Don’t stop believin’…
It was inevitable. After a long, successful run, Capcom wanted to return to Street Fighter IV one last time. It’s understandable why they did it; with the gaming industry transitioning to a new console generation, appealing to the established audience was vital. Not everyone has switched over to the PS4 and Xbox One, and adding content to a popular game would’ve been more practical than adapting it to new hardware. Of course, they’d have it as a lower-priced DLC as a nice gesture to the fans. The trick was finding the balance between content and pricing; how much – or little – of an update could justify buying Street Fighter IV again? What could they possibly change to make such an aged game fresh and new? Capcom attempted to accomplish all of it with Ultra, but with mixed results.
The most prominent changes come as five additional characters: Elena, Rolento, Hugo, Poison, and Decapre. If you’ve played Street Fighter X Tekken, four of those names should sound familiar. While it’s easy to accuse Capcom of taking the lazy way out (and it is admittedly disappointing), at least they took the time to rebalance the fighters to better fit with Street Fighter IV’s combat mechanics and slower pacing. If they were ported directly over, they would have annihilated everyone else. Elena has short range and decent speed, but her fancy high/low footwork keeps opponents guessing. Rolento is much faster and more aggressive thanks to his baton twirls and rolling evasions. Hugo’s raw power and throwing combos are offset by his ridiculously huge size and questionable hit boxes. Poison is all about punishment, in terms of personality, projectiles, and close-range set-ups. Decapre is the only true newcomer, though she has the unfortunate burden of looking like a Cammy clone. Despite her unoriginal appearance, her charge-based play style and mix-ups make her devastating in the right hands. This is all on top of the returning roster from Arcade Edition. With a total of 44 characters, you’ll be sure to find someone that fits your playing style.
The new challengers aren’t the only things being reused. There are six stages added in this update, and all of them are taken directly from Street Fighter X Tekken. Rather than giving seasoned players a new background, Capcom decided to return to Pit Stop 109, Blast Furnace, Half Pipe, Mad Gear Hideout, Cosmic Elevator, and the Jurassic Era Research Facility. They’re much more interesting than some of the older Street Fighter IV backgrounds; the Pit Stop’s intricate truck designs and lighting effects make it one of the best locations in the game. As enjoyable as it is seeing the Final Fight crew and other Capcom mainstays doing cameos in the backgrounds, it would’ve been better to have at least one unique stage. The Half Pipe features new music exclusive to Ultra, though it’s only the rap track heard in one of the game’s trailers. By no means is it the best song – they’ve still yet to top the Volcanic Rim theme – but at least it’s something different.
The basic mechanics haven’t changed much, either. There’s the normal setup of light, medium, and heavy punches and kick combos. Every Hadoken, Sonic Boom, and the rest of the special moves are present and accounted for. All of the returning fighters have had their animation frames, hit boxes, health, or attack power tweaked yet again, though only the those interested in high-level competitive play will likely care. However, everyone will be affected by a handful of major additional features. As its name implies, the new Ultra Combo Double system allows the fighters to use both of their Ultra attacks instead of just one. It comes at the price of a fraction of the attacks’ original strength, but that’s a decent tradeoff for several characters. For example, Elena can balance between the offensive capabilities of her Brave Dance and the practicality of her Healing support. Or Gen, whose four Ultras makes him nigh unstoppable if played well. On the defensive side, the new Delayed Wakeup mechanic allows you to prevent your knocked-down character from standing up too quickly. Since many tactics involve timing combos to maintain offensive pressure, being able to stay down a little longer gives you a little more breathing room by keeping the opponent guessing.
