We downloaded the SSFIITHDR beta just as soon as it went live yesterday and ... promptly had our 360s freeze up on us when we tried to set up a basic match. Not exactly a great first impression. But, it is a beta, after all. And certainly not the sort of marketing-driven "betas" we've become used to. This one is the real deal, bugs and all. But it's also a lot of fun once you get past them. (We have some tips on that, as well as our full thoughts on the beta, after the break.)
Playing using the 360 controller wasn't going to happen. (Well, it did – the D-Pad just didn't cut it.) Nope, it was HORI arcade stick time. After remapping the controls, it was time to remix some other players' virtual faces.
Unfortunately, basic one-on-one "versus" matches, ranked or unranked, just don't work. Stay away from 'em. The options are there, but trying to either join or host (or sometimes even search) for a match of this type hard locks the 360. So, there's one bug we're sure Capcom has received, oh, a bazillion reports on.
Fortunately, the tournament mode (mostly) works, so that's where we've been spending our time. (And you should, too, unless you find resetting your 360 enjoyable.) The one thing we'd like to see fixed here is the fact that you can't watch other players' matches while you wait to compete in your next round. You can only see their life bars gradually deplete. Not exactly edge-of-your-seat spectating material.
Anyway, the fighting. The game's lead designer at Backbone Entertainment, Dave Sirlin, has talked about the importance of keeping the SSFIIT feel intact while remixing the graphics and sound. So far, our hats are off to him. The timing, combos, even the hit boxes ... everything feels spot-on. The beta defaults to 4:3 mode for authenticity; we switched to widescreen and found that there was a small adjustment period given the "zoomed in" view with larger characters and more scrolling.
It was a little jarring at first to see the characters themselves. Don't get us wrong; they look great, as do the backgrounds and effects. It's just that they're so sharp and nicely detailed that you'd expect them to be smoothly animated. That's not the case, though. To keep the game's timing intact, the number of animation frames has to be the same as in the original. So, no SFIII-style flowing karate ghis for Ken and Ryu (who we'll be extra good at controlling when the full game releases, since they're the only two characters in the beta).
We're hopeful the beta will serve its purpose: ironing out the network code's bugs. In the matches we could get into, everything was totally lag-free. It's just getting into a match that's an issue. That aside, it already plays leaps and bounds better than the embarrassing XBLA release of SFII: Hyper Fighting, all while looking smoking hot.