Street Fighter 4, an unicorn, a myth, a hope for the whole beatem up players community.
Years of waiting but Capcom doesnt even announced a new version of its famous game.
Sf serie was one the best success in the videogame history, it changed the genre and it gave Capcom international fame and huge profits.
Then why the Japanese software house refuses to produce another version of Sf?
The answer is complex.
After Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo, players/customers asked for more, they wanted a new game that had to be spectacular. The solution was easy: combos and more combos.
Sf Alpha was born. Anime graphics to attract younger audience (and fresh money) and a gameplay redefined. In St specials, supers and combos were hard to pull off due to small inputs windows. So strictly timings were abandoned and it was introduced a new combo system based on chains. The players only needed to mash rapidly the buttons to perform large combos, previously very complicated to achieve.
Combos focus gameplay changed it all.
That philosophy was followed in the X-Men beatem up, the first of the Marvel serie. Cartoon looking of the characters, super motion movements simplified, development of chains and introduction of complex air combos (juggles use was an innovation of the Mortal Kombat saga).
The peak of combo-centric games was reached in Killer Instinct. To finish the game it was imperative to be able to remember and mechanically execute complicated movements that led to long combos formed by dozens and dozens of hits.
Capcom had to adapt to the combo coolness and released Sf Alpha 2. People asked for more powerful and easy to use characters? The unbalanced Akuma became directly playable. Chain combos were removed? Instead of them players obtained a new method to customize their own combos. Of course this system defined the base of the gameplay.
Maybe Killer Instict showed the limits of combo abuse, anyway Capcom decided to get back to beatem up roots.
Successful three-dimensional games demonstrated that people liked realistic fights, in other words hand to hand combats.
Fireball centric gameplay (never adopted by Snk) was abandoned. Projectiles lost speed and power. The game was slowed down, Ryu and Ken (theorically) werent the main characters, a new protagonist (with charging moves, no fireballs and even a 360 super!) and a new final bad boss.
A new beginning which was obtained with a return to past. Only one pickable super, even air hurricane gone. And most important no more custom combos.
However the reality was more complex than the appearances. Custom combos remained in a characters unbalanced super art. And combos were not only still there but a new step in their evolution was reached: the possibility to cancel a special into a super. Another huge innovation was the parry system, useful to eliminate any fireball temptation and essential in a hand to hand gameplay.
The qualities and limits of Sf3 had already shown in the first issue of the serie. Why try to hit if everything, even the most powerful attacks (as Daigo will demonstrate years later), were beatable? Besides, because of the introduction of dashes (a Snk inspiration), there was no need to jump in anymore. Therefore the game became a mid-light punches/kicks festival: high priority blows, the only ones quite safe, connected with supers.
Nothing really changed with Sf3, and Sf Alpha 3 was the evidence of it. Custom combos were improved and transformed into v-combos and the related mode became the essence of the game. V combos were only counterable with other v combos and the Alpha counters were used, maybe remembering Killer Instinct, as combo breakers. The discovery of techniques that allowed to overcome the juggle limits made the situation worse.
Sf3 evolution didnt get better, St balance was a lost chimera. In Third Strike, the definitive issue of the serie, Akuma came back but gamers preferences changed. Aside Ken (thanks to his three easy to combo supers and his many options, gained since St, in hand to hand fights) and Yun (who could abuse his v combo super without fearing any type of counters) the new public favorite was another comeback character, Chun Li, with her excessive ranges, insane priorities and a powerful kick super.
In the Capcom vs Snk, the final step (until now) in the combo structure: the possibility to cancel a super into another super. V combos werent forgotten and for the umpteenth time they acquired the lead role in the game.
The previous analysis can help to understand the actual beatem up situation. In order to sell or to draw the attention of arcades players (at least in Japan, where arcades still has a decent part in markets) a new fighting game has to present an outstanding aspect.
Aesthetics first, the graphics have to be amazing, the special effects are fundamental to be noticed even if they create confusion. And the graphic design has to improve with every generation. Guilty Gear and 3d beatem ups are clear examples of this conception.
Apart from design, even the gameplay has to be awesome: therefore it has to be based on combos. The longer the combos the better visibility.
But from this point the problems arise.
Years ago combos were a plus, they were important but not the essential part of the game. The fact that Killer Instinct only lasted two issues was not an accident: excessiveness will always be punished.
But the example was forgotten and software houses took the easiest path without considering that a fighting game which relies too much on large combos risks to become mechanical and, most important, boring.
Casual gamers who are unable to execute long combos cant be competitive even at low levels. Then they will abandon the game or they wont even try to play it.
And experienced players who potentially have the skills to learn complicated combos but they dont accept the exaggerated robotic combos mentality are excluded too or, in other words, they refuse to play.
As a consequence the game will lose audience or buyers, it will be considered a bad investment and the software house will avoid a new version or it will change genre.
The vicious circle presents the worse effects especially in 2d sphere, since these games cant rely on realistic moves or photorealistic graphics (pretended by the majority of players nowadays) that 3d fighting games have.
Therefore its not astonishing the absence of a Street Fighter 4. And its not even a surprise that Capcom decide to release, forgetting the arcade market (another sign that time goes by), a remake of Super Turbo, whose only innovation is a questionable cartoon graphics in high definition to please younger customers with their brand new consoles and big lcd or plasma displays.
These days a videogame has to be updated even before the first launching: St is still played professionally in its original 1994 form. The Anniversary Edition only served to remember the hard path towards the semiperfect balance between different types of characters reached by St, the fifth version of Sf2. No excessive combos or juggles allowed. Precise and inflexible timings that make difficult to execute not only the supers but also the special moves.
In conclusion substance instead of form, a lesson that nowadays seems forgotten.