Of all the coin-operated arcade games that started life in the '80s—tucked in the corner at your local Laundromat or sitting between a pinball machine and an air hockey table at the mall—Street Fighter is probably the best known and most enduring. Over time, the battling game found its way out of a clunky arcade box and into home gaming consoles. And somehow it kept gaining fans. The big reason for that? This is one of those titles that tries to offer something to anyone who happens along.
If, for example, you've been poring over the writings of Aristotle and Plato for the past 20 years instead of buying Xboxes and PlayStations, you could pick up a controller and be able to play this game in a minute and a half. Really. On the other hand, if you've devoted your life to mastering Ken's or Chun-Li's punches and lightning-fast kicks during those intervening decades, you'll still find some combo-mashing challenges with Street Fighter IV.
OK, for those who identify with Plato guy, let me tell you a bit more about this well-seasoned title. First of all, the Street Fighter franchise has never been known for having an epic storyline. It's pretty much just a straightforward tournament to determine the world's best brawler.
The vague story that does show up is essentially your typical inch-deep but mile-wide character-driven manga tale. A weapons manufacturer called S.I.N. (an unspecified but provocative acronym) wants to create an ultimate weapon and is using the fighters—with all their personal friendships, jealousies, mad power trips and vengeful desires—as guinea pigs.
As each character is introduced, we're shown a short cutscene that gives us a glimpse of his or her personal backstory and eventually explains how everyone works together in the central conspiracy. But even if you don't get how it all fits, you can at least easily identify the good dudes and bad mugs while seeing a bit of their personal fighting styles and abilities.
Among these brightly dressed, hyper-muscular oddballs—with their varying punches, throws, kicks, dives, mid-air tumbles, fireball flips, super-combos and ultra-combos—are boxers, a high-flying Mexican wrestler (who's a chef on the side), a classic Wushu martial artist, a grunt-and-scratch half-man/half-animal, a shell-shocked, slugging soldier who can't remember his past, and a ground-thumping sumo wrestler.
Players choose an interesting-looking scrapper and fight against an AI opponent or get a friend to grab controller number two. And then it's all about slowly mastering the unique moves and combos that the 18 different fighters employ.
Those unique moves and combos, of course, produce quite a lot of mashing and bashing. The most extreme example may be that man/animal brawler (named Blanka) who straddles his opponent and tries to take bites out of his neck. And then there's a guy called Vega who has claw-like blades on his hand. He flashes those sharp edges and even drips a bit of the red stuff, saying things like, "I can hardly wait to taste your blood!"
Some foul language makes its way into the dialogue. An announcer spouts, "This is going to be one h--- of a show." Other characters say "d--n" and "god." And there's some skin on display from time to time. Besides the ridiculously buffed guys with their shirts off, at least one woman flaunts her cleavage. A central character wears a dress that's slit up to her hip, revealing her massively muscular thighs. Cammy dresses in a high-cut leotard that leaves her backside completely exposed.
Being an Asian martial arts game, Street Fighter IV also includes touches of Eastern mysticism. There are thrown energy balls and magical levitation. And a final boss called Seth, who is part of S.I.N.'s weapons program, has something that looks like a yin-yang symbol rotating around in his stomach.
Like I said, the Street Fighter games have been dominating arcades for decades. And maybe that's what suits them best. Your family room sofa isn't the kind of place these fierce fighters would probably want to, uh, kick back, anyway.