In this time of economic uncertainty—so long 401K; hello pink slip—there’s something almost comforting in the way the Street Fighter series never evolves or matures. It’s still This Guy vs. That Guy. Gameplay is still rendered in old-school 2D. And it’s still about uppercuts, super-moves, and flashy counterattacks. Which raises the question: If you repaint the Mona Lisa or do a shot-for-shot remake of The Godfather, can the unoriginal results somehow still be compelling? Street Fighter IV teaches us that they can be, but only to a limited degree.
Make no mistake, Street Fighter IV is a superb fighting game. Aside from the cheese-rock theme song, it’s terribly stylish. And the gameplay mechanics, especially when coupled with a third-party arcade fighting stick (don’t even think about using the Xbox 360 controller), are second to none.
Street Fighter purists will argue otherwise, but this is essentially the same game most of us played nearly two decades ago, only rendered in far prettier pixels. Fireballs will be thrown. Dragon Punches will be punched. And many nonsensical, we-don’t-need-no-stinking-writers taunts will be uttered.
Fans of the series have already no doubt purchased umpteen iterations of the game either in cartridge form or via the Wii’s Virtual Console and Xbox Live Arcade: Street Fighter II Hyper Fighting, Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix, etc. Is Street Fighter IV the best version? Absolutely. But once fans have relived their virtual-martial-arts glory days; once they’ve defeated Seth, the poorly named final boss; once the patina of nostalgia has worn off, most will wonder whether they needed to spend $60 on a game they already own.
Beyond the game: There are four new characters, including the rotund Rufus, a bloated American whose most powerful move involves sitting down.
Worth playing for: The incredible high-definition graphics. Watching Blanka’s eyes bug out in slow motion is a genuine spectacle.
Frustration sets in when: The various characters spout their idiotic dialogue. After defeating El Fuerte, a Mexican wrestler who wears a lucha libre mask and carries a frying pan, Ryu says: “I don’t know much about cooking, but your will and strength impress me.”
Final judgment: Except for Street Fighter completists, Street Fighter IV merits, at best, an afternoon rental.