Ultra Street Fighter IV Preview: A $15 Evolution, Not a $60 Revolution

So here we are again, playing the fourth major iteration of the Street Fighter IV series. Is there still value to be found here?

In its hey day, Capcom was rather notorious for squeezing every drop of money out of its most popular properties. It wasn't just sequels, it was the expansions that built upon a tried-and-true formula. More characters, another adjective, perhaps a new gameplay mode. Capcom would paint over the old house, turn around, and sell it as a new one. They got rather good at it and players got used to it.

Street Fighter II originated the practice, giving way to Street Fighter II: Champion Edition, Street Fighter II Turbo: Hyper Fighting, Super Street Fighter II, and Super Street Fighter II Turbo. The Street Fighter III series ended with Third Strike. Arika's Street Fighter EX ran its course with Street Fighter EX 3. The last original Darkstalkers was Darkstalkers 3, until Capcom oddly released Vampire Hunter 2: Darkstalkers' Revenge and Vampire Savior 2: The Lord of Vampire in Japan. Capcom's CPS II Marvel games technically ran from the first title, X-Men: Children of the Atom, until the magic of Marvel vs. Capcom 2. The Street Fighter Alpha series culminated in Street Fighter Alpha 3 Max for the PlayStation Portable.

Here's your new roster. Looks pretty much the same.

The roster Capcom is planning to release with Ultra Street Fighter IV leans close to that last example. Alpha 3 Max included three existing characters from Capcom vs. SNK 2 and one character from Capcom Fighting Evolution. Capcom had already drawn the characters and created their movesets for those previous titles, all that remained was adapting them to the Alpha series.

With Ultra Street Fighter IV, Capcom adds five new fighters to the roster: Rolento, Elena, Hugo, Poison, and Decapre. The first four come care of Street Fighter x Tekken, Capcom's entry in its crossover with Bandai Namco. The last one, Decapre, is an export from the Street Fighter comic series and is a digital clone of Cammy's Alpha iteration.

Rolento is completely in line with his Alpha incarnation, dedicated to hit-and-run tactics and misdirections. He retains his Escape Roll and Wall Bounce which move him out of the line-of-fire, while his Forward Roll and Patriot Circle moves add to his offensive capabilities. The EX versions of those moves add distance, making Rolento a wily opponent with some meter under his belt.

I love that crazy bastard.

Elena is a kick-based offensive character, just like she was in Third Strike. She has a few mid-range moves with her long legs, two low-hitting specials, and a solid anti-air move to boot. Her old Healing art from Third Strike re-appears here as her second Ultra.

Hugo is an odd character. He's cut from the same cloth as Zangief and Hakan, being a throw-based brawler, but he's easily the biggest Street Fighter IV character period. He's pretty slow and provides a rather large target, but he can take the hits thanks to his high health. Hugo has a few moves to help close the distance and EX specials improve his ability to grapple with opponents. His anti-air Backbreaker and standing Splash throw mean major damage if they connect.

Poison remains like her SF x Tekken incarnation and her closest existing analog is probably SFIV entry Crimson Viper. Her projectile, Aeolus Edge, has a different ranges depending on the strength used and her straight vertical dragon punch-style move, Kissed by a Goddess, is there to punish jumpers. Poison also has a leap attack that can be turned into a throw and triplicate whip attack for pushing opponents back. She's probably the most standard of the new cast and should be picked up by Ryu/Ken fans pretty quickly.

Decapre is the lone original character, but even that's in contention. She uses most of Cammy's animations in different configurations, outside of a few moves, and her costume is directly pulled from Cammy's Alpha outfit. In fact, if you choose Decapre and Cammy and let the characters just stand there, you'll be treated to the same idle animation on either side. Like Rolento, Decapre's a misdirection character; she has dash and teleport moves to give her the chance to attack from multiple angles and a standing uppercut for her wake-up defense. Decapre also retains a slow, rolling fireball as one of her two Ultra moves, which is fun for playing around with opponents.

