Reviewer: Philip Smith
Overall: 9 = Must Buy
Intel Pentium 4 2.0 GHz, 1GB RAM, GeForce 6600 / except 7300 (256 MB), Game For Windows - Live for Online Play
It might be hard for the modern PC gamer to realize, but there was a time when the latest console fighters found a warm welcome on Windows and DOS machines. While they might not have been the timeliest of releases, publishers would see to it that the PC played host to a series of titles from a variety of the day’s biggest franchises: Battle Arena Toshinden, Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter, and Virtua Fighter. There were even some exclusives, such as the surprisingly good FX Fighter. Even better, most of the ports were sound, with supporting gamepads in addition to keyboards for the proper home console feel.
Times being what they are, though, PC gamers aren’t quite so lucky. Save for Mortal Kombat 4 and a handful of homebrew and import titles, not much has made its way down the pike. That was, until 2009 when Capcom released a rock-solid port of Street Fighter IV. Cut to two years later, and while console fighting fans have had BlazBlue: Continuum Shift, Marvel vs. Capcom, Mortal Kombat, and Super Street Fighter IV to satisfy their foot-to-the-face urges, PC gamers, particularly in the US, have had… Street Fighter IV.
Not that being restricted to Street Fighter IV has been all that bad. For those who enjoy 2D fighters, it’s undoubtedly one of the best to have come out in years. Still, one couldn’t help but feel a bit like they were being left behind when Super Street Fighter IV hit the market and Capcom was content to keep it on the 360 and PS3. Fortunately, that’s not the case with the latest incarnation of IV, Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition. In fact, because its predecessor was a no-show, Arcade Edition is a much more substantial release on the PC because of the introduction of Super. In addition to the under-the-hood tweaks, whose impacts will be largely limited to what was changed for your particular favorite, are some immediately noticeable additions: characters now have two selectable ultra combos, there are two new multiplayer modes, characters’ cutscenes are now more cinematic (view pans over still shots while the newer ones are slightly animated) in Arcade mode, and several improvements have been made to the Replay Channel.
The two new multiplayer modes, Team Battle and Endless Battle, only help to strengthen the online experience. Team Battle allows for teams of up to four to fight in bouts of two versus two, three versus three, or four versus four, while Endless Battle throws eight fighters into a tournament where the winner stays to fight and the rest spectate. The Replay Channel has been expanded substantially. The channel itself is now broken down further by series and fighter type: Alpha, Bosses, Newcomers, Original, Random, Super and III. Up to 150 replays (including your own) can now be saved for later viewing, as well as sent to up to 50 players. Viewing can also be customized by player and skill, with the option to follow up to five players and view bouts of only the upper echelon in the Elite Channel.
Those additions alone would be significant enough to upgrade from the original, much less jump on board for the first time, but the clincher is the expanded roster. Fighters no longer have to be unlocked to be selected, and the original cast of 25 has been significantly increased by over a dozen new characters. Well, new to IV, as many of the fighters span the franchise from the Alpha series to III. In all, those coming from the original will now find Adon, Cody, Dee Jay, Dudley, Evil Ryu, Guy, Hakan, Ibuki, Juri, Makato, Oni, T. Hawk, Yang, and Yun added for play. They join IV‘s—deep breath—Abel, Akuma, Balrog, Blanka, Cammy, Chun-Li, Crimson Viper, Dan, Dhlasim, E. Honda, El Fuerte, Gouken, Fei-Long, Gen, Guile, Ken, M. Bison, Rose, Rufus, Ryu, Sagat, Sakura, Seth, Vega, and Zangief, making for the biggest roster in the core series to date.
Several of the original’s modes also make a return, including the car- and barrel-breaking mini-games. Newcomers and veterans alike will find a robust training mode as well, which is now based off of Super‘s rule set. Each character is given a 24-series lesson that introduces players to the fundamentals, from specials to some two- and three-hit combos. The basics are then built on to teach more elaborate combos that mix in attacks of varying strengths and . This is a great way to catch up for those who’ve gotten rusty, and to get up to speed quickly with the new characters. Aside from the second ultra combo and balancing tweaks, the core game is the same, with each fighter having a focus attack, EX move, and ultras to unleash whenever the arsenal of fireballs, psycho crushers, and roundhouses aren’t enough. The game continues to put on airs of being a great place to jump back into the series, and while it’s easier to get into than something like Street Fighter III: Third Strike, it’s a serious fighter through and through. The legions of excellent players online will quickly attest to the fact that there’s plenty to learn and that you are, in fact, actually pretty terrible—or maybe that’s just me.
