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Street Fighter IV by:Sandra Prior

Street Fighter IV by:Sandra Prior

Daddy's back and he's very angry.

When the last 'proper' Street Fighter game came out, over 10 years ago, it is safe to say that the characters had lost 1) much of their appeal and 2) the fan base they enjoyed during their heyday of the 90s. Street Fighter 3 3rd Strike did not exactly make much of an impact, with Ken and Ryo joining a bunch of misfits many people could care less about. It was beautiful, technical and a stunningly animated fighter, but it simply did not strike a cord with the masses. Had the fighting legend lost its way?

After countless bouts we can say it with a resounding 'NO'. Street Fighter veterans will find the game familiar - some might even say that it's too familiar. The original cast of fighters are back: Ryu and Ken, Chun-Li and Blanka to Vega and Bison.

Their fighting style feels the same (at least with execution) meaning fans around the world will feel at home with set up straight away, making the arcade stick add-on that much more essential. Thankfully there are some differences in place and each one of those is a positive step in the right direction.Street Fighter IV by:Sandra Prior

Newcomers who feel more at ease with games like Soul Calibur 4 or Dead or Alive 4 needn't be intimidated. Dragon-punching, spinning-bird kicking and performing the two and three hit-combos are now much, much easier and less technical. For the first time, in a 2D-based beat' em up, your analogue stick will be of much more use than your D-Pad. The timing to pull off special moves is more generous, meaning that the barrier against more skilled opponents has been lowered.

It's no longer about whether you can pull the moves off, but rather if you can use them appropriately or link them to more complex combos. One example of this is the new focus attack. Similar to that of Tekken, you have the opportunity to charge up a powerful blow, at the same time allowing you to absorb an attack. Unleashing it will stun your opponent for a few seconds, leaving him vulnerable to any other attack you desire.

There is also a great fight-leveler, so anyone taking a beating has the chance to make a dramatic Britney Spears-like comeback. Lose enough health and your combo is activated which allows you to execute a last-second attack to bring yourself back into the fight. Perhaps what makes Street Fighter 4 so unique is Capcom taking the 2D fighting template and making it relevant and exciting to gamers used to next-gen stunners. The animation in Street Fighter 4 is breathtaking to behold. Animations feel weighty, punches and kicks have real impact and each character is brimming with personality.

When taking a hit, you see the pain on their faces and their eyes nearly bulging out of their sockets. Blanka looks exceptionally aggressive and less cartoony than before, whereas Chun-Li is more fluid and graceful than ever before. Characters are more balanced now. The once weaker characters, like Blanka, now have the moves to accommodate their weakness, making them much more worthy opponents than before.

Zangief and E Honda (whose 360 moves were hard to get to grips with for novices) have also been beefed up, but they are naturally slower. The normal strength versus speed element is very obvious. With Capcom balancing all the characters and fine-tuning them to perfection, your choice of a character you enjoy playing is that much easier. If you chose Blanka in the past, your strategy would've been to get as close to your opponent as possible. Should you fight someone like Dhalsim, with his stretchy arms and legs, it would've been over before you knew it. You can now choose any character from the roster and be certain that you have a chance against the Ken-abusing scum.

New characters are as follows: Abel the grappler, secret agent C. Viper, kung fu fighter Rufus, luchador El Fuerte, Seth the boss and Gouken, a secret character. What strikes us is that these characters all mix so well with the old cast... or rather, the old cast did not age. However, what has changed is Capcom's view on society. Guile was their take on Americans in the 80s - a strong, muscular and athletic soldier, whereas with Rufus they seem to be insinuating that Americans are all obese big-mouths, with streams of dialog being read at the end of each match (where other fighters finish it off with one small sentence). It does add to the humor in the game though, and essentially, to the overall balance.

All these new characters and moves would be pointless without any human interaction. An offline versus mode is there for your one-on-one battles as you have enjoyed in the past, but it is the new online mode that will get you excited. First, the bad news: only two players can enter the lobby at any given time. With that out the way, the rest works very well. To find a stranger or friend online takes but mere seconds to connect, even on our dodgy Internet lines. Once you have fought your opponent you are awarded with Battle Points that are used for nothing more than bragging rights. The higher the score, the more fights you have won. Battle Points might sound meaningless, but you forget that it is our human nature to be competitive and as such you will cherish each point you earn online.

So, we like it and it's by no means an exaggeration to suggest that this is up there with the greatest fighters ever made. It's not button-mashy like Soul Calibur, it does not require a colossal 20-button command like Dead or Alive and instead focuses on what is important - simplicity, strategy and fun. Exactly what you need before you begin to master its intricacies.

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