After almost two decades and an obsessive-compulsive number of make-good re-releases, Capcom has finally achieved what it was striving for with Street Fighter II with the new Super Street Fighter IV. That makes sense, because SFII has always been the implied marble slab that the series’ variations and spin-offs chiseled away at, from regrettable third-dimension forays with iffy hit-detecting polygons to the fabled third installment that debuted on the doomed Dreamcast, and introduced a heightened sense of strategy in the matches. They’ve all really been SFII deep down; Capcom had to slap modifiers like “hyper” and “turbo” on the title because nobody would buy something called Street Fighter Three-Card Monte: Tournament Edition.
But this time, the reiteration flips the face card. Super Street Fighter IV doesn’t feel hollow or even speciously necessary like the others: It’s inarguably the definitive futzed-over daub of paint on Capcom’s opus. Street Fighter IV brought the series’ mechanics and characters into the modern era—no more ugly-ass sprites—but SSFIV adds nitpicky historical perspective. SFIV’s cast of 25 have all been rebalanced to better accommodate the 10 now joining the cast.
Of the new additions, eight are culled from previous, plausibly forgotten wrinkles in the SF timeline, and the two new ones mesh well on the strength of their ridiculous stereotyping of nationalities and fighting styles. There’s South Korean female tae kwon do fighter Juri, whose outfit implies a soft spot for Hot Topic and Pacific Sun. But she’s outdone by Turkish olive-oil entrepreneur Hakan, who, true to real Yağlı Güreş wrestling, douses himself in his product before pinning his opponents to the ground—causing them to burst out in a fashion familiar to anyone who’s ever seen a birthing video.
There’s a forgettable plot wedged between all the Dragon Punches, but without live opponents, a fighting game’s shelf life is pretty limited. Fortunately, online play is much more robust this go-round. As the arcades die on these shores, SSFIV’s home version resurrects them via Endless Battle, where up to eight people wait their turn in a lobby to topple the current round’s winner. There’s also a greater sense of fun here, even in elements that are old hat by now. The dialogue still sounds like it was written by 8-year-olds playing with action figures, and the AI still gets unfair advantages, but by now, you should know whether that appeals to you. For God’s sake, you’ve had 20 years to make up your mind.