A very long review that can be summarised with "Buy this game"
So Capcom sure love "upgrading" their games, huh?
Capcom seem to be experts at changing things while still keeping them familiar. Or sometimes of keeping things the same but making them feel fresh (the recent Megaman games spring to mind). Street Fighter IV is a case of the former; it felt modern, slick and advanced yet still had the classic Street Fighter II feel rather than an (arguably) overly-complex and bloated feel like the Guilty Gear/BlazBlue series. It managed to update its look with 3D models and a sometime dynamic camera yet simultaneously kept the visual charm of the older games.
Of course, the other thing that Capcom are known for is releasing "the same game" over and over again, a practice which would seem even more extortionate (or at least cockily opportunistic) now that DLC is such a standard part of the gaming landscape. Street Fighter II and its multiple iterations, even possibly up to Super Turbo, could all be done with patches with today's consoles. As such, regardless of the undeniable masterpiece that SF4 was, you could be forgiven for assuming that this is Capcom up to their old tricks despite the existence and mass acceptance of DLC on consoles. So is this a cash in or a true successor to SF4?
Well it's obviously not such a leap from SF2 to SF3, or SF3 to SF4 - but then it's not meant to be since it's still using the same number at the end. But then nor is it just mere tweaking, like SF2 to Champion Edition. Imagine playing SF2 and then a year later playing Super Turbo. This is more that sort of jump. Now imagine Super Turbo cost half the price that SF2 did.
What exactly has changed?
To the casual player, this game has a wealth of new characters, all unlocked from the start, as well as an improved training mode and much improved online play, with further online modes coming soon. To someone who treats Street Fighter more like a sport than a quick bit of fun when friends are around, there's a lot of tweaking that's gone on. Most obviously is the way characters now have two Ultra combos (only usable when your "Revenge meter" is full - and it only feels by you taking a beating) but there's a lot of subtle stuff that's been changed. New properties of moves mean combos that worked before no longer will, but then new combos will be possible. So to a degree, you're relearning the game again, or at least tidying it up to a new standard.
Then you have the replay channel where you can browse other players replays and upload your own. There are online tournaments, team battles and a "winner stays on" mode called Endless Battle. The Trial mode is much more intuitive to use now and functions a lot more as a helpful tutorial rather than some obscure and awkward test. As anyone who plays a lot of fighting games will tell you, introducing new characters into the mix also changes how all the other characters have to be played and SSFIV has a lot of new characters.
Is it worth picking up if...
If you've never really played a Street Fighter game before (do people like that even exist?) then this is a great entry point. There's a lot of characters and the 3D graphics will make it more appealing to casual players than the older games. It sounds shallow, but in my experience casual gamers are far more likely to play something 3D and "fancy looking" like Tekken or Soul Calibur than they are something more old school like SF2 or even Third Strike. The tutorial is also very comprehensive, teaching you your selected character's moves and a selection of their combos, from simple to pretty damn tricky.
If the last one you played was Street Fighter II then this may actually seem a lot more familiar to you than Third Strike. Without parrying, jump ins aren't usually safe any more and the gameplay is more about baiting and approaching again. You have all the classic warriors too, not a single character from Street Fighter II or even Super Turbo is absent.
If the last one you played was Third Strike, this may be an odd experience at first. The jumping feels different and, of course, you can't parry. Parrying has essentially be replaced by Focus Attacks, a charged attack that, if charge for long enough, will travel through a single hit and negate the damage unless you get hit again soon afterwards. It stuns the opponent and allows you to follow up. It's not as intuitive as parrying but it does take more strategy to use and is therefore an interesting new aspect to learn.
If you already own Street Fighter IV it may seem like you already have 90% of this. Well consider than all characters have been extensively tweaked so they play differently now. Even if you're not into it enough to care about how the recovery time at the end of a move may have changed by a 15th of a second, the 2nd Ultra combo really changes up gameplay a lot. Certain Ultras have been made to deal with certain situations (e.g. fireball spam) and so a character that was previously screwed if Ryu got a little trigger happy can now deal with it in style. You're also getting a bunch of new characters, some totally new to the series, some familiar faces from older Street Fighters. The online mode is far improved over vanilla SF4's and the Trial mode can teach most players many a new trick. Also, if you care about that sort of thing, the opening and ending scenes are different for all characters.
Yes, I ignored the original Street Fighter but if there really is someone out there who prefers that game, they're way past being reasoned with. So there you have it, I've tried to explain it without being too technical or too "it haz nice graffix" - aiming for somewhere in the middle. The final piece advice I can give is you really should get the Madcatz fightpad (or even a stick!) because playing this game with the standard 360 controller is akin to trying to steer your car with a TV remote control. Not quite as bad as the Wii's motion control but then Nintendo spent millions developing technology that bad.
Every review should end with a dig at the Wii. Goodbye and thanks for reading.