Street Fighter IV, without a doubt, is my favourite game of all-time. Having literally dedicated thousands of hours to playing it, deconstructing it and building myself up to be the greatest world warrior I could be over the last six years, the race for #1 game in my heart wasn’t even close. Even if the game is eventually surpassed by something else, I’ll never shake the profound effect its had on my life.
It may reign as my favourite game, but it’s certainly not a perfect one. In the wake of the Street Fighter V beta, the flaws of its predecessor glare brighter than ever. Before we let it retire with its rightfully-deserved legendary status, let’s lovingly pick the game apart for its flaws with this list of 10 ways in which Street Fighter IV failed.
1. Street Fighter IV didn’t teach you how to play the game
The genre has taken great strides in teaching players the ropes. Skullgirls and Killer Instinct stand out as great examples of fighters that take the time to teach you how to play. Street Fighter IV came out before all of that. As such, it only came with an open-ended training mode that isn’t all that useful unless you already understood how to effectively train and a trial mode that featured combos that were mostly impractical within the context of a real fight. Worst of all, many of the combos featured super-tight links that won’t work at all unless you understand the core concepts of link theory and have input timing down to 1/60th of a second.
Street Fighter IV really put you on a lifeboat stranded in the middle of the ocean without a paddle. Without built-in teaching tools, you were either left to scour the internet for teaching guides, be lucky enough to have someone teach you in-person, or you learned the hard way by losing hundreds of matches to better opponents online. The success it has now came in spite of its failings, though how much bigger could it have been if the game actually guided people into being better players?
2. Antiquated single player experience
Once I got absorbed into the world of online, I didn’t give a care for single player. However, a lot of people still do care for good single player fighting games. Netherrealm has proven multiple times that this can be done, as their single player campaigns and extras for Mortal Kombat and Injustice: Gods Among Us are as worthwhile of a single player endeavour as any.
Street Fighter IV came with an Arcade mode that was still designed for the arcade. Aside from an opening cutscene, some rival chit-chatter and an ending, the single player experience boiled down to meaningless fights against the computer for 20 minutes. If you bought this to play it alone, I don’t blame you for being horribly disappointed. The bar has been raised by its peers, so I expect Capcom to step things up in this department.
3. Super Ultra Arcade Edition v.2012
Just over a year after the release of Street Fighter IV, Capcom alienated many with the release of Super Street Fighter IV. Not that it was a bad game, as it was a huge jump forward for the series, but fans who just paid $60 weren’t all that enthused to buy another disc. This iterative model may have made sense in the old days, but in this new era of DLC, the impetus for a new physical release was solely so Capcom could milk more money out of its fans.
They have largely gotten better about things since the Super debacle. Every update after Super can be purchased as a digital upgrade, but why are we as player paying for upgrades? Even before hames like League of Legends and DoTA 2 have set the benchmark for what players are willing to pay for in terms of system updates, Capcom saw diminishing returns and smaller player bases each time they rolled out a paid upgrade. Thankfully, Capcom has confirmed that you’ll only ever need one disc and that balance updates will be free.
4. Death by lag
Street Fighter IV‘s online, for its time, was a revelation. This was, to my knowledge, the first major fighting game to have acceptable online play. It’s far from perfect, but when you got someone with a good connection, it played well enough.
Now let’s get into the bad stuff, of which there is many. Most notable is the presence of input lag if the connection was anything less than optimal. For a game that has such a dependency on tight timing, the inconsistent nature of the connection could totally destroy a match. Every time I play, at least a few of my matches feel like we’re both moving underwater due to how delayed our inputs were being registered.
At the time of its release, better forms of net code that prioritized user inputs such as GGPO were already available, making Street Fighter IV‘s netcode seem obsolete right out the gate. Furthermore, almost every other fighter on the market now handles better online than Ultra Street Fighter IV. Street Fighter V is introducing a new form of roll-back netcode, which has fared much better during the beta.
5. Is anybody out there?
For a game that has thousands of players battling each other at any given time, Street Fighter IV never felt like that. The online in Street Fighter IV was mostly about you at a menu screen with one to 10 names to choose from on a menu and that was it. Aside from the leaderboards, the game barely gave anyone the sense that they were connecting into a bigger battleground.
One aspect of the ranked experience that I hated was that players were given the ability to manipulate the terms of the fight. Some scumbags would set the timer to 30 seconds and rounds to 1 in an attempt to scam people out of their points. Players also got some control over who they fought, which I think also compromises the validity of the leaderboards a bit. Ideally, the game should handle all matchmaking and the terms of battle are fixed.
6. Staying focused
The Focus Attack was conceived as sort of an evolution of parrying from Street Fighter III. By holding the medium attack buttons, your character would wind up for one big blow. During this state, they could absorb one hit and power through it. You could cancel out of a Focus Attack with a dash, which opened the doors for a number of neat defensive and offensive options.
In general, I like what the mechanic adds to the game. However, its flaws are too glaring to ignore. The most glaring of which is that characters don’t equally benefit from this system-level mechanic. While Fei Long has an amazing Focus Attack that is pivotal to his approach, it’s largely useless for Balrog. The inclusion of Red Focus actually made things a bit worse, as the cost benefit of using it wasn’t worth it for just about anyone except Yun. Street Fighter V seems to be acutely aware of this challenge, as the new V-System gives characters something specifically designed to make them better.
