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Full Steam Ahead: Street Fighter IV

The word iconic seems to be getting thrown around a lot these days. Like its much-maligned pal the exclamation point, the word iconic seems to be overused to the point of of inducing weariness. As such, it has gone from being a widespread acknowledgment of excellence and cultural significance to a mere recognition of existence.

Many games and game series can be characterized by that latter definition of iconic. They exist, you’ve probably heard of them. You might recognize them if you saw them being played, but they mean very little to you in the grand scheme of things.

The Street Fighter franchise is easily the former kind of iconic.

Let’s go fight some streets!

I don’t intend to praise the Street Fighter series so highly without presenting at least some evidence to support that opinion. The eponymous street fighters are widely recognized, even outside of video game fandom. Visually, they are appealing, from the massive Russian wrestler Zangief to the confident American karateka Ken. From the imposing Thai kickboxer Sagat to the mysterious yogi Dhalsim. Furthermore, beyond being fun to look at, their designs impart valuable information about the way they play and control. Vega is fast and lethal, but can’t take hits very well. Ryu is an everyman, with no glaring weakness or overwhelming strengths. Guile isn’t terribly mobile, but he hits hard.

Which brings me to another piece of evidence for Street Fighter’s iconic status: the special move. There were games which featured fighting before the Street Fighter series. Indeed the first game to bare the Street Fighter title was a largely unremarkable game, with simple punches, kicks, and movement. However, Street Fighter II – The World Warrior introduced combos, attacks which were activated using precisely timed motions with the joystick, coupled with specific buttons, to launch devastating moves at one’s opponent. A distinct memory of my childhood is waiting in line at the movies, listening to fighters from the machine yelling out their moves. Tiger Uppercut. Yoga Fire. Woodchuck (young me had not great hearing and an even worse grasp of Japanese). These combos became a signature of not just the series, but of the genre of fighting games as a whole. There are plenty of games, especially with the advent of MMA, that deliver (or at least aim to deliver) a legitimate, realistic, fighting experience; those games are considered sports games, but games that let me huck fireballs at cars are considered fighting games, due in no small part to Street Fighter.

The Pipes Are Broken!

In case that doesn’t convince you of anything, consider that the words quarter-circle-forward actually mean something to a vast number of people.

Of the many games in this iconic series, I only have one in my Steam library. I have Street Fighter IV. This game was released in 2009. I don’t know when it entered my Steam library, or how much I paid for it. However, unlike some games which I stopped playing for reasons I can’t explain, I know precisely why I stopped playing Street Fighter IV: it is extremely hard to play on a keyboard. I’m serious, I had no better or worse reason for relegating this game to the backburner than a lack of hardware on my part. It’s not the game’s fault, really. After all, Street Fighter got its start in the arcade, so the controls for it have always been based around the button and joystick setup common to most arcade cabinets. Having said that, I’m usually not wild about games that require the purchase of separate hardware to be reasonably playable.

Whoever I was when I first got this game, the controller situation didn’t seem to bother me all that much; I logged five hours in the game before uninstalling it. It’s hardly a massive expenditure of time, but it’s more than some other games already explored in this series. However, I am not the same person I was when I first played Street Fighter IV. I do what I never did the first time, and I by myself a controller for PC. Admittedly, there are other games I own which will benefit from having a PC controller, but Street Fighter IV is the one which most readily comes to mind.

Having a controller makes it significantly easier to precisely move the fighters and trigger combos. I can now do shoryukens, a staple anti-air move in the series; this is something I could not do before. I’ll grant that perhaps it was possible to do this on a keyboard and I just wasn’t good enough. I’m not ashamed to admit when I’m not skilled enough to play a game.

I’m not skilled enough to play Street Fighter IV.

I’m no doctor, but I’m about 97% sure a neck shouldn’t do that.

Even with the controller, even on the easiest difficulty setting of eight, I lose this game a lot. I can beat a most of the computer controlled characters, with a couple exceptions, but Seth, the main boss and villain of the game, is immensely frustrating.

In an arcade game, losing is devastating. A quarter (or a dollar, or more these days, damn inflation) seemed like a lot of money to me as a kid. If you lost a fight, you had to pay to continue, watching while your bruised and battered fighter struggled to hold on to consciousness. All the while, a timer would countdown, imploring you toinsert more credit and get back in the fight. When it ran out, your fighter would collapse, the words “GAME OVER” appearing like a spectre of doom over their body.

Get up Fei Long! I’ve got believe in you!

In the home version, losing doesn’t have the same edge. When you lose at home, you just press start, and your character bounces back, good to go, from the start of the fight. It means that, if you’re like me, you get stuck on a specific character match-up, and end up in a cycle of fight-lose-continue-restart. An ouroboros of me sucking.

Unlike previous titles in the series, Street Fighter IV uses 3D animated graphics as opposed to two dimensional sprites. The art team had some fun with this, using ink splatters and brushstrokes to emphasize powerful hits, giving the game an artistic flair unique at the time of its release. Unfortunately, the change to 3D meant that a lot of the distinctive, informative character designs from earlier in the series were replaced by ridiculously muscular versions of themselves.

“I don’t remember Ryu being that jacked in the 90’s” thinks passing cyclist.

One of the other strengths of the series is its exciting characters. All of the series regulars are here, and despite looking like they’ve been eating, drinking, and breathing protein shakes, their classic moves and personalities are intact. There are also some new characters… I’ll level with you, there all pretty lame. You can choose to play as the morbidly obese American Kung-Fu master, the Mexican luchador who aspires to be a world-famous chef (because apparently they couldn’t think of a way to make lucha libre exciting), or the paint-by-numbers CIA operative. I’ll admit a certain fondness for Abel, the French MMA amnesiac, but that has less to do with his personality, and more to do with the fact that he entered a tournament where people can launch fireballs, wield psychic powers, and summon demonic spirits, and he decided the best response was to punch them harder.

Abel, getting life advice from Zangief, who is clearly a reputable source.

Street Fighter’s villains, including M. Bison, Vega, and Sagat, are some of the most recognizable characters in gaming. However, the main villain of Street Fighter IV is Seth…

One of my pet peeves in fighting games is when characters, especially boss characters, use the moves of other fighters in the game; it feels like lazy design. Seth’s moveset is almost entirely pulled from other characters’ combos. I also don’t like it when fighters teleport, mostly because it makes fighting them very hard. Seth does that. I also find blue, near-naked, muscular men to be a kind of uninteresting character design. I don’t wanna post a picture of it, because I want to keep the blog at least somewhat sfw, so google search Seth from Street Fighter IV.

Maybe if I had more patience, or skill, or friends who played this game, Street Fighter IV would be more fun. But I don’t so it isn’t. I guess this game’s problems run a bit deeper than just controller issues. Perhaps I’m being a little harsh, but I’m having a hard time getting into this game. And with so many potentially fun games waiting in my Steam library, it’s hard to justify spending what little free time I have on a game that isn’t fun. So, what hidden gem is-

Next Episode – Arma 2: Private Military Company

…Well, damn. Play us out Zangief.

Take that, you Dr. Manhattan knock-off wannabe.
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