When the original Street Fighter IV made its long-awaited console debut on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 just over a year ago, fans welcomed the series return to its more traditional roots. Despite massive upgrades to its visuals, the highlight of any good Street Fighter game has always been its ability to deliver one of the most satisfying one-on-one fighting game experiences, and that’s exactly what Capcom delivered with the latest chapter. Despite their repeated claims that the game would not be compromised by appearing on ‘less hardware’, it seems they had a change of mind as we now find ourselves playing the most unlikely of versions on the iPhone and iPod Touch. But even more surprising is just how good the game turned out. Like, really good.
Included in this micro-version are full Solo (Tournament, Free Sparring, Dojo, Training), Versus (Bluetooth multiplayer), Stats, and Special (watch movies) modes. The roster is sparse, and with just eight fighters mimics the original Street Fighter II more than it does Street Fighter IV. Franchise staples Ryu, Ken, Chun-Li, Guile, Dhalsim, Blanka, M. Bison make up the regular cast, with only grappler Abel actually from the full version of Street Fighter IV. Capcom was even able to sneak a fun cameo with resident jokester Dan in the game’s ambitious Dojo (i.e. Trial) Mode, but that’s about it, and every playable character is available right when you boot the game up.
Completing the game won’t get you anything special (other than a CG trailer for Super Street Fighter IV), and while it’s true that they certainly could have squeezed more fighters in there somewhere, the same was said about the original game, too. There’s also the ability to record and playback your matches, although you can’t share them with anyone else.
There’s no getting around the complete lack of physical buttons, but the compromises between full touchscreen controls and flexible gameplay works, for the most part. In lieu of physical controls we now have an oversized joystick and Punch (P), Kick (K), Special (SP), and Focus (F) represented through four virtual buttons. As the controls occupy the same real-estate as the gameplay, players are given the option to customize the layout as they see fit, right down to button transparency, which is great for those with fatter fingers or anyone looking to maximize their own comfort zone.
Those looking for the most authentic experience can still perform their traditional moves via complex inputs (half/quarter circles + attack) and charge motions. Specific moves are now handled according to the direction you press on the virtual stick (i.e. Guile’s sweeping roundhouse), and it may take a few matches to get used to the remapped controls. This is similar to how Capcom adapted the complexities of a six-button arcade fighter into the four-button Tatsunoko vs. Capcom, and it works better than many thought it would.
To help alleviate some of the frustrations some may have are the Assist features, such as the Special (SP) button and the ability to unleash full super-combos by simply touching the super bar. Regular moves can be performed by simply pressing the SP button, in conjunction with what direction your character is facing. The game does a good job at distinguishing between fireballs, uppercuts, and everything else, and should help players acclimate into the joys of Street Fighter, without sacrificing from the overall experience.
The result of this shoehorning of different play styles and (inevitable) compromises to fit the iPhone’s button-less controls won’t please everyone, and they shouldn’t. Street Fighter is a franchise known for its minute complexity and evolving gameplay mechanics and even the most ingenious trick is still a trick. Those looking to grab the console and replicate their memorized chain combos immediately will most likely be disappointed, but I would advise them to stick it out, and try to appreciate what Capcom was able to come up with.
Street Fighter IV was – and still is – an amazing visual accomplishment, and one that pushed the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC platforms to keep things running nice and smoothly. Likewise, the iPhone version also pushes the hardware to keep up, but instead of fully 3D models and backdrops, it uses pre-rendered sprites that are based on the original game’s impressive assets. The process is similar to Namco’s Tekken on the Gameboy Advance, which is an ideal compromise to retaining the overall look and feel of such an ambitious visual package. They’ve even kept the animations for ultra combos (using full-video clips) and have included plenty of static images and artwork from the original.
Unfortunately, the backgrounds have suffered greatly, with flat images and zero animation from their original sources, and there are fewer of them (although floors do retain their SF2-era warping parallax scrolling…neat). Still, it’s an easy compromise in a game that generally looks amazing and visually pops on the iPhone’s smaller screen.
The audio is just as impressive, if not more so. Unlike the visual tricks used to approximate the look and feel, the soundtrack and effects here are the real deal, with the original tracks blasting away during each battle and everywhere else. Each character screams their respective super-move (“Shoryuken!”), and each punch and combo land with appropriate smacks and thuds – and it all sounds awesome. Another great touch is how the game retains the original Rival soundtracks (i.e. original themes), and how a track will continue playing through successive rounds without pausing.
While some fans won’t miss the delicious cheese of Exile’s “The Next Door” theme, I still wish they had included it somewhere in the mix. I don’t care what anyone else says, I love that song.
As with any fighting game, regardless of its platform, multiplayer options can be the key to its survival. Street Fighter IV for the iPhone does include support for 2-player battles via Blutooth, which means full compatibility between iPhone and iPod Touch versions, but that’s about it. I wasn’t able to test the connection quality and latency for myself, but online reports have it running flawlessly. Unfortunately, there isn’t any online (via WiFi or 3G) to speak of, which is a curious omission considering how fully capable the iPhone platform is of delivering a great online multiplayer experience. The Street Fighter community is one of the most enthusiastic out there, so perhaps they’ll include this in a future update to the game.
Street Fighter IV running on the iPhone/iPod Touch is better than it had any right to be, given its running on less-powerful hardware that’s completely button-free. Yet, Capcom somehow made it work, creating a workable version that really does look, sound, and feel (for the most part) a lot like the original game it’s based on. The small roster of available World Warriors is disappointing, as is the lack of online multiplayer, and there’s no doubt that some fans will struggle with adapting to using completely touchscreeen controls. Despite these niggles, this hardened fan had a blast playing through again and again, and can’t wait for the inevitable update(s) to come.