When Capcom announced Super Street Fighter IV, the first add-on to the vanilla version of SF4, the online backlash was swift, sarcastic, and predictable. Commenters didn’t miss a beat accusing the company of “milking” the franchise, mockingly suggesting “Super Hyper Street Fighter IV Turbo Alpha” and other only slightly implausible follow-ups.
Looking back, it’s almost certain “Ultra Street Fighter IV” was among the joke names brought up.
Several years and many updates later, the parody prophecy has been fulfilled. Capcom has finally rolled out the oh so original Ultra edition of the game. Sporting new faces, new places, big balances, and a few not-so-obvious perks, it’s certainly sizeable enough for a separate name and a $15 price tag. The question remains, then: will this be the last chapter in the Street Fighter IV saga? And does it do enough to close out the story?
Five New-ish Combatants
The biggest selling point of Ultra SF4 is the introduction of five fresh fighters: Hugo, Rolento, Elena, Poison, and Ugly Cammy. If these names sound familiar, it’s probably because the first four were all featured in Street Fighter X Tekken, a sore point for anyone familiar with that crossover title. Luckily, nobody played SFxT, meaning these repurposed brawlers each bring something pretty fresh to Street Fighter IV.
Elena offers a feet-first approach to combat, a unique healing mechanic, and a hitbox that will make online warriors rage. Poison is pretty basic as far as mechanics go, but she plays a mean spacing game with some resets that give her sadistic (and masochistic) levels of corner pressure. Hugo was modeled directly from real-life wrestler Andre the Giant, and displays similar attributes: clothesline attacks, power slaps, and genetic mutations that will ultimate shave 20 years off his life. Finally, Rolento has mixups more ambiguous than my feelings about Anderson Cooper, making him the bane of turtlers everywhere.
Oh right, Ugly Cammy. Revealed as the fifth “new” fighter in Ultra Street Fighter IV, this disfigured charge-input edition of everyone’s favorite eye candy was given a moveset that’s a mix of Vega’s, Bison’s and Hot Cammy’s arsenal. While everyone initially whined about her unoriginal appearance, Little Miss Butterface plays completely differently from her sexier sibling, with teleport-based pressure and a penchant for flashy-looking combos.
While I haven’t had the time to master any of these furious five quite yet, they all look and feel great. I would’ve preferred if Poison’s combos didn’t get so repetitive, or if they could’ve given Rolento a posture other than scoliosis, but playing as or against new faces (even the Phantom of the Opera ones) is just as refreshing as it was when Super Street Fighter IV’s cast was introduced.
Tweaks, Twerks, and Quirks
Super Street Fighter IV Arcade Edition version 2012 was one of the most balanced fighting games I’ve ever played. And with approximately too many characters now available for selection, you’d imagine Capcom would want to rock the boat as little as possible for Ultra, since the update is presumed to carry SF4 out to it competitive gaming resting place.
Instead, Ono and his minions have introduced balance changes for pretty much everyone in the game. Vega’s got new ways to set up his super combo. Seth’s options are a little less option-y. Dan is the taunting machine he was born to be, and T-Hawk is finally a playable caricature, unironically during the same week the Washington Redskins lost their patents.
On the surface, all these changes are for the better, aimed at making more of the cast highly competitive, or at least good enough to eliminate curbstomp matchups that previously held back otherwise cool fighters. Unfortunately, we won’t know the actual scope of these improvements for weeks, months, or even years to come. Will Hot Cammy’s changes send her back to the top of the tier list? Can someone uncover hidden tech that will make Hakan unstoppable? These are questions only the fighting game community can answer after millions of matches and long sessions in the training lab.
Doubling Up on Features
In addition to per-character changes, Capcom’s decided to throw a handful of other changes to the actual mechanics of Street Fighter IV, presumably because balancing a cast of 40+ wasn’t enough of a headache enough for them already.
First up is the introduction of a new red-colored focus attack that’s been creatively dubbed Red Focus Attack. Like its neutrally-colored cousin, it can be used to absorb damage and crumple the opponent to set up a high-damage combo. Unlike the vanilla version, red focus can absorb nearly unlimited hits, crumple at any stage of charging, and dish out extra damage.
This all costs additional meter (2 bars by itself, 3 for a cancel setup), but the implications are huge. Many fighters can now chain together incredibly long combos that were never before possible. Even grapple characters, who have historically relied on reaction, reads, and punishments to use their highly-damaging throws, can now directly combo into these attacks. Sure, there’s lots of damage scaling, but getting chained into Zangief’s Ultra 1 is still a scary/hairy situation.
Speaking of ultras, everyone in the game now has the option of electing to use both ultra combos during a match instead of selecting just one. There’s a damage penalty for doing so, but the flexibility and threats generated by the new “Ultra Combo Double” system is more than worth the trade-off. For instance, Makoto can now have both an easy, close range ultra and a fast, full-screen punish ultra. Hakan can access both a grounded grab and an embarrassingly animated anti-air move. And now Seth has two ways to add upwards of 30 damage to the end of his combos!
I’m of the opinion this change was long in the making – astute players will have noted that even when doubling-up on combos wasn’t possible, the devs still gave each ultra a unique input. Undoubtedly the concept had been tested in the past, but now that it’s here, it’s hard to imagine going back to the ho-hum days of picking one cinematic move and sticking to it. Simply put: more options equals happy players.
Finally, while this isn’t a gameplay feature, Ultra SF4 has gotten a few updates from the menu as well. Players can now enable fight requests from training mode, allowing them to practice links while remaining open for challengers 24/7. It’s something that certainly could’ve been added years ago, but hey – better late than never.
Ultra also gives gamers the option to upload matches to YouTube. The process is buggy, annoying, and slow (five minute matches can take more than an hour to render and upload), but it’s there for players who don’t have the money or technical inclination for using external hardware. With this change, the era of cell phone recorded matches in 240p should finally come to a close, much to the delight of YouTube viewers everywhere.
The Future of Dairy Farming
While Ultra Street Fighter IV brings a lot to the table, it’s certainly not the perfect, definitive, final version of the game everyone would want. Normal ranked matches remain a pain in the ass to connect. The replay channel’s menu is incredibly laborious and time-consuming. Evil Ryu is still in the game.
Let’s be honest: these problems are unlikely to be fixed in Street Fighter IV, and in all likelihood Street Fighter V will be the next game to carry the name, not yet another expansion. Capcom wouldn’t want to give the impression it was milking the franchise, after all!
We can only speculate on how far out that next Street Fighter title might be, but with all the balancing and tools included in Ultra SF4 (not to mention the inevitable next gen rerelease), it’s safe to say the community will have plenty to keep itself busy until that day comes.