Version tested: 3DS
There are few actions in gaming more satisfying in themselves than the simple unleashing of a Hadoken. The eventual connection with an unguarded opponent is always a delicious bonus.
This feeling is the essence of Street Fighter, and something Capcom nailed two decades ago as Street Fighter II hit arcades and went on to enjoy global success on countless platforms. And it's a feeling that has been preserved in the series ever since, despite ever-changing layers of complexity piled on top, as the franchise and technology has evolved.
Super Street Fighter IV 3D Edition poses a fascinating question, then: can the basic thrill of the quarter-circle-punch combination be captured with direction-input removed entirely in a single tap?
To find this version of Street Fighter's most significant new feature, don't waste your time cooing over the stunningly beautiful visuals on the 3D display. That's Nintendo's innovation. Capcom's far less eye-catching contribution is to turn the touch screen into a customisable series of hotkeys which provide access to the game's most complex moves with a single press.
It's a design decision that instantly opens up the experience as never before, while creating a workaround not perfect, and possibly not to everyone's liking for the limitations of the 3DS hardware.
Translating a game of Super Street Fighter IV's precision, subtlety and complexity onto a small handheld was always going to cause a headache. That Capcom's solution is so ingenious is credit to the obvious seriousness and gusto with which it has plunged itself into the project.
The lower screen is split into four customisable areas. Their functionality changes depending on whether you are in Lite or Pro mode, the former allowing you to assign any individual move all the way up to Ultras, Supers, and EX/Focus Attacks to any panel.
Whilst the very concept might be enough to cause the hardcore to foam at the mouth in rabid horror, it is of course not compulsory. However, the truth is some moves are quite awkward to perform on 3DS depending on your preferred character and button configuration.
Personally, I've had no trouble with characters whose special moves are performed using rotations of the Circle Pad. It's the charger-types that prove fiddly at first and require practice; although I did find my hit-rate improving noticeably as each hour rolled by.
Some of the trickiest moves I found were those involving triple punch/kick combinations, and the directional-double-tap dash (the latter is made a little easier by playing on a flat surface).
At first, using the touch screen to help me out here felt dirty and wrong. But I was surprised that, before long, incorporating the touch screen into more complex combos (rather than as a substitute for the entire combo itself) felt fresh and genuinely gratifying.
It's a new way to experience Street Fighter aware of the limitations of the platform, yes, but also playing firmly to its strengths. What it also does is offer the absolute novice instant access to the game's most eye-catching and complex moves.
It's superficial satisfaction no bad thing in itself, of course but may also serve to seduce new players to scratch beneath the surface and learn how to do it properly via the game's excellent and wide-ranging Training and Challenge modes.
Speaking of content, what you are getting here is to all intents and purposes the same game that appeared on 360 and PS3. That means all 35 characters, rendered with terrific flair on substantially weaker hardware. The compromise is animation-free environments a sensible trade-off given the exquisite attention lavished on the character models.
And on 3DS, of course, there is the unique selling point of 3D, here deployed superbly to suck you into the brawl with an impressive sense of depth. The effect is even more striking in the dynamic, over-the-shoulder view. Created largely as a visual gimmick to show off the potential of 3D, with a little practice it's far more playable that you might expect.
The characters that suffer the most here are grapplers, as it's much harder to judge proximity. And while you may end up reverting to the standard view full-time, if you buy this on day one, the 3D view will have you gawping in wonder.
The pricing of games on 3DS and Sony's Next Generation Portable will, rightly, come under increasing scrutiny in the age of the App. When tens of millions snap up Angry Birds for pennies and play it for months, a shift in consumer perception of price and value in portable gaming is inevitable.
Publishers would argue, not unreasonably, that a fully-fledged handheld console game is a very different proposition to a fun-for-five-minutes downloadable novelty. But the lines between smartphone and console games are beginning to blur. And all of a sudden £35 seems harder to justify as a sum to invest in a single game to play on the move.
Lucky for Nintendo, then, that it has Super Street Fighter IV 3D at launch. Squeezing in all the core content from the home console versions, while adding in a solid set of exclusive features, it offers, by design, that rare combination of instant fun with enough depth to keep you coming back for months.
It's an experience that lends itself perfectly either to a few frantic minutes on a bus or long hours lost in the Challenge mode. There's certainly tremendous depth in the single-player here, but for many, the lure of fighting over a network will prove decisive.
As I write, I've yet to try the game out over the internet. But playing local multiplayer, the lobby-based set-up proves pleasingly straightforward.
If you're worrying that the touch screen will destroy the balance of online matches, don't. That's why Capcom has included Lite and Pro modes, for which matchmaking filters. Pro is for purists, where only regular moves can be mapped to the lower screen no combos.
Whether or not StreetPass utilising 'always on' background connectivity will take off is open to question, but it's a big deal to Nintendo and, for its first attempt, Capcom's had a proper think about it.
The game features a Pokιmon-style battle mode built around collectible Figures, acquired by spending Figure Points earned in-game. At the most basic level, these are stored as 3D objects in a virtual trophy room.
StreetPass gets involved when you create a team of your strongest Figures (each has stats for Power, Defense and Speed), which 'battle' another 3DS's team when both are in sleep mode and within range.
The next time you switch on the game you'll see how you did; and if you go into the battle log you can watch a cute animation of the Figures crudely thwacking into each other until one submits. Win and you'll earn more Figures, with seven to collect for each character.
While many will never bother with this, its inclusion illustrates the lengths to which Capcom has gone to deliver a Super Street Fighter experience true both to the original and to its platform. For a launch title, it's an extremely polished and comprehensive package.
It's hard to see Super Street Fighter IV on 3DS becoming a serious alternative for high-level players, but no-one really expected it to. That Capcom gets so close is a tremendous achievement, and while let down on occasion by the awkwardness of the control layout, the game makes up for this through its innovation, depth, style and the endless joy of a fireball in the chops.
A great start for Capcom on 3DS, then, and further proof there's life in the old quarter-circle yet.
8 / 10