Whoa, what's going on here?

They're solid additions to the cast, but honestly they feel like Capcom is phoning it in. All five characters have existed in some form elsewhere, with Capcom just bringing them along for the ride. Ultra features the same options and menus as its predecessor and even that breaks down in certain modes: in the preview build I played, Trial Mode only exists for the pre-Ultra characters. Ultra Street Fighter IV's platforms of choice increase the feeling that Capcom is just trying to wring that last bit of money from your dry wallet; despite the recent release of the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, the publisher only gave the Street Fighter team enough money to launch on platforms that already hosted previous SFIVs.

That would be a big problem, if Capcom only offered Ultra Street Fighter IV as a standalone title, like it did in the generations before ubiquitous online. But now, it can offer revisions like Ultra as an digital update to the previous title, so that's what the publisher did. The upgrade for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 versions of Super Street Fighter IV or Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition can be purchased for $14.99 in June, with the PC update coming in August. PlayStation 3 owners can get the full Ultra game digitally for $39.99, and retail versions for PS3 and 360 will be available at the same price in August. Finally, the full version of Ultra Street Fighter IV will be available on PC alongside the upgrade's release in August. Buying the full release nets you all the costume downloadable content from previous releases, so it may be worth it for some players.

Positioning Ultra Street Fighter IV primarily as an upgrade - while the full version stands as a Game of the Year version of the title - takes some of the sting out of yet another SF IV revision. It's probably the best way for Capcom to handle it. In fact, taken that way, the addition of new gameplay mechanics and modes push Ultra Street Fighter IV over the top for existing Street Fighter fans.

For the first time ever, Akuma felt fear.

The new mechanics include the Ultra Combo W (Double), the Red Focus Attack, and Delayed Standing. The Ultra Combo W lets players take both of their characters' Ultra moves into battle, but each operates at a lower level of damage. Red Focus extends the current Focus Attack system by allowing players to absorb multiple hits instead of just one. Finally, Delayed Standing is what it says on the tin: when you're knocked down you can hold a button combination to prevent your character from getting up immediately. Together, these new mechanics give the competitive fighting scene more options in facing opponents.

Capcom also added YouTube uploading capability, a feature first used in Street Fighter III: Third Strike Online Edition. Players can record their online and offline matches and upload them directly to YouTube in 480p quality. Sorry, folks, Capcom found 720p was burning up too much bandwidth.

Finally, alongside the extensive character balance changes in Ultra Street Fighter IV, there's also a new option for local matches. Players can choose which version of each character they want to play: SFIV (Street Fighter IV), SSFIV (Super Street Fighter IV), SSFIV AE (Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition), SSFIV AE R (Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition: Version 2012) and USFIV (Ultra Street Fighter IV). Each character is tuned differently, with SFIV Sagat being a completely different beast compared to his current incarnation. (Still a beast, just a different one.) That gives players the chance to host in-home dream matches and finish arguments about which version of each character is more over-powered.

All hail the Cammy clone.

Once you add in all those extra mechanics and modes, Ultra Street Fighter IV looks like a pretty damn good deal for only $14.99. Even the full bundle for $39.99 is a great price if you sold or lost your Super SFIV or Arcade Edition discs, or never bought any of the costume DLC. When it comes to the character department, Capcom didn't give the SF team the resources to create some real new challengers like vanilla SFIV's Abel, El Fuerte, or Juli, but as the long culmination of the Street Fighter IV saga, it's a pretty great coda to the series. Street Fighter IV still plays great, Ultra adds more options for competitive play, and even casual players may find some fun and value in picking up the standalone game.

But don't test me, Capcom. You pulled this off so far, but I need to see Street Fighter V in 1080p, 60 fps glory on Playstation 4, Xbox One, and PC. Get on it.

Tagged with ultrastreetfighteriv.

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