Fighting games are video games to live in. You don’t simply play a couple of rounds as Ryu, you learn to be him. You understand the properties of his fireball; the trajectory of his uppercut; the range of his heavy kick. Even if you don’t step into the game with the intention to, you will. Even if you call yourself a button basher, you can’t deny that after a few rounds you do actually begin to gain a minor understanding of your character’s disorganised flailing.
But this attitude and dedication from those that play the genre makes updates hard. You can’t get away with a spot of Tress FX and a definitive title tag, these games run deeper than that. And sure, it’s easy to throw verbal fireballs of hate in the direction of a publisher when they announce that they have a new version of their latest scrapper coming out, but it’s important to twiddle the notches in competitive games to keep scraps fresh, or to address important balance issues. And after speaking with Capcom’s fighting specialist, one Mr. Peter Rosas, it’s hard to dispute the good intentions behind the update that is Ultra Street Fighter IV.
“The core intent of this game is to give the fighting game community the version of Street Fighter IV that they have been asking for. As Super Street Fighter IV: AE 2012 continuously pulls in the most entrants per tournament, those actively playing have told us ‘we want more balance between the characters,’ a sentiment we’ve definitely heeded to [in the development of Ultra Street Fighter IV]”.
It’s a bold opening statement, and one that came through constantly during our talk with Mr Rosas. Street Fighter IV is an old game now, and while recent updates have done plenty to build upon its solid foundations the game has become somewhat ‘understood’ by the community, while some characters have become dismissed over the years.
Ultra Street Fighter IV attempts to address both of these issues. Whether that’s brave or stupid remains to be seen, but right now it appears to be achieving both with remarkable success. First up, those dusty characters. As a Chun Li player myself I’m enthused to hear about my girl’s buffs to her health and her moves, but Rosas was quick to point out that adjusting a character is no small feat, particularly when you’re addressing an element that many players consider over powered.
“It’s actually rather hard to tweak moves, because the most minor of changes results in many different opinions from many different people. Players would ideally like to see their character only get stronger, so when an attack is tweaked because it has been perceived as quite strong (due its usefulness versus risk and player reactions), you have to get ready for the negativity that results from that change. For other attacks, when they’re tweaked to work the way that they appear to (or as players think they should), it’s also nice to see the positivity that results from that!
[In regards to health changes, it] all boils down to how strongly the vitality changes were requested by fans. For Chun-Li, people have figured out how to fight her that much better, so the original design concept of giving her lower health for higher defensive options has not stood the test of time. For Evil Ryu, that was also highly requested due to the fact that Evil Ryu players were dying while attempting to mount their offense. However, due to the extremely high damage output of Evil Ryu, this will have to be further examined.”
So yes, my Chun Li shall be able to attack with renewed strength, huzzah, but what else is new in Ultra Street Fighter IV? Quite a bit, actually. Red Focus, Delayed Wake-Up, and Double Ultras are all new ideas that inject Street Fighter IV with a real jolt of renewed adrenaline. Previous updates to Street Fighter IV have been somewhat samey, focusing largely on adding a few new faces to the story, but Ultra Street Fighter IV attempts to mix up the entire sentence structure of the tale.
But as much as one can read into these new elements on paper, Mr. Rosas seemed like the perfect sort to take us through the intention and purpose of these new mechanics. First, Red Focus. The Focus Attack is a key universal tool in Street Fighter IV that lets players absorb an attack and launch a riposte straight away. But only one attack, and some ‘armor breakers’ will dismiss the move instantly. Red Focus uses two chunks of your super meter but can absorb lots of attacks, letting players counter all sorts of fancy strings and potentially survive previously impossible situations.
“The original idea behind Red Focus was that it would be used to turn the tables in a match. Although Red Focus can be beaten by armor breakers, there are times when players go into offensive patterns that don’t incorporate said attacks. If you have a good read on your opponent, spending the two meters to land a Red Focus during those patterns for a chance to change the momentum mid-match is definitely a fine trade in my book.”
Mechanic two, Delayed Wake-Up, does exactly what it says. In Ultra Street Fighter IV players can actually enjoy the concrete for a little while longer than in past versions of Street Fighter IV, removing the ultimate predictability of the automatic wake-up of past versions of Street Fighter IV.
“As delay wake-up is so new, players are still adjusting to how this works. Part of the fun of Street Fighter IV is finding setups against characters as they wake up. Delay wake up changes that by adding an 11 frame delay, yet can only be performed against hard knockdown attacks. Once players realize those two points, they can work to figure new setups that work against both options. For others who don’t play with setups, this just adds one more layer to the mind game element, which further celebrates the fundamental that the Street Fighter series was founded upon.”
And finally, Double Ultra Attacks! As players of Street Fighter IV will know, a revenge meter builds as you suffer damage, and this meter can be spent on a pre-selected ‘Ultra’ attack when it fills to an appropriate level. Since Super Street Fighter IV each character has had to select from two potential Ultra Attacks pre-fight, Ultra lets players access both, if they want, so what’s the trade off? Damage, as Peter points out;
“There are two classifications of characters: Those who have amazing Ultras and will therefore benefit greatly from Ultra Combo Double and those who won’t. If the characters fall into the former, then they’ll do 60% damage. If they fall into the latter, they’ll do 75% damage. For clarification, those who fall into category one are: Zangief, Cammy, Fei Long, T.Hawk, Makoto, Hakan, Dhalsim, Rose, Akuma, E.Honda, and Hugo, whereas the rest fall into category two.”
All of this – the character tweaking, the added mechanics, the expanded move pool – adds up to a Street Fighter IV with many more options for the player, and with the inclusion of new challenges (Arcade Edition 2014 added four new characters, but no move/combo trials for them, Peter confirmed that this will be addressed in Ultra Street Fighter IV, “Yes, we will be working on new challenges and we’ll have more details to share at a later date.”), Ultra Street Fighter IV should easily be the ultimate version of Street Fighter IV. As Street Fighter III Third Strike realised the potential of that game’s mechanics after two prior attempts to nail it, Ultra Street Fighter IV could offer the same final word on its origins ideas, but Peter thinks that it’s more than that…
“I believe that Ultra Street Fighter IV will absolutely be the definitive version of Street Fighter IV, but for one entirely different reason than that of Third Strike. Third Strike was definitive in that it added new characters, tweaked the battle engine and had extremely deep gameplay. Ultra Street Fighter IV also shares those same qualities, yet it goes one step further by taking into account direct fan feedback in regards to character balance. This approach has been totally unprecedented in the history of Capcom’s fighting game history. It’s the inclusion of these suggestions that change this from a game created by Capcom for consumers, to a game called for by the fans, for the fans.”
For the fans…
Quite a fitting line to draw under Street Fighter IV, a game that many people have lived in for the best part of a console generatio