I can't imagine any diehard fan choosing to pass on this latest installment as it's apparent that the entire SF community has come a full 360 in supporting its existence. As for the casual crowd, well, you're in luck, SFIV is accessible to the point where those quarter-circle motions should be a breeze if you're accustomed to using Shotos 24/7. Or perhaps you'll just settle for playing Zangief since he's a threat to be reckoned with (woe for the Banishing Fist). For those of you who regularly frequent the forums, it should be obvious by now that I am actively supporting the game. Ok, more like obsessing over it. I recently picked up several new releases (Prince of Persia, Need for Speed Undercover) and they haven't been given the time of day since Feb. 17th.
That's not going to change anytime soon. I am just having too much fun endeavoring to unlock the potential buried deep into this game. What potential? Well, the science behind Focus Cancels and Dash Cancelling of course. Focus Cancels are achieved by tapping the Medium Punch/Kick buttons simultaneously after a special move connects. Dash Cancelling is executed after a successful Focus Attack is triggered using the aforementioned buttons. The timing is a bit crucial if you expect to unleash long combo strings or juggle opponents. Needless to say, it makes a world of difference against competition endeavoring to rely on old-fashioned tactics. There's so many layers to this games that even the official Prima guide can't fully give you all the in-depth knowledge to make you a formidable badass. The training mode is a great place to hone your skills and you'll need it if you're planning to move up in the ranks against players who can take you out in a blink of an eye should you play recklessly. That especially goes for the Ken flowchat-types.
While I still think it's a bit early for tiers to be finalized, it's clear to me that Ryu, Sagat, Blanka, Rufus and Akuma make up the upper echelon. That's not to say someone that picks Dan won't ever land a victory, it's just unlikely that selection would get very far in high-level play. SFIV is actually one of the few releases in which the cast feels balanced. While characters like Chun Li has lost her most abusive tactics like the low RH which typically went uncontested in previous releaeses, she makes up for it with several new combo strings (i.e. several low shorts to EX kicks which can be followed up with a Super or Ultra). Then there's characters like Balrog and Blanka who've already been a deadly force to begin with, have actually been better as various pokes, crossups and traditional attacks are much harder to punish. Some players apparently have become hip to this already, while others are still endeavoring to get their groove so they opt to spend a lot of their matches being a turtle. Thank goodness for Focus Attacks.
Like Nick, I also share the frustration of SFIV's ever-disappointing lobby format. There's talk of this being updated in a future patch release which will introduce several other game enhancements to expand the multiplayer experience. The replay mode feature is what I am looking forward to the most as it prove to be an instrumental role in analyzing player strategies and identifying weaknesses I can abuse.
The key to enjoying SFIV is keeping an open mind, especially if its your objective to develop your skill level. The obvious destination should be Shoryuken.com, though YouTube is another great resource which always features clips of the best Japanese and American player sessions taking place almost daily. If you're playing for the first time, get used to the basics in Arcade Mode before you make the jump to online battles. Play smart, have fun and remember: win or lose... it's just a game!
--- Chris Scantleberry