The biggest change, however, is the Red Focus Attack mechanic. If you’re familiar with Street Fighter IV, you’ve probably heard of Focus Attacks. By pressing certain buttons, you can have a character charge up an attack animation, endure a single incoming hit, and counter accordingly. Depending on the inputs and the amount of energy you have in your attack meter, it even lets you cancel special moves and link them into longer combos. It encourages players to learn better spacing, timing, and keep the pressure on the opposition. Red Focus Attacks, on the other hand, take the functionality to the logical extreme. Characters still charge up, but they can soak up as many attacks as their life bars can sustain. Yeah, that includes Ultras. Even Sagat’s mighty Tiger Cannon and Decapre’s Psycho Stream can’t get through it. The tradeoff for this temporary invulnerability is two sections of your meter. This has the potential to change your entire strategy; do you use a bit of meter to launch more hard-hitting combos, or do you save up and spend double the amount for Red Focus’s defensive and countering properties? It’s reminiscent of Street Fighter III’s parrying mechanic, albeit nowhere near as technically demanding. Thanks to this new feature, Street Fighter IV’s fundamental strategies are now more varied and balanced between offensive and defensive aspects.
If only the rest of the game were changed that much. All the new characters get their own Arcade Mode stories, but they’re an afterthought at best. None of the newcomers have entries in the Trial Mode, which is unfortunate for anyone trying to learn the finer points of the fighters’ movesets. Considering Capcom’s penchant for DLC, they’ll probably be added in a later update. At least the Training Mode can now simulate online matches by giving you control over the amount of input lag; even the best tactics fail when a fighter doesn’t respond quickly enough. There’s also the version select option, which lets you choose amongst the IV, Super, Arcade Edition, Arcade Edition 2012, and Ultra iterations of every character. Anyone who’s played the games knows the original Sagat’s raw power, or how Arcade Edition Yun was utterly broken. The feature isn’t new; it’s a throwback to Hyper Street Fighter II, but with on a much bigger scale. Unfortunately, this awesome option is only available in the offline Versus Mode. There’s no way to take these blasts from the past online, where such matchups would be far more interesting on a competitive level.
Speaking of which, the online multiplayer isn’t quite perfected yet. It gives you the usual choice between Ranked, Endless lobbies, and Tournaments, as well as an Online Training Mode. There’s even a new Team Battle mode, which is set up as a 3-versus-3 elimination match-up a la The King of Fighters. It’s structured well and surprisingly fun… At least, it would be if you actually find someone else to play it. Maybe it’s a lack of interest or not enough early Ultra adopters, but opponents outside of the Ranked and Endless Modes are unbelievably rare. Even in those modes, securing a matchup can be dodgy. When using the Quick Match search, you’ll be paired up immediately if you’re lucky. If not, you’ll be left staring at the screen until the search fails several seconds later. The Custom Match search is a little more promising – it lets you choose from a list of potential contenders – but you’ll occasionally be disconnected before the fights even start. That’s aside from the random sign-outs from PSN, which is another level of annoyance. It can become a huge waste of time. Your best bet is to make your own Custom Match or Endless lobby; your opponents come to you, no tedious searching required. The fights themselves are decent in terms of lag and pacing, but the display of your opponents’ connection data is often inaccurate. Some of the smoothest matchups can come from someone with a single bar. Hopefully it’ll be improved in the next update. Considering that the multiplayer also supports direct replay uploads to YouTube – something the previous games sorely lacked – it makes up for some of the minor flaws.
That can be said for Ultra Street Fighter IV as a whole. It’s not a bad game. Far from it. The sheer amount of characters and playing styles is amazing, and all the balance tweaks give veteran players another shot at mastering the returning fighters. The new gameplay mechanics add tons of variety to the tried and true tactics of the original version. The Delayed Wakeup and Red Focus Attacks manage to add deeper layers of defensive strategies to the otherwise offensive-heavy gameplay. A few of the minor improvements, such as the lag simulator in Training Mode and the YouTube uploading capability, have been long overdue. That being said, the game leaves plenty to be desired. The lack of more character content and new stages is disappointing. Capcom took what it needed from Street Fighter X Tekken, but little else. The online multiplayer needs some serious work, especially in terms of finding player matchups and connection consistency. These are a lot of small issues that limit what is otherwise the best version of an already excellent fighting game. Street Fighter IV deserved a better send-off, but Ultra does the job well enough.
*Originally posted here.