I love me some Street Fighter, but I've never been especially good at it. My time with the Super Street Fighter IV preview build has only served to solidify the truth: I need to step up my game because Capcom looks to prove -- yet again -- that Street Fighter is the premiere fighting game franchise.
Super Street Fighter IV's content is almost completely unlocked from the start; save for a few minor bonuses. It appears that Capcom's major focus in this "update" is to refine the game's multiplayer modes, which had their share of ups and downs in terms of connectivity and match quality in the original release. New is the "Endless Battle" mode, which is essentially Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix's "Quarter Match," allowing eight players to take turns in a game lobby with the winner taking on the next challenger in line and the loser shuffling back to the bottom of the queue.
For me -- an admitted lover of the franchise, but someone who needs a lot of practice -- the most exciting addition is probably the simplest: replays. During my sessions I could save all replays (online matches only) for review in regular or slow-motion playback.
In the preview code there were 150 available slots for replays, with each match taking up one slot. The game automatically added my online matches to a battle log section, which I had to access in order to save the session and use up one of my slots; somewhat like Halo 3's replay system. The mode even allows you to turn on player input data to see what combinations, in which particular circumstances, your opponents use to school you, which immediately makes it a better tool than the game's offline training mode. (Training mode in SSFIV has seen a few tweaks, but still doesn't teach you how to use moves in real situations.) The replay mode also allows you to watch uploaded matches from other players, opening up the system to a host of elite-player training videos.
For the most part, the ten additional characters in SSFIV are welcomed; of the two new challengers, Juri stands out as the character to go with, while Hakan (much like Rufus before him) is a little too "gimmicky" to blend well with the rest of the roster. And unlike in the original Street Fighter IV, the character rivalries in SSFIV make sense: Dudley versus Balrog? Yes, of course! In addition to the returning bonus stages of old, there are also a handful of new match stages, many featuring fan service cameos. (Can you spot Hugo in the background of this image?)
Apart from adding a second Ultra move to every character's repertoire (which can be chosen during the character selection screen), Capcom has gone back and rebalanced the entire roster to compensate for the new additions. In the preview build, Juri felt a little overpowered, but the tweaks to old characters were relatively unnoticeable -- although experts may certainly find that the slight alternations make huge differences.
The biggest question mark for SSFIV is its online functionality. Will Super Street Fighter IV overcome the connection hiccups and quick-to-disconnect sore losers that plagued the original release? While I'm eager to know the answer, It's a question that none of us will be able to answer until after the game's retail launch on April 27. Now, if you'll excuse me, I must go practice.