Thursday, March 8, 2012

Super Street Fighter IV: 3D Edition Review

Super Street Fighter IV: 3D Edition is more than just a simple port of the venerable fighting franchise. Several aspects of the game have been carefully tweaked to fit within the smaller confines of the 3DS, resulting in a fighting experience that feels every bit as impressive as its console cousins. Combat is fast, fluid, and visually spectacular and is as deep as it has ever been, making this one of the most technically brilliant fighters to have ever graced a handheld. There are some glaring omissions, though, such as leaderboards and an online tournament mode. Some compromises have also been made to accommodate the 3DS's button layout, but these are largely offset by a customisable touch-screen interface that makes the game more accessible than ever to newcomers.

The basic premise of the Street Fighter series has changed little since its debut in 1987. You play as one of 35 characters (all unlocked from the start), with the aim being to knock out your opponent with a range of kicks, punches, and special moves. All the characters from Super Street Fighter IV make a return, including series favourites such as Ryu, Chun-Li, and Blanka, along with newer additions such as C. Viper, Abel, and Rufus. Each is carefully balanced, so you are never at a disadvantage, no matter which character you fight with. With so many to choose from, there are a range of moves to suit everyone. For example, Abel is a slower, grapple-style character, specialising in short-range throws, while characters like Ryu and Sakura have faster, long-range attacks like Hadouken fireballs.

Learning moves and knowing which are the most effective against other fighters' attacks is key, making each match a strategic affair as you attempt to unravel your opponent's technique. If you're new to the series, a good place to start learning moves is Training mode, where you face off against a static dummy opponent. Though there's no tutorial, the controls are easy to pick up, and moves are listed via an onscreen command list. There are also various settings to adjust, such as your target's block mode, stun frequency, and regeneration levels. An input display shows you what buttons you're pushing, but it doesn't give you any guidance on the timing of your commands. If you're used to playing Street Fighter on a standard Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 pad, then the control scheme will be familiar, though arcade-stick players will need time to adjust. By default, you move your character around using the circle pad or D pad, pushing back to block. One isn't necessarily easier to use than the other; your preference will depend largely on your own technique, but you might find the circle pad to be a little less accurate in frantic fights. Meanwhile, the face buttons launch light and medium kicks and punches, while the shoulder buttons launch heavy kicks and punches.

Combining directional moves with attack buttons launches special moves, such as Hadoukens, Shoryukens, and hurricane kicks. More-complex combinations using two or three attack buttons at once launch powerful EX attacks, as well as super and ultra attacks--devastating moves that can make all the difference in a fight. Using these moves relies on having enough charge in your EX and revenge meters, which are built up when you absorb hits or dish out damage. However, while your EX power rolls over to the next round, revenge does not. This adds yet more strategic depth to fights: you might decide to gather energy for your special, or deal out as much damage as possible using smaller EX moves. These moves aren't essential to winning a match, and a few well-placed kicks and punches can be just as effective.

Performing super and ultra combos has always been tricky, but on the 3DS the problem is exacerbated by its small shoulder buttons, which are difficult to press in conjunction with the face buttons in the heat of battle. A new control method has been implemented on the bottom screen that aims to make things easier, for both pros and newcomers. It displays four boxes, which are assigned to different moves. In Lite mode these automatically perform your character's super and ultra attacks, as well as two regular special moves. In Pro mode, the boxes are assigned to button combinations, such as all three kicks or punches, but can be customised to your liking. Newcomers will find Lite mode especially useful, because it lets you perform spectacular moves with little effort. While pros may scoff at the simplified controls, being able to unleash supers and ultras has never guaranteed a win; such is the depth and strategy of the game.

As well as EX, super, and ultra attacks, focus attacks make a return. Pressing and holding down the medium punch and kick buttons launches one of three levels of focus, with the strongest allowing you to absorb the first hit from your opponents and incapacitate them, giving you time to follow up with another attack before they hit the ground. You can also use focus to exit animations early to chain together some insanely impressive combos, though performing them requires serious thumb dexterity and some of your EX meter. You can learn many of these techniques in Challenge mode, where you're asked to perform a range of different combos against a dummy opponent. Each character has a set of combos to learn, which get more difficult as you progress. Some of the combos are especially challenging, but mastering them raises your abilities significantly, making fights easier to win and more impressive to watch.

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