There are few things more satisfying than a well-timed uppercut to the face, and no uppercut is more recognizable than the Shoryuken from Street Fighter. The original Street Fighter IV debuted in 2009 and has been peppered with updated versions and re-releases for the past five years. And yet, after all this time, Capcom has shown that they still have what it takes to keep a game exciting, and perhaps most importantly, provide a perfect blend of new content that pleases both casual and hardcore fighting game fans alike.
The most immediately noticeable additions to this iteration of Street Fighter IV are undoubtedly the characters and the stages. Ultra Street Fighter IV adds Poison, Hugo, Rolento, and Elena to the roster, and even a completely new character, Decapre. Every character, with the exception of Decapre, as well as the six new stages, have all been brought over from Capcom’s other recent fighting game, Street Fighter X Tekken. While it may seem a bit lazy on Capcom’s part, the new inclusions are so natural that I feel like they should have been here from the very beginning. They all mesh incredibly well with the rest of the cast and are a welcome addition.
Ultra Street Fighter IV also sports a surplus of new modes. Taking a page from Hyper Street Fighter II, Ultra has added an “Edition Select” feature. With this, you can choose which version of your character you wish to use. Taking the most broken fighters from previous versions of Street Fighter IV and pitting them against one another is a hilarious affair and one I’ve been having a ton of fun with. Oddly enough, you cannot use this feature online, even in player lobbies or when you’re playing exclusively with friends, which seems like a huge missed opportunity. In the same vein, Trials for the new characters have also strangely been omitted. Capcom has promised that they will become available for the physical release of the game, however.
In addition, Online Training Mode is now available, which means that while you wait for an online match, you can practice various combos and setups or train online with a friend. This ensures that you always have something to do and aren’t merely sitting around waiting for a match. The game even has a kind of “savestate” feature in training mode. Is a certain move or frametrap constantly hitting you? Record it with the save/load feature and you can discover how to counter whatever has been giving you trouble. There’s also a YouTube upload function which allows you to upload offline and online matches to your YouTube account in 480p. With this, not only are you providing content to your channel, but you can also watch previous matches and learn from any mistakes you made. Tools like these help streamline the fighting game experience and encourage you to practice and learn the game, which is something all fighters should be doing.
Speaking of online, the netcode in Ultra remains basically the same as it has been in its other versions. If you have a good connection and fight someone relatively close, your experience will most assuredly be a pleasant one. However, when the distance begins to widen, lag rears its ugly head and it only gets worse as the gap expands. For instance, even if both players have amazing Internet, you will surely feel the sting of latency if someone from the east coast plays against someone from the west coast. Fighting games rely on precision and pinpoint timing for combos, and while the online isn’t perfect in Ultra, it gets the job done. Training mode can even simulate lag now, so you can practice combos for non-optimal connections. In short, the netcode is good, but be wary if you plan on playing opponents that are a good distance away from you.
I should also note that all previous online modes, such as Endless Battle lobbies, Team Battles, and Ranked Matches return and are accompanied by the new Elimination mode. Elimination mode is a different take on team battles in that the winner still stays, but retains their health from the previous round (albeit with a slight boost). It’s basically a combination of Team Battles and King of the Hill.
New gameplay mechanics are also introduced in Ultra Street Fighter IV. Red Focus is a new feature that, instead of absorbing one hit like a regular Focus Attack, can absorb an infinite amount. However, it can still be broken like regular Focus Attacks and does cost you two bars of meter, so think wisely before using it. Players also have the ability to delay their wake-up now. What this means is that after a hard knockdown (being hit by a crouching heavy kick or throw), you can decide to get up at the normal rate or delay it, thus making tricky setups by your opponent more difficult and inconsistent to pull off. Super Street Fighter IV added a second Ultra combo for every fighter, but Ultra Street Fighter IV ups the ante by allowing you to choose both. Dubbed the Ultra Combo Double, you are free to use either Ultra combo when the opportunity arises, but at the expense of it being weaker. The question then becomes whether you opt for more damage or more utility when selecting which Ultra you wish to sport in battle.
To fighting game veterans like myself, the most significant changes are often the more subtle ones, and I’m the most excited about the roster being rebalanced. In any fighter, there are always going to be characters that are stronger and more viable than others. Some characters may not see the light of day because their moves are too weak or their options just pale in comparison to the rest of the cast. In Ultra, the entire roster has been looked over with a fine-tooth comb and the result is invigorating. Characters like T-Hawk or El Fuerte that were often overlooked in Arcade Edition now have the tools to contend with the rest of the cast, resulting in a more diverse selection of characters being used. While it is still too early to testify as to whether the game is balanced, the changes are still refreshing.
With new characters, stages, modes, and careful tweaking of the entire roster, Ultra Street Fighter IV is without a doubt, the definitive version of Street Fighter IV. It provides a plethora of new content and a staggering amount of detail, all for the modest price of $15. Its greatest feat, however, is that everything culminates into a package that casual fans will enjoy and fighting game enthusiasts will appreciate. For anyone who has enjoyed the Street Fighter IV series, Ultra is most certainly a must-buy.