Street Fighter IV managed the impossible, taking the legendary Street Fighter gameplay into a 3D engine without losing anything that made it Street Fighter. It managed to extend the franchise in every direction without alienating new players (like EX did) and ended up developing a huge online following thanks to its excellent online mode.
You'd think the announcement of Super Street Fighter IV would therefore have been met with universal excitement, with its expansion of the formula already so successful in its forebear. Not so - there was a small (but vocal) contingent who thought what was announced was more deserving of a DLC package than a full standalone title. Their claim was that Capcom was cashing in on its fanbase to sell the same game a second time. Now that it's finally here, we assess this theory for ourselves...
First up, the basics - Super Street Fighter IV is an upgraded version of Street Fighter IV. There are ten additional combatants (taking the roster to an impressive 35 all unlocked from the get-go) and no mode, fighter or feature has gone untouched. There are additional Ultra moves available (which players must choose from the character select screen - all characters have at least two), with bonus screens (yep, you can beat up the car again) and other numerous enhancements to separate it from its ancestor.
All of the characters have been tweaked to some extent, with some receiving more noticeable changes than others. Of particular note, Guile and Ken's offensive capability has been increased - likely a reaction to their poor showing in tournament play with the previous title.
Challenge mode returns and makes for an excellent way to learn the hidden depths of your character of choice. There are a LOT of challenges on offer, and with multiple modes, each has its own depth. Trial mode, for example, has 24 challenges PER CHARACTER, making for a total of 840 unique challenges if you plan to complete this to 100%. You'd better be exceptionally skilled (in addition to having lots of time available) because the challenges can be extremely difficult. 100% is demonstrative of an incredible mastery of the game and something almost no one will achieve.
The online mode has had a lot of attention, with significant improvements to almost every aspect of it. About the only downside is that you don't seem to find many matches from downunder as the game is much more resistant to matching you with people with low to medium speed connections. If you do match someone like that you'll probably get booted from the lobby. As a result, finding a multiplayer matchup can take a long time, but when you do it's likely to be a better experience than you had in SFIV.
Additionally, there are new modes (like 8 player team battle and an endless mode where you keep cycling between players from your group) and you can play against AI or 1v1 matches while waiting for the lobby to fill up for the main event. Team battle in particular is great fun, pitting teams of players against each other; if you get knocked out, your next teammate steps in to continue the fight. If you can find enough people to play with, this mode alone is worth the price of entry.
Tracking the top players in the online mode has been improved, so if you see someone with a score that's much higher than yours, look out - chances are they earned it. You can even tell if this is their preferred character, with separate scoring based on overall skill (player points) and a tally for each character (battle points). The combination is a good way to measure someone's skill. A player with low player points but high battle points suggests someone with relatively low ability, meaning they've been playing a lot but not really rising in rank.
The new characters are extremely well fleshed out; there are no "fillers" here. While some are arguably a variety of existing characters (T.Hawk has a lot in common with Zangief), some are an all new experience. Each has their own backstory (such as it is) and it's interesting to see who the matchups are when playing through arcade mode and your Rival Fight comes around.
Also new to the series are the post-Seth bonus boss matchups with Shin-Akuma and Shin-Gouken (Shin denoting they're essentially souped-up versions of the normal characters). Exactly how it is determined which (if either) you get to fight is not clear but, now that Seth has been toned down a tiny amount, it's nice to have a step up before you're crowned champion of the arcade.
Gameplay remains the tight combination of planning, reaction and character knowledge it has always been. Split-second timing and the reaction time of real champion fighters are what it takes to succeed here. Better yet, newbies can jump in and do well with their original Street Fighter knowledge, while those who take the time to learn the nuances of the expanded fighting system will rise into the upper echelons of the online elite.
The controls are tight although investing in something (anything!) other than the stock Xbox 360 controller is highly recommended (nay, required). Some of the moves are a bit complex for new players and the in-game instruction is occasionally not at all revealing (the icons are a language unto themselves in some cases) but fortunately the training mode is all you will need to extract the hidden knowledge from the arcane symbology.
Visually SSFIV is on par with its excellent predecessor. The new characters have had the same treatment and sit alongside their elder siblings without any inconsistencies whatsoever. The animation of all of the characters is sublime, with every swing of every limb carrying convincing weight. This is no mean feat when you consider just how many animations there are for a huge roster of fighters.
The sound package is also excellent, with only a few dodgy voices letting it down. Fortunately you can unlock the ability to set, per character, the voices back to the Japanese versions which add a definite level of authenticity that Fei Long's terrible American accent took away (even if he is actually from Hong Kong).
If you liked Street Fighter IV and are looking for more, buy Super Street Fighter IV as soon as. If you were holding back for some reason and need an excuse to jump in, the expanded package and budget price (it's $89.95 RRP but can be fairly readily found under $80 street price) should be all the justification you need. This is the very best fighting game ever made, literally bursting with content and even more hinted to be on the way through DLC. You cannot pass this up and still claim to be a fighting game fan.