Arcade Edition is a breath of fresh air for Street Fighter 5, which is finally the game it should have been at launch.
Street Fighter 5 Arcade Edition is what Street Fighter 5 should have been when it launched back in February 2016: a fun, easy-to-get-into but hard to master fighting game that is, crucially, feature complete.
Here's what Arcade Edition, which is a free update for existing Street Fighter 5 owners or a game you can buy outright, does - or has - at launch that vanilla Street Fighter 5 did not: an arcade mode, online play that works, fun modes for single-player fans, a gallery of awesome artwork and a cool team battle mode. All this stuff should have been in Street Fighter 5 when it first came out (that it has taken nearly two years for Street Fighter 5 to get an arcade mode borders on the criminal). But now Arcade Edition is here, it's hard to deny Street Fighter 5 has finally realised its potential.
It's worth digging into the new arcade mode, because there's a lot more to it than you'd expect. Capcom has created various "paths" through which you can play against the computer, each themed around a different Street Fighter game. One is based on the first Street Fighter, and only features characters that appeared in the 1987 arcade game (Zeku represents Geki). The Street Fighter 2 path includes a barrel-breaking bonus stage, as Street Fighter 2 did back in 1991. There are also paths for Street Fighter Alpha, Street Fighter 3, Street Fighter 4 and Street Fighter 5. The remixed music is fantastic and the nostalgia costumes look great. When you complete one of the paths, you unlock a cool character ending image as well as a custom illustration (some of which are truly beautiful).
Is this new arcade mode worth the near two-year wait? Of course not. But it's nicely done, and there's an old-school satisfaction that comes from ploughing through a fighting game's arcade mode to unlock character endings and pictures. You don't get much of that in games these days.
Arcade Edition also includes some really smart quality of life improvements. I noticed some additional voiceover from the pre-match announcer, who in one ranked match informed me that my opponent had picked their main character. Before another ranked match, the announcer said I was in the top 50,000 players in the world, which was cool to hear. You can now view replays without having to add them to your replay list, which is a godsend. In training mode, you can now view each action's frame data, and turn on frame advantage in colour (if the character is blue, they have advantage, if they're red, they have disadvantage), which is a useful option for those looking to improve their game. The user interface has a new confident, gold-drenched look, with bolder before and after fight effects.
Extra Battle Mode is worth further analysis, as it's designed to encourage players to return to the game on a weekly and even daily basis. There was an element of this in Street Fighter 5 already with the various Fight Money-granting missions, but Extra Battle Mode is more compelling. At launch, there's a rock hard one-round fight against Shin Akuma, and the first battle in a four fight event that unlocks a Viewtiful Joe costume for Rashid. Interestingly, you have to spend some Fight Money, Street Fighter 5's in-game currency, to "buy into" the Extra Battle Mode events. I guess the aim here is to make the rewards feel as exclusive as possible, and, of course, to spark a need for more Fight Money. Will Extra Battle Mode keep players coming back for more long term? I do indeed want that Viewtiful Joe costume, and I'll log back in regularly to get it. So yes, Extra Battle Mode works.
While pretty much everything about Arcade Edition improves the base game, it'll do nothing to convince those who don't like Street Fighter 5's gameplay to all of a sudden love the way it plays. Brand new moves for some characters (Ryu now has his donkey kick, for example) and a second V-trigger for all breathe new life into Street Fighter 5 for existing fans, but if you didn't get on with Street Fighter 5's hard-hitting and high-damage brawling back in 2016, you won't now.
I know some fighting game aficionados reckon Street Fighter 5 is too casual because it's more lenient with inputs than previous games in the series, but I love how it plays (there's more on this in my review of Street Fighter 5 at launch). It's punchy, aggressive and exciting. Even though I've landed thousands of Crush Counters over the past two years, Street Fighter 5's most satisfying attack refuses to get old. I've had loads of fun slowly but surely improving my Birdie, rising through the online ranks to Super Gold. Capcom built a fighting game more accessible than previous versions, but at the modest level I play at, every now and then things come together and I enjoy the buzz that comes from getting inside my opponent's head, predicting their every move and nailing a high-damage combo. Experts may look down their noses at Street Fighter 5, but I still have a blast with it.
In any case, the addition of new V-Triggers only adds to the game's depth. This is not complexity for complexity's sake, either. It's worth tinkering with each new V-Trigger to see if they make a character you initially discarded interesting. Ryu has a powerful counter that, if timed correctly, crumples his opponent. R. Mika's second V-Trigger lets you call in tag-team partner Nadeshiko for a swipe or two with a chair, WWE style. Zangief's second V-trigger lets him combo his devastating Spinning Pile Driver from normal attacks. And F.A.N.G.'s new V-Trigger sees the tricksy toxicologist roll up his sleeves, giving us a look at his previously-hidden hands for the first time. Spoilers: they're proper creepy. If nothing else, the new V-Triggers will give combo enthusiasts plenty to be getting on with.
The game continues to look lovely, too. While Street Fighter 5 doesn't have the immediately-appealing hyper-stylised graphics of Street Fighter 4, its character animation work is unparalleled for the genre. There are loads of flourishes that combine to make each character move beautifully. Sakura is a fantastic example of a character who looks pretty unremarkable at first glance - she's a plucky Japanese woman who works in an arcade and wears nondescript clothes - but study the way she moves and you see Capcom has expertly crafted a wonderfully fluid fighter.
Sakura, by the way, is a lot of fun to use. All her Ryu-esque special moves of yesteryear are present and correct, and her trademark multi-hit attacks are a pleasure to link together. She also has an interesting background story, set after the events of the main Street Fighter 5 cinematic story mode. Sakura, it turns out, is having something of an existential crisis. As she wonders whether fighting on the streets is the best use of her time, she sort of ends up suggesting Ryu and she have a baby. Yeah, it's a bit weird, but it's nice to see some character development in a series that, well, has never really done character development at all.
If you buy Arcade Edition outright, you get the base 16 fighters Street Fighter 5 launched with as well as the 12 DLC characters added to the game during seasons one and two. Some of these DLC characters are fantastic, both in their design and the way they play. Abigail, the screen-filling, car-loving brute from Capcom's own Final Fight series, is tremendous fun to play with and packed to bursting with eye-catching animations. The mystical Menat has the sassiest walk in all of fighting games as well as an execution-heavy fighting style. And let's not forget some of the vanilla characters remain hugely interesting: my beloved Birdie is a stunningly successful re-imagining of a character most fighting game fans had forgot. Necalli's V-Trigger leaps out of the screen with as much energy as it did two years ago. And Rashid is a super fun newcomer who, in hindsight, stole the show.
It's taken Capcom way too long to drag Street Fighter 5 to where it should have been at launch. And so, it's easy to cynically dismiss this much-needed rebirth as too little, too late. But doing so does a disservice to the fantastic fighting game Street Fighter 5 has become. Sure, Street Fighter 5 was a disaster at launch. But now, buoyed by Arcade Edition, it's one of the best fighting games around, if not the very best. Street Fighter 5 has always had brilliant combat. Now it's got the video game to do it justice.