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Best of the Decade: Street Fighter IV

Street Fighter IV 

Platforms: Playstation 3, Xbox 360, Windows

Release Date: February 17, 2009 (PS3 and 360)

Publisher: Capcom

Developer: Dimps/Capcom

For a great many years, my heart belonged only to Soulcalibur. I dabbled with other fighting games from time to time, but I could never gather up the motivation to stick with any of them long enough to get past that initial awkward button-mashing phase that’s inherent to trying any new series in this genre.

Most of all I was mystified by the Street Fighter phenomenon. I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with Mortal Kombat, which is to say I hate the fighting but love the cheesy characters and world they inhabit, but the appeal of the series is clear enough: cheesy B-movie aesthetic and plenty of gore. Dead or Alive isn’t my thing, but it has lots of anime-inspired girls with giant floppy breasts in it so its success is easy to understand. 

But when I looked at Street Fighter I was never able to grasp the appeal. Everything looked too simple and too repetitive. And, as fighting games aren’t exactly known for their ability to ease in newcomers, every time I’d try to pick it up I’d get stomped on and write it off. I had no street fighting friends to convince me to stick with it. 

When Street Fighter IV came out, something clicked. At first it was simply the new art style, blending classic characters with a gorgeous 3D update, combined with the sheer hype surrounding the game. It was an easy thing to get caught up in. Then I read about how it was returning the series more to its roots than more recent entries, which I thought would be good for a new player like myself. So, on a rather experimental basis, I purchased it and was bound and determined to finally put some hours into this series and see what all the fuss was about. 

It was rough going at first, to say the least. The game handed me my ass without mercy on even the lowest difficulty setting. My old frustrations with the series quickly set in. I wanted to give up. I wanted to throw my controller at the TV screen. I wanted to never play it again and write off this series that everyone says was so “simple” and “easy to pick up” yet so clearly was neither.

I stand by my argument that, due to both the nature of the genre and the game itself, Street Fighter is not as casual friendly as many make it out to be. With a little perseverance though, I finally “got” it. I figured out what hooked people so strongly with this series and that same thing hooked me.

The key lies in that very simplicity that I first found off-putting. When looked upon by the uninformed or when abused by the unskilled, it can come off as repetitive or lacking depth. Once you understand what’s going on and get a grasp on how you can mix things up and make the most out of each character’s relatively limited toolset, things begin to come together. 

I saw a YouTube video that was especially helpful. Using Street Fighter II as a base, it explained how the series is all about using your arsenal not necessarily to directly attack, but to play mind games with your opponent and control vertical and horizontal space. I finally saw that the strategy came not from huge move lists, but in how those moves are utilized. Slowly, I began learning how to better use my favorite characters.

It wasn’t until Super Street Fighter IV that I truly found a couple of characters to latch onto (newcomer Juri and complicated-but-cute ninja Ibuki), and no fighting game is going to convince me to spend the level of absurd dedication it takes to learn even some of the more simple combos in this game, but I’m happy with the meager level of skill I’ve been able to obtain. Branching out from Soulcalibur has been an enlightening experience; one I never thought I’d have. I’m never going to be a fighting game master, or even be particularly good at them, but there’s something about them that keeps me coming back despite my many frustrations with the genre.

After years of being baffled by Street Fighter, it’s nice to be in on the secret. For introducing me to new fighting frontiers and expanding my mind, not to mention giving me an excuse to purchase a couple of expensive but shiny fighting sticks, Street Fighter IV is one of my Best of the Decade.

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