The Street Fighter franchise is so iconic to a generation of players, so steeped in warm, fuzzy nostalgia, that updating it requires a surgeon's touch. You can't keep making the same game, but its success lies in its simple mechanics, stored deep in the muscle memory of our fingers. If a Street Fighter II aficionado can’t pick up a control-pad 25 years later and throw out a hadouken, something has gone terribly wrong. Tread softly, Capcom, because you tread on my dreams.
There are flashes of this mythic brilliance in Street Fighter V – those moments when you pull off a spinning pile-driver with Russian wrestler Zangief to win a match that seemed beyond salvation – but these are easily lost amid the distractions of a game that’s so far from finished it’s almost unplayable.
Nostalgia aside, SFV seems to be aimed at fairly high-level competitive gamers, with an emphasis on leveling up your character (by beating others in online bouts) and improving your world ranking. The menus are a faff, but when you’re eventually pulled into a match you’ll discover a game that, at its best, is both joyously familiar and subtly different. Combat feels weighty and visceral, with the limited number of moves easy to learn but tough to pull off under pressure. It’s unmistakably a Street Fighter game, but with neat additions like character-specific bonuses (combo boosts, special attacks, power-ups) that unlock mid-bout and can drastically alter the flow of a fight.
There are, however, slim pickings for fans of single-player gaming, with only a bafflingly undercooked story-mode (complete with bargain-basement voice acting), a grindy survival trial and a non-competitive training arena in which your opponent can’t fight back. That’s it – not even a classic “arcade” option. The promise of a more fleshed-out story-mode and daily challenges, set to roll out between now and June, are scant consolation.
It is, sadly, worth mentioning SFV’s boobs (all female characters are preposterously pneumatic), which appear to have grown steadily over the seven years since SFIV; they’re grotesque, physics-defying and utterly juvenile. One character, R Mika, appears to be wearing one of those maternity tops that allow to to breast feed without getting undressed.
Street Fighter V doesn’t tinker too much with its core formula: a handful of well-devised improvements aside, the business of fighting is as good as it’s ever been, whether your jumping on point was 1991 or 2009. But this is a full-priced game that’s still very much under-construction. Maybe after six months’ of updates things will be different, but for now those of us hoping to relive the casual, arcade fun of the summer of 1991 will be bitterly disappointed. And the boobs: we could have done without them.