras or supers at will, regardless of his attack meter; your combos and ultras activate in the training room but the same inputs are too often ignored in matches against the CPU; the CPU sometimes responds in a precognitive-seeming way -- if you don't manage to constantly keep it on the ropes, it will put up blocks and counter-attacks and armor-breaking attacks with timing and crystal-ball applicability that would be uncanny for a human player; and there were other things mentioned.
ANYWAY, I finally blew a gasket after I had an instance where I successfully activated one of my ultras during a tough challenge match and got blatantly snookered. I am not sure what followed, but here's what it seemed happened: the ultra began working, then it apparently fizzled out -- that's right, it didn't miss, it wasn't aimed in the wrong direction, the timing wasn't wrong, it FIZZLED OUT; and this was a hands-on ultra, NOT ranged -- and immediately the CPU opponent went into his own ultra sequence and obliterated me. I didn't see any "block" action -- which in and of itself is a crock, because from my experience it's impossible to "break" the CPU's ultras and in fact very hard to avoid a triggered ultra unless it's to jump over Ryu's ranged ultra or something like that; yet the CPU routinely blocks and avoids the same ultras that I am utterly helpless to react to when I am on the receiving end -- anyway, I didn't see any "block" action but it looked as if the CPU decided to "trump" my ultra and instead superimpose its own. Whether or not this "ultra override" is exactly what happened or if there was some sort of undetected "legal" ultra-breaker that was employed -- whatever the case, it came across as a big, stinking cheat, and jibed all too well with the other shady little AI tricks and shortcuts. Pulled me right out of the game, and that ain't good.