Once you’re actually in the fights though, it becomes apparent that some aspects of the core gameplay have actually been expanded – such as the new Revenge Meter at the bottom.
The Revenge Meter charts how much damage you take and, when it’s been filled enough, you can unleash some truly astonishing combos on your adversary – the viewpoint breaking from its normally fixed 2D perspective to capture the carnage.
The Ultra Combos can be utterly devastating if done correctly, often crippling or stunning a foe so that you can get a free hit in as a follow-up. The downside though is that you need to have taken a significant amount of damage before you can unleash the more powerful moves and pulling them off can be incredibly difficult – it’s a double-edged sword.
The other major new addition to the repertoire of the titular Street Fighters is the ability to perform Focus Attacks. Basically a form of powered counter-attack, the idea is that the action in Street Fighter IV shifts away from combos and more to a delicate balance of counters and ripostes.
The difficulty here though is that Focus Attacks are only really very effective if you charge them up. Again, it’s a balancing act; you can charge your focus up and eventually unleash an unblockable special assault, but you’ll be unable to attack until that point and your opponent may find a way to slip an unblockable of his own in.
All of this gives Street Fighter a slightly tactical edge by the sounds of it then, right? If you’re a really high-end Street Fighter player – the type who collects every game and can tell us how to do every special move – then that might even be a little bit true. For the rest of us though, that supposedly strategic thinking gets lost behind the button mashing, flashing lights and special moves.
Unfortunately that distinction between Street Fighter fans is an issue which affects the entire game and the experience of any player is going to be pre-decided by which group they fit into most. If you’re already an accomplished acolyte of M. Bison then you’ll be quickly at home with the game and can probably dive in at the higher difficulties, no problem.
If not though then you’ll, like us, spend a good deal of time just getting annoyed and frustrated with the way the game demands you have in-depth knowledge of special moves from the start, yet fails to tutor you in those moves at all. There’s a basic training mode, but it doesn’t actually train you in anything at all. There’s no guidance, just a punching bag.
Make no mistake; Street Fighter IV is harder than trying to correct a wedgie at a dinner party hosted by your Mother-in-law without either blushing or drawing attention to yourself.
The learning curve isn’t helped by AI that blatantly cheats either. The last boss in the Arcade Mode will often unleash streaks of unblockable moves, even on the easiest difficulty, while other combatants will just spam the same throw or special move on you until you’re dead. We know that it’s technically fair, but when Abel just keeps doing the same whirlwind throw on you until you pass out then the game just stops being fun.
For those people then, that’s as deep as the game needs to go too; it can all to easily stop being fun and Capcom’s retro approach makes it feel that the developers aren’t really all that interested in making it easier for you. More than once it struck us that, if our gaming interests were further on the casual end of the spectrum and we’d bought Street Fighter for some quick button-bashing fun, then we’d have turned the game off long ago.
That criticism also works the other way around though. Multiplayer madmen and Street Fighter fanatics will likely feel the reverse thanks to the game's severe, solid multiplayer system and the fantastic match-finding system. Either way though, we reckon it’s worth deciding what you want from the game before you buy it and you should be aware that Street Fighter IV is basically a remake and therefore doesn’t offer anything fundamentally new.