Six years ago, the fighter was considered a dying breed, a genre that receded to the depths of empty arcades and dive bars. That all changed back in 2008 when Capcom released Street Fighter IV and reintroduced the world to what seemed lost long ago; a classic fighting game infused with enough accessibility that the ‘new casual’ crowd could appreciate. Whether or not most of them never even bothered to play the game before didn’t matter, let alone ever even touched an arcade stick.
But producer/fighting game advocate Yoshinori Ono thought there was room for improvement with Street Fighter V – with a formula the remains largely the same on the surface.
Similar to the fourth iteration even in mid-production stages, this feels familiar and retains the presentation prowess, but the overall pacing is quicker to encourage combo strings and to further streamline things. The aesthetics are quintessential but employ grittier and washed-out palettes to better match the more sculptured tone of the game, meaning some of the vibrancy is gone and replaced with a preference for environmental realism.
You can tell right off the bat that hit-pauses are used almost abundantly when each strike is accentuated for weighted impact; it’s a longstanding hallmark that makes the action sound fleshed out (or frustrating for anybody on the receiving end). The exchange of direct hits and blocks are meatier even if it’s just there for effect, and to attract bright-eyed newcomers who would otherwise be too intimidated to play. Regardless, the traditional six-button layout (three different strengths for each punch or kick) along with eight direction control remains the gold standard configuration.
Since this is an E3 build, the roster remains limited to Ryu, Chun-Li, M. Bison, and Nash, but now Cammy and Birdie made their debut too, each retaining at their signature moves and abilities. Cammy was an expected addition but is just a smidge slower in her regular form to balance out her improved strength. Birdie on the other hand retains his essential repertoire of head rushes and chain grappling commands, but has transformed into a joke character of sorts. His Critical Art has him smashing his victims into ground like a game of jump rope and his V-Skill involves eating donuts and leaving banana peels on the ground to trip over.
Speaking of V-Skills, this new system replaces focus attacks and can be utilized at any time during a fight. Ryu for instance, is able to perform a noticeably diminished form of parrying attacks (a la Street Fighter III) with a very well-timed input of both medium buttons, Nash who is able to steal a portion of life with a close-quarters swipe. This is meant to further simplify the gameplay and appeal to the majority, without totally alienating veteran players.
Some will probably lament the revamped mechanics and a reduced technical core, but the new V-Gauge does help mix things up. In contrast to the existing EX gauge which builds when taking the offensive and the ability to pop off super moves when it fills up (now called Critical Arts), the V-gauge only increases when defensive or getting hit and can be activated by hitting both heavy punch and kick buttons at once for V-Trigger enhancements. Most of the effects usually involve scoring a few extra hits or distinct abilities (M. Bison’s teleport move is only available in V-Trigger mode and is temporary), or V-Reversals which eat up a stock of the gauge for a counterattack.
The V-gauge system in its current form is useful for comeback tactics along with the returning ‘Guard Break’ gauge which punishes excessive blocking and turtling by leaving them vulnerable when emptied.
“All of these changes were done in an effort to return Street Fighter V to its roots” a Capcom rep kept telling me while I played the game. There’s some truth to that statement, but they’re certainly going bold with alterations that may seem small but have the real possibility to encourage newer challengers to enjoy the action as well. We’ll have to wait until Spring 2016 to see if PS4/PC owners will readily accept the revamped fundamentals and take this fight back to the streets.