It seems gauche to hold the father accountable for the sins of the son, but sometimes it must be done. Today’s article is about Street Fighter 4, and exactly why its arcade mode is better than anything in Street Fighter 5. I’d love to talk about the other merits of SF4, but, alas, sacrifices must be made so the new generation can learn a lesson.
An Arcade Mode Must Have a Good Roster
We’ll start simple: you’ve got to have a lot of fighters in your fighting game. How many is a requirement? Well, technically, you could get away with as few as… Vanilla Skullgirls, come over here, I need to count your characters… eight fighters. Technically. Unfortunately, for any sort of good arcade mode, you’re probably going to need a solid twelve. Why? Simple: you don’t want the battle to be over before it begins.
This brings us to our first major point: an arcade mode is not just a fighting game. A fighting game can be many things. For many people, the entire concept of a one-player mode in a fighting game is perfunctory. And there’s nothing wrong with that! For a certain subset of fans, there may as well only be eight characters, because that’s all the dudes that can fit into the “top tier”, and the presence of Dan is nothing more than cruft. And, if you play Street Fighter like that, if you’re ignoring the very existence of Vega for five games running now, that’s fine. There’s an entire community that is carefully maintaining those tier lists, and why would you ever side with the scrubbiest of scrubs?
But an arcade mode is different. An arcade mode requires variety, and fighting the same three fighters for eight rounds is going to get old fast. It doesn’t matter if there are different “teams”, or a Zangief wearing a different hat, what’s important is that you’re not going to see the same handful of fighters every time, and you might even be surprised by the AI’s next pick. You’ve played through arcade mode with five different fighters, but you somehow never fought Dhalsim until now? That’s cool! What isn’t cool is battling the same dumb Ryu & Ken teamup for the 7,000th time. By about the time you’ve memorized the repeated thoughtless intro lines, you’ll know that an arcade mode needs a grand roster to sustain itself.
And speaking of variety…
An Arcade Mode Should be Random as Heck
Character variety is one thing, but it’s another thing if every one player experience is the same exact battles every single time. It’s a simple, stupid request, but is it too much to ask for your battles to be randomized? Bosses can go ahead and dominate the end game, as I don’t mind seeing Seth/Bison/That Guy in the Thong every time, but how about adding a little spice to the lead up? In fact, it appears that Ultra Street Fighter 4 has sixteen different costumes for Sakura alone, so maybe I don’t have to see her default fuku every time she pops into the ring.
This may all seem cosmetic (if you’re going to fight Ken every time, what does it matter if Ken is first every time?), but it does a lot for our stupid monkey brains. When you’re fighting random fighters in random outfits, even if it’s the twelve billionth time you’ve trounced Juri, it still feels new and exciting when she randomly pops up after Balrog dressed like a cat. Meanwhile, when you always know that Character X is going to be in X position, the single player mode quickly becomes a chore, and you’re simply pummeling Sagat because you know you’re ‘supposed ta. An arcade mode should be fun, and part of that fun is including some variability.
And speaking of being tricked into having fun…
An Arcade Mode Needs Forward Momentum
Next time you’re watching a random procedural on television, take note of how often the characters simply sit down to talk, or have conversations over the phone while sitting around like normal people. Take that number, and compare it to how often protagonists walk and talk, or discuss a case while gliding down a hallway, or even while in a car, dashing to the newest crime scene. You will quickly notice that, while the characters might just be lamely recounting the plot or inching toward a conclusion the audience already discovered three commercial breaks back, there is a lot of movement involved, because that creates the illusion of forward momentum. And we need forward momentum! If two detectives are just chilling at a diner talking about murders over a side of gravy fries, it tells the audience that the heroes are in no rush, there are no stakes, and if they don’t care, why should you?
An arcade mode must serve that same master. During a tournament, it’s perfectly fine to watch every fight take place in front of that stupid practice background, but that isn’t going to cut it in arcade mode. You need to believe that Ibuki, a penniless teenager from a secret village of likely destitute ninja (there just isn’t a lot of call for ninja in today’s job market), is bounding from Africa to America to Asia exclusively so she can mix it up with Chun-Li for a minute and a half. No, it doesn’t make a lick of sense, and yes, it certainly adds to the load times, but it provides that special feeling that progress is being made, and that a journey is taking place. The simple fact that Zangief got out of his own bear-wrestling comfort zone is a story all its own, and it’s one worth telling.
And speaking of stories…
An Arcade Mode Needs a Story like a Bunny Needs a Car
Bunnies do not need cars. Bunnies do not know how to drive cars.
