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Street Fighter IV iPhone Review

Street Fighter on the iPhone is something that by all rights should not even exist, much less in any form that actually resembles what a normal human being would consider a playable game. It should be a cheap cash in. It should be an abomination. It should have no redeeming value whatsoever.

I mean, come on. It's Street Fighter! On the iPhone! We are talking about a fighting game that represents the ultimate in precision controls, precise timing, and skillful input. Slapping a game like that onto a portable device with no physical buttons should be nothing short of blasphemous.

But yet, here we are. Street Fighter has been released for Apple's touchscreen device, and it doesn't suck. Color me surprised.

It's important to clarify that you are not going to mistake this Street Fighter for any console Street Fighter. The iPhone version and its big brothers are two entirely different entities. That said, it is also clear that they are cut from the same cloth. They share the same soul, if you will.

SFIV on the iPhone does not set out to precisely replicate the console Street Fighter experience. This, contrary to what you might think, is a smart move.

You see, trying to jam a true Street Fighter experience, complete with six input buttons and unforgiving controls, onto a phone, however smart, with no alterations would have resulted in nothing short of utter disaster.

Instead, Capcom wisely reworked the Street Fighter experience to fit fairly comfortably on Apple's device. I don't want to suggest they pulled off a miracle. This is still a clunky, imperfect game. It is, however, a far better game than you would ever imagine it could be and preserves the essence of Street Fighter on a portable device so you can get your fighting fix on the go.

The controls have been streamlined to just a virtual d-pad and four inputs: one each for punch and kick, one button for the focus attacks introduced in Street Fighter IV, and one button labelled “Special”. This button is used for EX moves (stronger versions of special attacks that use up a meter you build up during gameplay) while also allowing you to simplify the inputs for regular special attacks if you so choose. And you will, because some of the standard inputs, like the Z motion required for Ryu’s Dragon Punch, are damn near impossible to consistently and quickly pull off on the virtual d-pad. Instead, simply press a direction along with the SP button to pull off your character’s various special moves. This allows you to focus more on using the proper move than on trying to pull it off, which is how things should be. 

Once you spend a little time with it, the mobile iteration SFIV will start to make a little more sense. You will start to understand how things have been streamlined and how this should change both your expectations and your style of play. The virtual directional pad and buttons are clunky, but when combined with the streamlined controls they get the job done. You'll probably find yourself wishing for something more precise more than once, but for quick bouts of Street Fighter on the go, Capcom's iPhone version of Street Fighter IV delivers. 

That said, I am excited about the possibility of an iPad version of this game in the future, because I really believe it would benefit from more screen real estate. It isn't a game-killing problem, but your thumbs, the virtual buttons, and the rest of the interface take up a lot of space on the iPhone's small screen. A version of this game on the iPad would not only look better, but it would also allow you an unobstructed view of the playing field.

What I found surprising is that the game suffers most not from control, but a lack of features. I'm not going to complain too much as the game only costs $10, which is a fairly small amount in the grand scheme of things. It is on the higher end of the scale for an iPhone game, however, and with that in mind it's hard not to be a little disappointed when you compare the feature set of this mobile version to its console counterparts. 

The single player modes consist of a typical arcade mode (labelled “Tournament” here for some reason), a basic training mode, an exhibition mode for fighting against the computer, and a surprisingly useful dojo mode that acts as an extended tutorial. It's far from comprehensive, but it beats the pants off of the training provided in even the proper Street Fighter games. It does a fairly good job of teaching you fighting strategies in a contextual way that actually makes the information useful. So the iPhone game has at least one mode that the consoles should be envious of. Go figure.

All of this combined with the multiplayer features, useful for those who know other iPhone owners to play against locally, is enough to keep you coming back for more, at least in short bursts. It's hard not to wish for more, however. Internet play against other humans or even just a simple survival mode would've gone a long way toward boosting the game's replay value.

If you're anything like me, the game's biggest disappointment will be a lack of fighters. I am a sucker for a big character roster and it's hard not to be disappointed by the measly eight combatants. Ryu, Ken, Chun-li, Blanka, Dhalsim, Guile, Abel, and M. Bison cover a decent amount of ground and represent a good number of play styles, but they’re just not enough. As it stands, there is enough variety here to be worth a purchase for anyone who is interested, but you'll probably tire of the selection fairly quickly, especially when you look over at Super Street Fighter IV's amazing collection of 35 characters.

It would be a disservice to discuss the iPhone version of Street Fighter IV without mentioning its presentation. As with the controls, the iPhone game won't trick you into thinking you’re playing on a 360, but it does an amazing job of bringing the visuals and sound of the full game to a mobile device. The graphics and animation are both fairly impressive considering they’re running on a bloody phone. The sound is even better, bringing over a good deal of the actual voice work and music from the full game, including that lovably wacky announcer, providing a remarkably authentic Street Fighter IV experience. 

All in all, getting a game that works this well and feels this polished for only $10 on a platform that you can take with you wherever you go is a pretty amazing value. I recommend that any iPhone owner with an interest in Street Fighter, or even just the vaguely curious, give this game a shot. As long as you set your expectations correctly, you might just find yourself surprised by how much fun you're having. I know I was.

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