Thursday, May 20, 2010

My Top 20 Favourite Video Games Of All Time: #19

Street Fighter IV series
(Capcom, 2008-2010; Arcade, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC)

This is a bit of a cheat, I know. I'm inducting a series as one entry. In this case, though, I'm sure you'll be able to forgive me. Street Fighter sequels are often updates of earlier installments and that's the case with Super Street Fighter IV being, as it is, the updated version of Street Fighter IV. Super is also the most recent game in this list.

In 1987, the original Street Fighter hit arcades and was later ported to home consoles. It's also available on Capcom Classics Collection - Volume 2. It's really nothing special; aside from some Engrish voice acting that's been grinded through a digitiser, there's not a lot you'll hold in your hearts when it comes to this game. To be totally honest, by today's standards (and certainly compared to its successors) it's all-but unplayable. The CPU is overpowered, the player's moves are extraordinarily difficult to pull off with any real level of success, it's slow and clunky and generally just not all that fun.

1991's Street Fighter II, though, was a different story. Whereas the original had only let you play as Ryu or Ken (the latter only if you were player two), there were eight characters to select in SFII, each with their own special combos and attacks. The game set the industry on fire and revolutionised fighting games. It spurred developers to create a "Street Fighter-beater". Some, like Midway's Mortal Kombat, met with success, though dozens more remain forgotten to the ages.

Street Fighter II received various updates and revisions to fix bugs, add moves and animations and, most vitally, add stages and characters not present in the original. By the final major revision in 1994, there were 17 characters to choose from, each of whom are known and beloved by practically all video game enthusiasts today. Capcom, however, knew they couldn't rest on their laurels. It was all well and good creating revisions of SFII, but the industry was moving on. While SFII had met with the greatest fortune on the SNES, the rest of the gaming world was now focusing on what the PlayStation could do and Capcom needed to think of a winning title.

What they came up in 1995 with was the midquel series Street Fighter Alpha. Set between Street Fighter and the canonical version of SF2, Super Street Fighter II Turbo, the Alpha series filled in many of the characters backstories, gave them motivations and rounded out the world a little more. There were dozens of new faces as well as old favourites from the previous two series. Street Fighter Alpha proved to be a roaring success, but Capcom knew the fans wanted the SF series to progress forwards. In 1997, they unleashed the first game in the Street Fighter III series upon the world.

To say fan reaction to SFIII was lukewarm is putting it appropriately mildly. Fans loved the fluid animation and new challenges the games provided, but they missed their favourite characters. Aside from Ryu, Ken, Chun-Li and Akuma, SFIII had featured an all-new cast- and of those four only Ryu and Ken were in the first game of the series. There were some new characters the fans liked but, for the most part, nobody really grabbed anyone's attention. On top of that, there were some truly hideously bad character designs in the series, many of whom with astoundingly bland and clichéd backstories. In 1999, Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike was released and it was the final game of the SFIII series. It was really around this time that arcades started losing popularity outside of Japan. It wasn't SFIII's fault, but the series wasn't helped by it.

So that was it for Street Fighter, or so it seemed. Capcom spent the largest part of the next decade re-releasing the SFII and Alpha games- the most successful ones- and just generally letting the series get by on former glories. Capcom were incredibly resistant to the idea of releasing a new Street Fighter sequel, perhaps worried the response would be as uninspiring as it was with SFIII. However, fan demand and the popularity of Super Street Fighter II Hyper Fighting on Xbox Live essentially forced Capcom's hand and the high-definition Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix (which is, in its own right, an astounding game and one of the best versions of SFII there is) only confirmed Street Fighter IV was the right move.

When the game was released, fans breathed a sigh of relief to see almost all of their old SFII favourites back. The only two missing faces from that game were Dee Jay and T. Hawk. In addition, the new characters this time around- including luchador El Fuerte and obnoxious, obese jerk Rufus- are all fantastic. The moves have never looked better, especially the killer Ultra moves to really finish off whichever poor sap gets in your way. The story is also excellent, concerning the rise of S.I.N., Shadaloo's weapons development divsion, and its leader Seth, who wants all of Bison's power for himself.

The music is, unfortunately, not as memorable as it was in SFII, but then that was never going to be easy. There are still some awesome tunes like Seth's theme and the stage theme for the stage where you fight near an erupting volcano (!), however. The online mode is a quite refined version of SSFIITHDR's online gameplay, too, which only adds to the package. On top of all that, you can finally play as Ryu and Ken's master, Gouken. The insanely strong warrior is a formidable fighter against any comers!

Special editions of the game also came with an animated movie, Street Fighter IV: The Ties That Bind that fills in a lot of the gaps in the somewhat spotty plot. It's one of the best SF movies made, too, with strong voice acting and a fantastic story.

Two years later, the first revision, Super Street Fighter IV, was released. All the challenges from the first version were retained, but this time the bonus stages from Street Fighter II made their return. They weren't all that returned, however, as the last two SFII characters came back, and they were joined by a group of SFA and SFIII characters, plus Guy and Cody from Final Fight! On top of that, there are two newcomers in the form of evil Korean Juri and the Turkish oil wrestler Hakan, as well as some gorgeous new stages to fight on.

Whether any further revisions of Street Fighter IV will come out remains to be seen, but if they're as good as the preceding games, they'll be incredible too.

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