Stick with it
Street Fighter perhaps the best-loved of the classic beat-em-ups has, in recent years, moved in precisely the opposite direction to that taken by the average games franchise. Usually, if a game experiences success, subsequent versions of it will abandon all else in favour of chasing mass-market acceptance. Street Fighter burst onto the scene in the late 80s and was vastly successful throughout the 90s. But in recent years, as its latest incarnation Ultra Street Fighter IV shows, it has moved back into specialist territory.
There are two reasons for that. First, the burgeoning success of e-sports, also known as competitive gaming. Recent iterations of Street Fighter IV have become a mainstay of the e-sports scene, and most of the new features in Ultra Street Fighter were added in response to requests from the worlds top professional beat-em-up players. Second, the beat-em-up genre has proved immune to reinvention. Even Street Fighter itself has used spin-off games to experiment with moving from 2D to 3D, but publisher Capcom realised that the extra dimension somehow destroyed the purity of beat-em-ups gameplay they are simply more fun to play when youre constrained to moving left or right across a screen. So Ultra Street Fighter IV is described as 2.5D: its characters and backgrounds are modelled in 3D, but it is pinned to a fixed 2D viewpoint.
That said, Ultra Street Fighter IV does boast a few additions that will appeal to anybody, most notably the addition of five new characters to an already enormous roster: Poison, Rolento, Hugo, Elena and Decapre. All of which have bags of personality. Our particular favourites are Poison and Hugo. The former is a sort of rock-chick with a riding crop, and is pretty well rounded shes mobile, and has decent ranged attacks with some decent banter. Hugo is a giant character, and as lumbering as you would expect, but with a vast amount of power. And if you manage to get him close to your opposition, he has some deadly grab-attacks. There are also six new stages, all of which, in common with the existing stages, are nicely rendered and completely over the top. An African stage, for example, sees giraffes, hippos and zebras roaming around in the background.
The main changes, however, lie in the gameplay mechanics and, to a seasoned Street Fighter aficionado, they are pretty radical, even if to the layman they might sound like mere tweaks. Perhaps the most significant is the arrival of Ultra Combo Double, which lets you choose two Ultra Combos to unleash when youve charged them up, rather than just one. But if you do choose to enter a bout with two Ultra Combos, rather than one, they will do less damage when you unleash them.
Red Focus skews the games existing balance slightly more towards defence than previously. This new take on the Focus Attack begins by absorbing incoming attacks, at which it is much more effective than its predecessor, before enhancing your attack. But it uses up your EX energy bars, and must be timed carefully if you are to get maximum value from it.
The final gameplay mechanic tweak is called Delayed Wakeup, and it lets you dictate how long you stay on the ground after a knock-down. Which may sound a bit odd, but delaying your return to action can seriously disrupt the timing of your adversarys attacks, so if you time Delayed Wakeup correctly, it can put you back on the front foot. Theres also a handy sop to the modern world, in that you can upload clips to YouTube, an Online Training mode and a 3-Vs-3 online mode.
So, should you buy Ultra Street Fighter IV? The simple answer to that is that, if youre sufficiently into beat-em-ups to own an arcade stick, then its an absolute must-buy, particularly since its commendably cheap (as such an incremental upgrade should be). If youre looking for My First Beat-em-up, theres every chance youll find it a bit intimidating: it doesnt bother with tutorials or anything like that, although you can scour the manual in-game. And if youre sufficiently self-motivated, you can trawl through the Training mode, before hitting the single-player Arcade mode, with its simple back-story-setting cut-scenes followed by bouts. But if youre a connoisseur of beat-em-ups, and fancy getting online and forcing your way into the e-sports arena, then its the perfect game for you.