In the early days of Street Fighter IV, I saw Balrog as one of the coolest characters in the game. He was also one of the most popular, as pro-players like Gootecks and PR Balrog proved that the character was viable in tournament play. As the game evolved and new characters were added though, his popularity fell off a cliff.
Despite that, I’ve always toyed with the idea of playing Balrog seriously. I always loved the idea of smashing people with the headbutt and finishing them off with the Violent Buffalo Ultra Combo before they hit the ground. After completing my work with Evil Ryu, it felt like a good time to move onto something new.
Balrog is a very meat-and-potatoes type of character. He doesn’t have a cross-up attack, something that I rely heavily on in every fighting game. His combo potential is below average. Also, he doesn’t have much in the way of tricky mix-ups. The closest thing he has to that in his arsenal is guessing whether one of his dash punches is going to clip you at the shins or smack you over the head. He doesn’t even have a decent Focus attack to use in a jam, as its horizontal reach is virtually non-existent.
Instead, you’re going to have to play a fundamentally-sound game of Street Fighter in order to succeed as a Balrog player. He has a great set of normal moves that hit fast and hard. He also has amazing reach on a few of his pokes. One of his money buttons is his crouching jab, which has great range for a light attack and is quite possibly the single fastest jab in the game. Another button of his that I love is his crouching heavy kick. His sweep has amazing range and comes out really fast.
He has a variety of dash punches, each with their own use. The Dash Straight is a good poke or combo ender. The low version acts as a sweep, which comes in very handy. I thought his overhead dash punch would be more useful than it actually is, though it’s really hard to land and harder to convert into a combo. His secret best dash punch is the EX dash upper, which can act as a combo extender. By linking into a light punch, you can create giant combos. That said, it’s not that practical to burn all four bars on one extended combo, but one bar for a slightly longer combo can go a long way towards winning a match.
Playing as Balrog has definitely forced me to adjust. Without any real trickery in his arsenal, it’s pushed me to play more of a fundamentally-sound game. Footsies has become a much bigger focus, as he really excels in that category. Standing between point blank and just outside of sweep range, I try and alternate between applying pressure in close and poking from a distance.
Where I think this ultimately benefits me is in the transition to Street Fighter V. With no Focus attack in that game, it’s much harder to slip into and out of certain positions on the screen. As such, you really need to be able to use tools that you have to control the horizontal space. With Balrog having the tools for that exact task and not much else, he really forces me to think forward.
Another potential benefit to this is the fact that Balrog is pretty much confirmed to be one of the first six DLC characters. Since none of my main characters from Street Fighter IV appear to be making the jump any time soon, learning Balrog now could give me the edge when he finally makes his Street Fighter V debut. While he’s likely to receive an overhaul like many of the returning characters, I suspect that the fundamentals that make Balrog tick will still transfer between games.
So far, this learning process has gone surprisingly well. In ranked play, I have a record of 150 wins and 17 losses with a Battle Point score of 4664. That puts me in the top 200 Balrog players in the world on PlayStation 4. I don’t have any plans of reaching #1 in the world like I did with Evil Ryu and Rose, but we’ll keep this going until I stop learning or stop having fun.