Or, The Cammy and Rose Show
After years of speculation Capcom kicked off an initially promising 'Year of the fighter' with this astonishingly assured piece of work. Since Street Fighter 2 took the world by storm nearly two decades ago the series has branched and evolved into multiple iterations, becoming somewhat arcane for the fighting fan who likes his games quite straightforward: Me. Counters, elaborate combos and -isms were jettisoned in favour of bringing the scrapping back to the accessible immediacy that sunk its teeth into millions of gamers in the early 90s.
The buzz built slowly but surely around the title, positive word-of-mouth spread from preview builds, and lapsed gamers were stirred into enthusiasm once more, fuelled by the memories of mis-spent youth. This was a game you could put in front of someone who hadn't given videogames a second thought since the SNES days, and they'd play through the night.
A few new characters make an appearance, but when it comes to fighters I'm the kind of guy that latches onto a couple of favourites and doesn't budge. I learn a character and pretty much exclusively use them, and in this case it's Cammy. Light, fast, and rangy. Perfect for my in-out playing style. I also have no interest whatsoever in playing strangers online, so all my competitive gaming is done the way it should be: Two players, two sticks, one console, one TV. Favourite characters locked into epic sessions. Rematch rematch rematch. Much punching of shoulders and swearing. Occasional congratulations on particularly admirable wins.
It's not perfect. There are the usual balance issues associated with almost all fighters, and a hair-tearingly cheap end boss. I have issues with the art direction, specifically the character designs. While the ladies manage to escape any serious transgressions, the male characters aren't so lucky. Everyone's had a good thrashing from the ugly stick, particularly a distinctly un-Japanese Ryu. Seriously, this is Capcom we're talking about. Capcom effortlessly spits out iconic, stylish and beautiful character design... so what went wrong here?
Luckily everything else delivers. The stages are bold, colourful and filled with wonderful incidental details that complement the foreground action, and the music is uniformly excellent, particularly the theme for new character C. Viper and the 'Beautiful Bay' location.
My personal tastes in visuals aside, Street Fighter IV turned out to be not only one of the best games of the year, but a truly exemplary arcade fighting game and a damn near perfect two-player experience.