Street Fighter hasn’t changed much in 25 years. There have been new mechanics to learn, new characters to try, and countless games to try them in, but the core one-on-one fighting focus has yet to drastically change, and why should it? Ultra Street Fighter IV proves that its core concepts are still the gold standard, tweaking the core Street Fighter enough to give it new life while maintaining the greatness the series has seen for a quarter-century. This is the best Street Fighter yet.
Four of the five added characters added to the SFIV roster won’t seem new, considering you got a chance to play as them in Street Fighter X Tekken. However, the main Street Fighter series is a different animal than SFxT, so they’ll all been modified to fit better within their new digs. Hugo, Rolento, Poison and Elena all make seamless transitions, fighting like they’ve been there since the beginning. The brand new face, the evil Cammy clone Decapre, is not the direct Cammy clone some might expect, mimicking her only in stance and stature. This is great news for those who lamented her inclusion to begin with, as there’s nothing a Street Fighter fan likes more than having a new moveset to master.
Ultra Street Fighter IV’s added mechanics make for another strategic layer in the already deep fighting system, giving us all something new to wrap our heads around. The Red Focus Attack is easy to launch (add light punch to the medium punch/kick Focus combination) and more durable than normal Focus Attacks, which opens up a whole world of combo opportunities to impress people with. The Ultra Combo Double finally lets you use both Ultras in one match, but at a significant cost of damage inflicted, so you’ll have to decide if the advantage is worth the price. Nothing added to the game is so broken that it ruins the game; instead they continue to build on Street Fighter’s insane list of strategies.
One noticeable tweak is the changes to the overall difficulty of Arcade Mode. Previous versions of Street Fighter IV featured a single-player “story” mode that didn’t really challenge a seasoned series veteran until the final match with Seth (and the preceding Rival Battle in some cases). However, Ultra IV seems to have bumped things up; a run-through on Medium difficulty would be a breeze before, but Ultra might require a continue or two in your first couple of tries. That’s not to say you’ll be pulling your hair out in the first match of Arcade Mode, but completing a run without losing a match might not be the walk in the park it was before.
The online mode has never been the aforementioned walk in the park either (seriously, have you played against some of these people online?), but Ultra SF IV’s online mode has been flawless. Multiple lobbies have been found, multiple matches have been fought, and multiple replays have been saved with very little lag to speak of. Only once did the game hiccup during an online battle, and it was during the fighter introductions so neither player was affected. Considering how rocky the original SFIV’s netcode was, it’s great to see a vast improvement over these five years.
Ultra Street Fighter IV may bring the core mechanics to 2014, but a big part of the game is still rooted in the past. When Street Fighter IV first launched in 2009, the bare-bones “intro cutscene, rival battle, and ending cutscene” story mode was still viable, if only because there was nothing different in fighting games to compare it to. Since then 2011’s Mortal Kombat revival and 2013’s Injustice have shown that fighting games can have robust and interesting story modes, leaving the old methods in the dust. Unfortunately Ultra Street Fighter IV doesn’t get the message, adding only the standard cutscenes for the new fighters. Granted, Decapre’s background may be the most interesting of any Street Fighter character in a long time, but there’s so little story to digest it’s rather sad. There was lingering hope for a revamped story experience, but alas those hopes were dashed.
Ultra Street Fighter IV is the culmination of five years of modifications and changes to the game that brought fighting games back into the spotlight, and the result is the best Street Fighter experience available today. A huge roster of characters, fast and frenetic fighting, and a lag-free online mode make this the total Street Fighter package for taking on your friends. The single-player modes may be limited, but considering the real meat and potatoes of Street Fighter is in the head-to-head with others, that’s a flaw that can be overlooked. This is one Ultra swan song for SFIV; a fitting way to send off a (console) generation of Street Fighter chapters.
This review was completed with a purchased download of Ultra Street Fighter IV for PlayStation 3.