Ultra Street Fighter IV: Capcom’s latest rebalancing act

Ultra Street Fighter IV 3

Given that Street Fighter X Tekken failed to capture either the hearts of fighting game players or the wallets of a wider audience, it’s little surprise to see Capcom dipping into the SFXT asset libraries for this, the third major revision to Street Fighter IV. Four of this game’s five new characters have been imported from the crossover title, but producer Tomoyaki Ayano insists this isn’t just a case of dropping a failed game’s models into the engine of one whose appeal endures five years on from its arcade debut.

“They will definitely not just be copied and pasted,” he tells us. “The battle systems of the two games are completely different, so the characters will play completely differently. A lot of work goes into making these characters fit within the SFIV framework.”

The absence of SFXT’s universal Boost combo system will certainly mean that four of USFIV’s five new characters play differently, but they sure do look the same. Final Fight’s German giant Hugo benefited the most from the Boost combo, which gave him mobility to go with his tremendous power. How he will fare in a game in which grapplers tend to struggle is for Capcom to figure out, but he has the tools to cope, including a handclap which nullifies projectiles.

Like Hugo, Rolento was deemed so powerful in Street Fighter X Tekken that he was toned down in a patch; Poison, however, the pink-haired fighter who debuted with Hugo in Final Fight and whose gender remains a source of some debate, will need some improvement to ensure there’s no repeat of her lacklustre Street Fighter X Tekken incarnation. The final SFXT import is Elena, the hard-hitting African whose Capoeira fighting style made her feel more like a Tekken character than one drawn from Capcom’s asset libraries.

The fifth character – who will, in true Capcom style, be unveiled closer to release – won’t be a brand-new creation, but new to the Street Fighter series. Until the curtain is pulled back on this mystery fifth pugilist it’s tempting to see USFIV as Capcom at its iterative worst. We’re promised six new stages: only three have been announced so far, and all featured in Street Fighter X Tekken.

That, of course, will be of little concern to the players whose love affair with Street Fighter IV spans hundreds, if not thousands, of hours of play. For them it’s the little tweaks – Yang’s cross-up, Ken’s sweep combos, Dhalsim’s armour-breaking limb – that will make the difference. Capcom also intends to tone down the more powerful characters, such as Cammy and Akuma, while buffing up those at the other end of the tier lists.

“The balancing concept we are sticking to is to reduce the gap between the top and bottom tiers,” Ayano explains. “Every character should have the chance to do well at a major tournament. That being said, we don’t want to make every character too powerful, because that would lead to unbalanced match-ups and a lack of diversity. So it’s important for us to tone down the things that need to be toned down and buff the things that need to be improved. We are aiming to make Ultra Street Fighter IV the most balanced iteration yet.”

That’s an ambitious goal given that the current version, Super Street Fighter IV Arcade Edition Version 2012, is widely regarded as the most finely balanced game in the entire series. Ayano admits that Capcom has in the past “underestimated the effectiveness of certain changes,” and it’s key that past mistakes are not repeated. New consoles will be on shelves by the time Ultra Street Fighter IV is released: is this, then, the final version of the game which revived an entire genre? “It’s really up to the community and the fans,” Ayano says. “The fans demanded more updates to Arcade Edition, which is why we responded with Ultra Street Fighter IV. We hope that the community will continue to enjoy and support the series.” For that to happen, Capcom must ensure that the only things Ultra Street Fighter IV shares with Street Fighter X Tekken are a few background stages and character models.