With the release of Ultra Street Fighter IV, I think it's about time that I finally give my opinion on the series that has become quite popular among those who play fighting games today. If you do play fighting games, you will most likely encounter people who absolutely love the game and will tell you how great it is. But is it really worth all of the hype in the end? Actually, it isn't. To be completely honest, I feel that the Street Fighter IV series is total crap for anyone who loves fighting games and that you are much better off never touching the game at all. I have a bunch of reasons for this.
The game is so damn slow. Characters move at a snail's pace on the stage, and combos take an eternity to end. The combos aren't even that long in terms of moves either. It's just that all moves come out so slowly so by default combos are also rather slow. In almost all fighting games before it, an element of speed was present, forcing you to make your decisions quickly and requiring quick reflexes. In SFIV, you don't need any of that. You can see things coming a mile away, go grab a drink, and then come back and still react in time.
The roster of the game is way too big. It's great fan service to have so many characters spanning so many games into an all-star mix of 44, but in the end it doesn't do the game much good. Every Street Fighter series had different mechanics and the characters from those games were built specifically to take advantage of those. Taking them away from that and shoving them into SFIV in a good number of cases has ruined the character, or just made them feel like an empty shell of what they once were.
By far my biggest gripe with the game is just how offense works in it. Or rather, there is a lack of actual offense and more of just pointless jabbing at each other in hopes of getting a counter hit. So the way that the game goes is quite simple. You use jabs to set up a few different things, all of which are low risk/low or medium reward. You either use a slower move in order to score a counter hit off of frame advantage, you use their tendency to block against them by throwing them, or you just let them throw out a reversal and punish. There isn't really much more to that. The worst part about it all is that on offense, you don't have much risk to take in any of this at all. A lot of it is safe in the fact that jabs and other light attacks are really safe on block, giving you enough frame advantage to do just about whatever after, and the only real way to get out on defense is to throw out a reversal. With a real lack of options on both ends, matches get really stale quickly and truly creative moments are extremely rare.
Getting in on your opponent is also quite boring as well. Basically all it comes down to is both opponents throw out moves left and right, and when one of them hits, you're in. But there isn't much complexity to it. What it mainly comes down to is some timing and prediction. If you can't get in with a normal attack, then you just use a special move to do the work for you. Or perhaps you jump just at the right time. This aspect of the game feels more of an act of attrition than a good, solid fight to see who scores the first hit because the only thing you have to counter this is either hit them or block. I have fallen in love with 3rd Strike, and one great thing about that game is how any attack is a potential opening for you to parry it and score a combo. That isn't to say it isn't the case with SFIV, but rather it's a much more limited case of whiff punishing with the occasional special to beat it out. In 3rd Strike, everyone has the option to parry, so you need to be really careful about pressing buttons no matter who you are fighting. The same gripes I have with the neutral game also apply to what you do on an opponent's knockdown, because again it is a matter of having very few options that ultimately are stacked against the one who is on defense. All you really have are throws, moves to beat crouch techs, avoid reversal, or punish backdash. It is a small amount of options that doesn't allow for smart, creative offense in comparison to other fighters out there.
When it comes to combos and dealing out damage, SFIV really lacks in that department. Basic combos consist of linking normals and finishing with a special. If you have some meter, you FADC for additional damage on the follow up. If you have to dish out lots of damage, then you need to wait until you have an ultra available to you. Most of the meter is saved for EX specials in some situations or for FADC, not to mention the amount of meter you have is rather small. It's a real shame because the moments that you do open up an opponent, it's for relatively smaller damage. Then again, because offense is rather simple in this game, you could just whittle away an opponent's health rather than take 2 or 3 good reads and win the round in a matter of seconds. That could happen in SFIV, but it is far more less likely and usually entails having plenty of meter to burn from the previous round. A lot of damage may also just come from pokes hitting their mark, with both people just taking swing after swing at each other, not really going anywhere but getting small life leads in the process.
I just feel like SFIV is far from as great as what most people say it is. Oversimplified offense that comes at a slow pace and doesn't bear much consequence due to little damage does not make a great fighting game. Having a comeback mechanic in ultras only punishes the one in the lead for all of the hard work they put in by giving the opponent the opportunity to mount a quick comeback in one combo, which is something that is not available if you're on the offensive and winning. The neutral game relies too heavily on either a normal attack hitting as a whiff punish or counter hit, or using specials to get in. In the end I find that the Street Fighter IV series has just been a total disappointment and in some ways have lowered the standards of fighting games. It was designed to be a simpler game that would appeal to the masses and it surely succeeded in doing so. The problem is, as a competitive game it leaves little to be truly desired and for better or worse will shape the future fighting games for the next several years.