The flashiest combos in the game were executed with a Focus Attack Dash Cancel. By using this technique, you would cut the recovery time of the move off and dash forward to continue your combo in ways that normally aren’t possible. The effect looks cool and its functional benefits were great, though its use as a safety net really threw off the risk vs. reward scale. As an example, uppercuts are often some of the highest risk, highest reward moves in any fighting game. With the Focus system in place and two EX bars in stock, if someone blocks your uppercut, you can simply dash cancel backwards to safety or dash forwards and continue your offensive pressure without penalty.
One other way that Focus Attacks negatively impacted the game was that as a means of being able to escape one while waking up, Capcom made it so that back dashes were invincible for their first few frames. This became extremely powerful as a defensive tool, as you could often back dash to safety with no penalty. Neither this or the FADC will return in Street Fighter V, meaning that these crutches will be gone for good.
7. Wake me up before you go-go
Finding yourself lying on the ground in Street Fighter IV is one of the worst positions to be in. Since it takes you so long to get up, your opponent has all the time in the world to put you in a really nasty mix-up situation where a series of bad guesses will keep your butt on the canvas until you’ve been beaten into submission. During the Arcade Edition days, unblockable combos were discovered that could be done on opponents as they’re waking up, making the ground an even more dangerous place to be.
Delayed wake-up was a half-baked solution to the unblockable problem, though the issues with waking up remained. Once you got knocked down, the action could boil down to a guessing game, where a series of bad guesses will effectively take you out of the game completely. Street Fighter V addresses this problem by dramatically shortening the time it takes to wake up so that most of the action occurs between two standing opponents.
8. Crouch teching and other option selects
An option select is a special type of input that allows the player to perform the better of two different options depending on the scenario they’re in. As you could imagine, this can be a very powerful tool in the right hands. The reality is that as cheap as this sounds, option selects are going to appear in almost any fighting game no matter what.
One option select that really compromised defense was the crouch tech. Performed by holding down back and pressing the buttons for throw at the same time, it was insanely useful as a defensive tool. By mashing that input while your opponent was in-close, you could tech virtually any throw or snuff someone with a light kick if they tried to walk towards you. Defense shouldn’t be about mashing an option select repeatedly, though it does for many in Street Fighter IV.
9. Only Built 4 Cuban Links
Link combos have existed since the first release of Street Fighter II. If you ever mashed on the jab button repeatedly until your opponent has been pushed away, you’ve done a link combo. In Street Fighter IV, many of the game’s best combos can only be executed by performing the most difficult of links. The timing on some of these links are so tight that you literally only have 1/60th of a second to hit the button in the timing window for the hits to connect.
There are multiple failings at work here. As noted in my blurb about the Trial mode, you need links to pass most of those trials. If you don’t understand where the timing window is and how tight you have to be with your execution, you’re screwed. It’s easy for someone to just think it doesn’t work and give up.
If you do know them, they’re insanely hard to do, even with practice. It’s such a small window for error that it inevitably will happen a lot to all but the elite few who are either insanely talented or practiced for ages. If you play a character that is reliant on one frame links for their combos, be prepared to spend a ton of time in training mode, hitting a dummy repeatedly until you’ve got them down.
Worst of all, in an online environment, you’re at the mercy of lag. Because your connection won’t be consistent and the game’s input timing is thrown off when lag is present, many combos become very hard or almost impossible to do.
Street Fighter V‘s solution to this conundrum is much more reasonable. Combos are still going to take practice, though the tightest possible links are only three frames versus one. It doesn’t sound like much of a change, though the difference is profound when you’re actually trying to perform them. There are concerns that it lowers the bar too much, though I much prefer this solution versus having a very small percentage of the player base being able to perform the hardest hitting combos.
10. Don’t call it a comeback
During the game’s development, there was a concern that fighting games didn’t give lesser players an opportunity to complete against stiffer competition. Their answer to that was the Revenge meter and Ultra Combos. After taking a certain amount of damage, one devastating move is unlocked that can completely turn the tides of battle if it connects. Almost every fighting game after Street Fighter IV took inspiration from this, as Mortal Kombat added X-Ray moves and Smash Bros. added a Final Smash.
Did it work? Kind of, yes. There was always a chance that someone could land that move and completely change the complexion of a match. Was this the right way about it? That’s heavily debatable. The one thing I don’t like was the reward that came with landing an Ultra versus the level of effort required to score that type of damage. Off of one hit, someone who was on the verge of being blown out can even the odds, or even win the fight. I have been burned many times by this mechanic, though I’ve probably victimized many more in the same fashion.
Ultras don’t exist in Street Fighter V, meaning you won’t have a massive crutch to lean on every single round. Instead, you get a Critical Arts, which is basically a super move. They’re easier to land and do devastating damage, but at the cost of your EX meter. Even if you horde your meter, you’ll realistically only get one super per match, versus one super-powerful move every round. There’s still a chance of randomly getting blasted by something, though it’s not going to happen nearly as often.
In spite of its flaws, Street Fighter IV‘s legacy still stands as this generation’s king of fighting games. Without it, this genre is still dead and the amazing games that came after it wouldn’t exist. Also, without its influence, we wouldn’t be getting the upcoming release of Street Fighter V, which at this point looks like it’ll best its predecessor in every aspect.
Street Fighter IV is dead. Long live Street Fighter IV.