In the flurry of marketing activity surrounding the 3DS’ release, much has been made of its stereoscopic display, meaning that many of the additions and improvements Nintendo have made to the console have taken a back seat.
While launch titles Super Monkey Ball 3D and Pilotwings Resort showed off the system’s ability to display 3D, it’s Super Street Fighter IV that reminds us just how much better, from a technical standpoint, the handheld is than the DS series it replaces.
Visually and aurally, SSFIV is a beautiful, pocket-sized rendition of its arcade and console cousin. Okay, so there’s less detail in the backgrounds, and the painterly, cel-shaded style of its characters is less in evidence on the 3DS’ tiny screen, but the telltale movements and quirks of every character has survived intact, and as a demonstration of just what the 3DS is capable of, it’s the best showcase yet.
SSFIV also makes subtle yet effective use of the system’s 3D capabilities, adding extra layers of depth to the game’s 2.5D brawling. There’s an over-the-shoulder option, which allows you to play from a more dramatic three-quarter angle, though I found it more comfortable to play from the traditional side-on perspective.
It’s worth noting, too, that where the two other 3DS launch titles I’ve reviewed so far have been disappointingly thin, SSFIV doesn’t cut any corners in terms of content. Every single character is included here, complete with dual move sets and alternate costumes. You can play through the arcade mode or dive straight into a versus mode, either against a CPU opponent or against a friend via wireless link-up.
There’s a training mode, in which you can practise your favourite character’s moves against a defenceless computer-controlled opponent. You can even indulge in two of the Street Fighter series’ long-standing inter-bout pastimes, car wrecking and barrel smashing, and compare your results online.
Then there’s the Street Pass support, detailed at Nintendo’s launch announcement earlier this year, in which chosen characters can fight would-be opponents you might wander past in the street. Winning bouts means that you’ll gradually amass a collection of Street Fighter-themed statues. It’s little more than a digital toy, really, but it’s a pleasant enough inclusion, and further evidence that this version of SSIV is more than just a hasty port of a popular title.
It’s unfortunate, then, that the game’s one shortcoming isn’t down to iffy programming, but purely due to the limitations of the 3DS’ controls. Its buttons and circle pad simply aren’t as accurate or as pleasant to use for this style of game as a chunkier console controller or, better yet, an arcade stick.
With Super Monkey Ball, Sega appeared to show a lack of faith in the precision of the 3DS’ controls, with levels simplified to an absurd degree in an apparent effort to compensate for an innaccurate circle pad.
Ironically, the 3DS’ circle pad has proved to be both comfortable and accurate in the launch games I’ve played so far, and felt perfectly suited to the breezy aerobatics of Pilotwings Resort and the simian-based maze negotiation of Super Monkey Ball.
Capcom seems to share Sega’s lack of faith in the 3DS’ suitability as a home for its beat-em-up. While special moves and combos can still be achieved with either the circle pad or directional pad and presses of the face buttons, Capcom has also made the unusual decision to map shortcuts to certain moves on the lower screen, thus:
So rather than having to, say, press a series of buttons to trigger Ryu’s Hadouken fireball, you can simply jab your thumb at the pre-programmed move on the bottom of the screen.
If this sounds like something that would make the game far easier to play – like a programmed-in cheat – you’d be right. Firing off combos and fireballs has never been simpler, and while SSFIV is still no push over (particularly on the rock-hard higher difficulty levels), it’s less of a test of memory and coordination than the traditional system.
Capcom’s reasoning behind these shortcuts makes more sense should you opt to use old-fashioned button combinations. Perform a Hundred Hand Slap, for example, and the shortcomings of the circle pad suddenly become clear – perfectly suited to free-flowing movement it may be, but when required to respond to the precise, split-second movements an arcade brawler like SSFIV needs, it comes up unnervingly short.
Even pulling off a relatively simple move is a hit-and-miss exercise in frustration. Chun-Li’s classic spinning bird kick, for example, which requires little more than a press of down, up and the kick button, often fails to come off, with Chun-Li making an embarrassingly feeble duck, jump and front kick instead.
The standard cross controller is more precise, but Nintendo’s decision to relocate it closer to the bottom of the console makes it in a horrible position to use for any length of time.
Stick to the game’s touch-screen shortcuts, however – an addition that may irk some hardcore players, admittedly – and Super Street Fighter IV remains a superb port. Its brawling action is recognisably fast and exciting, and it’s remarkable just how close, in terms of mechanics, graphics and content, the game is to its counterpart on, say, the Xbox 360.