The beefed-up Replay Channel does serve as an excellent way to at least see how the game should be played. While there are plenty of sites online that host tournament and tutorial videos, watching players of all calibers go at it can be educational and thoroughly enjoyable. The CPU can also be set to fight itself in a Versus match, in case you want to see a quick refresher. Once you’ve had enough practice and think it’s time to do some humbling, the variety of online options offers a great selection. In addition to the aforementioned Endless Battle and Team Battle modes, you can also play through Arcade mode while waiting to be challenged or fight a traditional set in Tournament. Players are ranked by character experience and overall skill via Battle Points and Player Points, respectively, which act as decent tells as to whether you’re about to face some pain in a Tournament match. By earning points and progressing through the single-player modes, new titles and images will unlock to customize your Player Card (similar to the 360’s Gamer Card). It’s not as if the game needed to offer incentives to encourage playing, though, but the unlocks are nice digital tchotchke nonetheless. Although, I would like to point out how awkward it is to access the card: instead of having it available as a menu item, it’s accessed via the right bumper on the main menu and tweaked with X and Y. What makes that setup especially strange is that there are no onscreen indicators noting such, only a small reference in the manual.
Online play is handled by Games for Windows Live, which might make some of you understandably apprehensive. Fortunately, it’s better behaved here than elsewhere (re: Dead Rising 2) and allows for online play against console players, so there’s always competition. Be forewarned, though, that console players have accrued significant experience since Super‘s release, and while the ability to connect with players of like skill is available, they always aren’t. Practice, practice, practice.
The PC version also has a few features of its own. A Benchmark mode is available so that players can tweak the settings to match their rig, and the game is a looker even on low-end systems. More interesting is its function as a match-making system, matching up players with similar hardware performance in order to keep help keep things equal. I hit the ‘A’ mark, so no adjustments were necessary, and of note is that some initial kinks were ironed out in an early patch. I also never experienced the early issues with input devices and game-specific keyboards, which, again, were addressed early on with the first patch. I did dabble with the keyboard and found it decent enough to use for slower bouts, though I can’t imagine using it in the long term. Instead, I opted to go with the Mad Catz Tournament Edition and FightPad 360 controllers, and both worked like a charm—recognized right off the bat, no input lag, and interchangeable with the keyboard. If you have the horsepower and a proper controller, this is like the console experience, only better looking.
If there is one complaint I have, it’s the final boss, Seth. If there is any indicator that the game isn’t as newcomer friendly as it was initially designed to be, it’s him: one of the cheapest, most unimaginable bosses in gaming. The first round is always a gimme, so it’s as if you’re destined to waste your time pummeling him into dust, only to have him power up and unleash every fighter’s move in a torrent of combos that seem to ignore any sort of charge delay or rule. With the new endings, it’s tempting to play through as all the fighters to see the—admittedly nonsensical—storylines play out, but few encounters have me reaching for the exit button more than a fight with Seth. After Dural and Shang Tsung had mined the all-powerful-boss well dry, it’s surprising that in 2009, 2010, and 2011, Seth is all Capcom could come up with. Even when you’ve evolved enough in your game to best him, he then goes from an aggravating and boring boss to just a boring one. And this wouldn’t be a problem if he wasn’t such a turnoff for newcomers, and he definitely is. A small but annoying blight on an otherwise outstanding title.
Seth aside, Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition is a phenomenal fighter and well worth having in any PC gamer’s library. Being the only follow-up to Street Fighter IV on the PC, Arcade Edition is a substantial release that brings over a dozen new characters, numerous balances, and several multiplayer modes to the base game—and all for $39.99. Granted, for the proper experience, you’re going to want a controller or joystick, and I’ve found MadCatz line from the release of IV to be excellent in both use and value, making the extra twenty-plus added to the cost much more palatable. But if you already own them for your console, then you’re looking at a budget price release of a thoroughly packed title.
(This review is based on a retail copy provided by the publisher.)