Street Fighter uses six buttons, as I’m sure you all know. Two rows of three, with light, medium and heavy punches on the top, and kicks on the row below. When I was growing up playing Street Fighter II, I only ever pressed one of those buttons at a time. As time went on – and as Capcom settled into that groove of near-endless iteration, something like 14 games in as many years – that changed.
In Street Fighter III: Third Strike, you press two buttons together for EX moves – improved versions of special moves that do more damage, knock opponents down, or start up more quickly. To throw, you pressed light punch and light kick at the same time. Pressing both medium attacks performed the Universal Overhead – a little hop attack, available to the entire cast, that went over low attacks and had to be blocked high.
Third Strike was, of course, all about the parry, a perfectly timed directional tap fending off an opponent’s attack and giving you a tiny window to launch your own. A beautiful mechanic, but one with a singular purpose: turning defence into attack. It did the same thing every time.
In Street Fighter IV, throw is again mapped to both lights. Taunts, too, are assigned to both heavy attacks. But there’s no Universal Overhead. Instead, the medium attacks host the game’s signature mechanic: the Focus Attack. The parry had a singular, constant purpose. The Focus Attack does so much more than that. It does everything, and is a huge reason for why the game’s still being played over four years since it hit arcades.
Press and hold medium punch and medium kick to start charging it up. It’s got three levels: the first is fast, but not too damaging. Level two crumples your opponent – they fall slowly to the floor, giving you a free combo if you react quickly enough. Level three does serious damage, crumples, and is unblockable.
So, it’s an attack. It does damage. But while it’s charging up you can absorb an opponent’s attack. Dash forward or back – by double-tapping towards or away from your foe – amd you can cancel the Focus before, or after, it hits. If you’re feeling under pressure – if an opponent’s getting a little close for comfort – you can absorb an attack, and instantly backdash out of the way of the next one, giving you a little breathing space. Or, you can release the buttons and go on the offensive.
When Street Fighter IV came out on consoles one of the most frequent complaints I read and heard was about Ryu and Ken players “spamming” fireballs in online play. I could give a whole other talk on precisely why that’s nonsense, but what those people didn’t realise is that, regardless of which character they picked, they already had the best possible counter to projectile moves: the Focus Attack.
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