An avalanche of beat-em-ups followed and, ugh, did they get old fast. This realization hit me shortly after Street Fighter II became the holy grail of fighting games in the latter half of the ’80s, spawning so many imitators a lot of arcades had scant room for anything else. With other genres literally offering massive new worlds to conquer, my study hours were too valuable to waste on endless one-on-one throwdowns.
Gaming has come a long way in 25 years, however, so when the heavily hyped Street Fighter IV showed up for the iPhone/iPod it seemed time to reenter the arena and see how virtual brawling has buffed up. Obviously this review isn’t detailing in every character’s nuance and whether every secret move survives the transition from the arcade and big consoles. This is for iPhone / iPod gamers wondering if the $9.95 app – a lengthy 201 MB download – deserves an icon next to Yelp and Tiger Woods PGA.
In short, I don’t feel like I’ve missed all that much. It’s a visually impressive game I appreciate for its extensive features, but don’t find entertaining enough to master them. If I’m going to be a barbarian poser, Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars is a vastly deeper and more entertaining way to spill blood for what’s a premium app price.
I can’t chalk it all up to fogeydom, since there are things – notably the controls – that don’t transfer well to the iPhone. A touchscreen simply can’t offer the lightening-quick precision necessary for many actions, especially since fingers tend to stray a bit on the small flat surface. Mercifully, there’s “auto” options for things like blocks and special moves, and I feel less shame using than I would with a joystick and real buttons at my disposal.
It’s also not about an unfamiliar constantly being fed turf since SF IV offers “Dojo” training, beginning with moves so simple that anyone can figure them out without raising their heartbeat. Thing is, they might still be training even if they sit around all day since there’s dozens of lessons in five distinct sessions that will take hours to complete. Do so and you’re rewarded with – oh, joy – a special unlockable session. I’d had enough by the time I finished Basic Training, but that proved enough to start winning competitive fights.
The app version of SFIV offers eight characters and, based on others’ comments, they’re faithful to their bigger console brethren. But as an ensign I was clueless about each character’s strengths and weaknesses since the selection screen provides little information beyond their homeland flag (yeah, I know, that’s what the internet is for). Girding them for combat is a strength, however, as options including difficulty, auto-assist, two-player head-to-head via Bluetooth (but unfortunately not WiFi) and control configuration are offered. The latter lets you place buttons anywhere on the screen at a select level of transparency, so try scattering faint ones at haphazard locations if you really want to handicap a superior player.
Combat is far more sophisticated than the days of old, yet in some ways it’s the same repetitive button-mashing. There’s satisfaction in mastering various Special, Super and Ultra moves (even using the training wheels known as the “SP” button), learning to read your opponents’ attacks, and finding better ways of inflicting pain by switching characters once you know what they can do. But I often found myself frequently retreating to a few proven moves and disappointed computerized opponents (at Normal difficulty) weren’t doing a better job of adjusting.
The imprecision of the controls is a particular problem with multi-blow attacks, which I never achieved with consistency. Sometimes frantic mashing went undetected beyond a single blow, other times I’d land eight or nine with less effort. Movement is also less than pixel-perfect, so attacks and parries don’t always go as planned.
All that said, even a $10 app is a relative bargain compared to computer and console titles, and there’s unquestionably a lot more play value here than the typical $2 budget app. Furthermore, not having a human opponent to square off with (the perils of living in a tiny town) meant missing what for me probably would have been the most entertaining part of the game. For that alone, I bumped the rating up somewhat.
Ultimately I’m grading this on how likely it is to satisfy fighting game fans, who likely will see this as a decent port lacking somewhat in characters and control. Those with fond memories of SFII may find them revived – the SFIV app is arguably closer to that title than it’s newer arcade namesake, at least visually – others may find they really have hung up the gloves for good.
By Mark Sabbatini
Score: 7 out of 10
Street Fighter IV by Capcom
Platform Reviewed: iPhone/iPod (Requires iPhone OS 3.0 or later)
Languages Supported: English, French, Japanese
Rating: 12+ for frequent/intense realistic violence
File Size: 201 MB