It’s been just over a year since the original Street Fighter IV hit shelves and, for the months that followed its release, fighting games were back on center stage.  All it took was a little graphical polish and some modern modes and features for Capcom to lure gamers back into a Street Fighter state of mind.  Naturally, with the release of bigger and bigger games and the strict learning curve that came from playing the game against skilled human opponents, only a few stalwart veterans continued to play the game into 2010.  Nevertheless, Street Fighter IV returns this year with Super Street Fighter IV.  More like an entire renovation than an update, this discounted game gives fighting game fans everything they’d want (and more) in an update to this millennium’s biggest 2D fighter, and gives newcomers one more chance at becoming indestructible.

The most obvious change between Super Street Fighter IV and its vanilla counterpart is the roster update.  SSFIV adds 10 new fighters, bringing the game’s roster up to a hearty 35 characters.  All previous characters from Street Fighter IV return alongside three new fighters from the Alpha series, including Final Fight favorites Guy and Cody, as well three characters from the neglected Street Fighter III series.  T. Hawk and Dee Jay return to fill out the Street Fighter II roster, and Super Street Fighter IV brings in two brand new combatants with their own wholly unique fighting styles.  The Tae Kwon Do practitioner Juri is a lightening fast trickster with a mean streak, and Hakan, a Turkish oil wrestler whose goofy style revolves around applying oil to his bright red skin, round out the eclectic cast.  All in all, these new inclusions not only succeed in making the breadth of characters more diverse aesthetically, but in giving gamers almost limitless options for experimentation.

The original roster is now joined with a new cast of characters

Speaking of options, Super Street Fighter IV provides a slew of new modes.  The standard Arcade mode returns, which has players picking a fighter and completing a series of fights before taking on one of the game’s bosses.  New this year is the inclusion of Bonus Stages interspersed in Arcade mode.  These are throwbacks to the classic car-crushing and barrel-breaking stages in Street Fighter II, and although their inclusion is neat, there’s little reason to come back and play these stages solo.  Versus and Trials also make a comeback, with the latter being stream-lined to provide a smoother and more rewarding experience.

Now, players only need to complete one unique combo or move-set to complete a trial, and they can skip trials that are giving them issues without penalty.  The Trials mode remains a good way to show players the capabilities of each fighter in THEORY, but in practice, the mode still fails to give clear explanation as to why each move is useful.  This is a missed opportunity to draw in newcomers. Time Trials and Survival modes are nixed this year, which is either distressing or a non-factor depending on your mindset, and a standard Training mode completes the single-player suite.

Significant attention was given to the game’s multiplayer online.  It should be noted that, given the single-player options, if you don’t think you’ll be playing Super Street Fighter IV online, it becomes significantly harder to recommend.  This is truly where the meat of the game lies and, if you have the friends list to fill out many of these modes, this is going to become extremely obvious.

If you’re not interested in mutliplayer, Super Street Fighter IV might not be for you

At the top of the list is the standard Ranked match, which matches you up against an opponent in a three round fight.  The victor receives Player Points, which reflect an overall skill level, as well as Battle Points, which reflects a player’s success with an individual character.  For example, if someone were to be doing extremely well in Ranked matches, they may have a large PP rating, but if they are using a character they don’t normally use, their BP may be lower.  It’s a useful mechanic to track progression, and one that competitive players will always be obsessing about.

New to SSFIV is an Endless Battle mode which pits you in a lobby with up to eight friends or Xbox LIVE users in what is essentially an arcade style round table.  Two people in the lobby will fight while the rest spectate.  When the match is over, the winner stays and the next player in line takes them on, and the process continues in, ironically, what can be an Endless Battle.  Go figure.  Finally, there’s Team Battle, which is a mode I’ve yet to wrap my head around.  Ostensibly, up to four friends can take on another four people in a team-style match, but at the time of this review, I haven’t had much time with it due to the game’s awkward style of setting up lobbies in Team Battle.  A Replay Channel stores your own replays as well as those of skilled players, and tracking Leaderboards round out the package.  Strangely, there is no standard Player match option.

Hakan confesses his love for Crimson Viper

The gameplay in Super Street Fighter IV remains unchanged from its predecessor.  This game is still quick and responsive 2D fighting at its best.  Learning to play each fighter, utilizing special attacks in tandem with normal attacks can be a daunting task for a beginner, but when the veritable light bulb finally goes on, one can truly appreciate how smooth and fast-paced SSFIV really plays.  Most characters have received tweaks in the interest of fairness, but the rookie player is probably not going to notice them.  Something that’s easily noticeable is the fact that each character has now received a second Ultra Combo, which were the huge show-stopping counterattacks introduced in the first Street Fighter IV.  Essentially, as your fighter takes damage during a fight, their Ultra meter goes up and, when it is half full, they can unleash a devastating move that can easily turn the tide of battle.

This mechanic introduces a level of strategy, as some Ultras are more versatile, but lack the amount of stopping power that choosing another might provide.  Combined with the depth of the fighting engine, Super Street Fighter IV is an easy game to pick up and mess around with, but can take countless hours to master.  Of note is that the online plays extremely well, with most matches boasting little to no lag or latency.  However, as was mentioned about Team Battle, the game does have a strange way of generating lobbies and setting up matches is a little difficult.  It can take a while to find a Ranked match.  Although this is nothing new to those who played the original Street Fighter IV, it doesn’t make it any less frustrating, and the fact that this wasn’t fixed or improved in this new installment is more than a little puzzling.

T.Hawk is, and always will be, annoying

On the presentation front, Super Street Fighter IV doesn’t really make any changes, but remains a gorgeous game.  The bright and stylized look of the characters and stages still look fantastic, and all new characters and stages received just as much, if not more of this love and attention.  The animation of the characters are all fantastic, especially the goofy facial expressions that the fighters go through when enduring the game’s more painful moves.  A highlight would have to be the remixed character themes, which sound great for the most part and truly tickle that nostalgic nerve.  The sound effects (once again predominately on the new Ultra Combos) are lively and brutal.  The voice-acting of each character is hammy and could potentially drive some people crazy, but there’s an option to turn on Japanese voice-acting if it truly bothers you.  Now, if someone could just spruce up those anime cutscenes that appear before and after a fighter’s Arcade mode, there would be realistically no faults with the way Super Street Fighter IV looks or sounds.

It’s an odd thing to try and recommend or not recommend a game that is really just a bigger version of a previous installment.  If you are a fighting game fan or a fan of the first game, Super Street Fighter IV is a no-brainer.  If you are a newcomer, it definitely does take some dedication to get into and enjoy this game on a competitive level, but it does provide a level of viscerally rewarding gameplay that can inspire even the lowliest of Ken players to become superstars.  Even if you don’t know what a “cross-up” is, or how to “Focus Attack dash cancel”, the meaty package that this beautiful game serves up for the price of $40 is well worth sampling.