Capcom shipped in four Street Fighter IV arcade cabinets for its international media event, dubbed Captivate 08, giving us a chance to go hands on with final code, an experience that was far better than what we'd played at GDC earlier this year. With a final roster of sixteen—the twelve classic Street Fighter II Champion Edition fighters and four newcomers—we longed for between-battle character switching to get a feel for each fighter. Eventually though, we got a chance to go hands-on with every new street fighting tough, plus almost all the returning pugilists.
The most noticeable change was how much tighter the experience felt. While jumping about in the previous build we'd played felt floaty and attacks didn't quite connect with the same precision we were expecting, it appears that Capcom has tweaked both previous complaints. The end result was a game that felt more like a classic 2D Street Fighter than before.
Street Fighter IV appears to be more than successful at presenting a pretty new package with familiar gameplay, something that should appeal more to lapsed fans than the bizarre line-up and defensive bent of Street Fighter III. If anything, IV plays it a bit too safe, with an all too familiar roster and no noticeable visual design updates to the Street Fighter II vets.
The new additions to the cast, however, add welcome variety.
Mexican wrestler El Fuerte seemed to be the most popular of the bunch, with a lightning quick, flashy move set. He's charmingly unpredictable, a character devoid of projectiles, much like the other new fighters. El Fuerte keeps opponents on their toes with a forward and backward dash, a clothesline-style charge move and a leaping leg grab.
The extremely tubby Rufus is what Street Fighter IV producer Yoshinori Ono calls a "joke character," a visual gag of round flesh with some disturbing body hair choices. He's surprisingly quick though, with a jumping hundred-hands punch a la E. Honda and a spinning vortex move that draws opposing fighters in for a beating.
Crimson Viper, the sexy super spy who would look right at home in the King of Fighters series, will probably be the easiest character for new players to grasp. She's certainly the flashiest, with a slickly animated pony tail, a sharp outfit and special moves that shoot flame and electric bolts.
The last new addition, Abel, will probably appeal most to the Zangief set. His style and stature reminds us of Street Fighter III's Alex though their move sets vary. Abel's attacks don't inherently seem that powerful, but his ability to grab players out of the air and deliver crushing combos will win him some hardcore fans.
Street Fighter IV may sound like it's been a bit dumbed down for the masses, but with Focus attacks, EX moves, Super attacks and Ultra combos all thrown into the mix, there's more than enough fighting strategy here for those who have the will to unlock it. If you just want to play it like Street Fighter II, however, you'll still walk away satisfied. Our biggest concern was with the ease with which one can pull of an Ultra combo, as the Revenge meter that powers it fills rapidly. It rewards offensive play and adds one hell of a light show to the game, but it feels potentially over the top.
There was a reason that there was a constant wait to get one's hands on the controls of Street Fighter IV at Captivate. It's the same reason that Capcom employees, whether they be developers, producers or executives were similarly glued to the cabinets—it's damn good, a blend of enjoyably new mechanics and classic nostalgia-filled gameplay. It's also fantastically animated, gorgeous in motion.
Going hands-on with the final, but somewhat bare bones arcade version of Street Fighter IV assured us of two things—that we're getting the console port on day one and dropping a dime on the arcade stick that Capcom is working on with a unannounced peripheral manufacturer. Perhaps with some alone time, something we didn't experience once at Captivate, we'll get a chance to see SFIV big bad boss Seth.