But it is a truth universally acknowledged that it is adorable when a bunny drives a little bunny-sized car.
In much the same way, a “story mode” is no more an “arcade mode” than a driving bunny is somehow your new chauffeur. Do not conflate “story” with “arcade”. An arcade mode can absolutely be about discovering the final fate of Balrog, but it’s also a fun way to demo a new fighter. A story mode might provide all the story content you could ever desire, but, practically by definition, it’s going to require playing as some characters that aren’t Ken. And that’s rough! If you’re trying to get a real feel for Guile, and Guile isn’t featured in story mode even once, then what the heck was the point?
Once again, an arcade mode can have a story, and it can have rivals, and it certainly should have some kind of ending (see the previous bullet point), but it doesn’t require any of that. Those who need a story should look elsewhere, possibly somewhere someone cares about friggen’ Urien.
But speaking of caring about half-naked, super powered monsters…
An Arcade Mode Needs Difficulty Escalation
In the old days, we had bosses, who were not balanced in the player’s favor at all, and could occasionally climb the background itself to gain another unfair advantage. Nowadays, we have escalating AI, so your first bout might be a perfect, but the fourth is going to be a nail biter. And, through it all, we’ve had difficulty sliders, so you could choose your own adventure and climb the ranks with the help of a star or two. What’s important through it all is that you could watch your own skills escalate, and confront challenges as they appeared. A “hard” version of story mode won’t help in that department, and any sort of intensification in survival mode is certainly not going to scratch that itch. Why? Because the continue button is essential to climbing difficulty.
Look, we all get knocked down. We all lose matches. Even the greatest fighter in the world loses a match every once in a while, even if it’s just because he was distracted and worried about his carrier pigeons back home. And a difficulty escalation is only going to exacerbate that eventuality. Sagat is more difficult than Blanka, and you’re a lot more likely to lose to the cyclops than the beast man. That’s basic math. But an arcade mode allows you to continue, allows you to try again, and doesn’t irrevocably punish you for trying to box outside your weight class. You can get back up, find a path to victory, and, most importantly, actually achieve something in an arcade mode. Victory is not guaranteed, but it’s certainly more likely when a difficulty increase is a speed bump and not a road block.
And when you can actually succeed, you have fun.
And that’s what an arcade mode needs most of all.
FGC #368 Ultra Street Fighter 4
- System: We’re looking at all Street Fighter 4s here, so arcade, Playstation 3, and Xbox 360 for the initial release, but PC, mobile devices, Playstation 4, and Xbox One by the end of its tenure. And I think the 3DS version counts, too.
- Number of players: Streets are fought in pairs.
- Version Differences: Vanilla Street Fighter 4 is Street Fighter 2-2. Super Street Fighter 4 includes a few alpha and 3 buddies, and introduces the oily guy and the spider lady. Arcade Edition includes four new Ryus, and Ultra Street Fighter 4 borrowed the extra fighters from Street Fighter X Tekken. Ultra was used for this review, because I prefer to pick my Poison.
- Favorite Character: Sakura is always there for me, but in the interest of choosing someone interesting, I’ll say Gouken. He’s… like… “broken Ryu”, and I’ll never forget the first time I activated his hurricane kick and flew into the sky. Such a majestic flying old man.
- Favorite Featured New Character: Gouken doesn’t count? Of the new fighters, I’ll take Juri, as her kicking style is pretty interesting. Rufus is second runner up there, as he’s entirely the right kind of goofy, but I’ve never quite mastered his moves. And El Fuerte…. sucks.
- Favorite Arcade Mode Ending: Poison starts a KISS-esque rock band of Metro City alums and Ryu/Ken. What fever dream produced that insanity?
- Did you know? Akuma is the worst assassin ever. As of Street Fighter 3 (which was released before 4, but takes place later in the timeline), Akuma had supposedly killed his brother and Ryu’s master, Gouken (making him the Uncle Ben of the series), M. Bison (at the end of SF2), and Gen (an old man looking for a noble death in Alpha). When Street Fighter 4 kicked off, all three “kills” were back and ready to brawl. That is simply insulting! As of Street Fighter 5, it’s implied Akuma has killed Gen again… but we’ll see if that sticks.
- Would I play again: Oh, I spent so much time talking about arcade modes that I forgot to really talk about the game. I like it! I like it a lot! Street Fighter 4 is pretty fun, ya’all.
What’s next? Our first post of 2018 is going to review 2017! Let us look to the past as we move forward to the future! Or something! Please look forward to looking back!