Anyone who's been fortunate enough to play the arcade Street Fighter IV, or came to our Expo for a sneaky look at the home version, would probably join us in praising Capcom for bringing its legendary fighting franchise epically into the current generation. It personifies many of the key elements that made Third Strike and the Alpha series so tight and enjoyable, but grounds it in a familiar Street Fighter II setting, hitting the nostalgia buttons even as it hurricane kicks its way into the future.
But given what Capcom's done with SFIV, and the anticipation for the home release, is HD Remix a worthy update or just an oddly-timed, anachronistic stopgap? Time to dust off the Hori sticks and find out.
HD Remix is essentially an amalgamation of everything from Street Fighter II fandom, uniting the passions of diehards who championed the gameplay or the music or the aesthetics or the story. There's passion behind every fireball, bird kick and dip-switch menu screen.
The first and most obvious differences are the high-resolution sprites and backgrounds designed by Udon - renowned for its various Capcom comic book adaptations. The revamped graphics are one of the high points, updating and improving the look without breaking it. Ryu still churns out fireballs same as he ever did, but he's never looked better doing it, and it doesn't stop with the characters. Menus, stages, projectiles, health bars - it's all undergone the Udon treatment
Once your eyes have adjusted to the new Street Fighter flair, you start getting a kick out of the remixed theme tunes. Every Street Fighter fan has a favourite, and having brought on Udon for the visuals, Capcom in its wisdom signed up OverClocked ReMix to handle the audio. What OCR has done with the classic Ryu, Guile and Ken beats, again, remains true to the original material, but injects a thumping modern feel that has your heart racing all the way to that fierce Shoryuken finish. Special mention has to go to Fei Long's new R&B stage theme, which had us returning to the Bruce Lee wannabe's home for the tune alone.
Overhauled graphics and remixed tracks wouldn't mean a thing if the mechanics had been unbalanced or tweaked beyond recognition though, so it's a relief that virtually every change to the core gameplay has been implemented either to adjust the difficulty curve for beginners or to balance out the residual SSFII Turbo kinks for high-end tournament play.
A number of input commands from SSFII Turbo, although not necessarily simplified, are more intuitive. A good example is Sagat's Tiger Knee attack, which in the old days was a quarter-circle forward motion and a diagonal up at the end. This changed in the Alpha series, however, because the old method would send the giant Muay Thai champ jumping helplessly forward if mistimed, giving his opponent ample time to execute a devastating counter combo. Like Alpha, HD Remix goes for a dragon punch motion instead. Other changes include only having to press both lights, mediums or heavies, rather than all three punches or kicks, for Vega's backflip and Zangief's lariat.
Priorities, hit-boxes and recovery times have also been minutely altered for fairer match-ups, and new moves have been introduced, like Ryu's fake Hadoken and M. Bison's fake slide, to give the hardcore a base to develop new tricks and strategies. Elsewhere, Akuma, who first appeared as a secret boss in SSFII Turbo, has been reworked for HD Remix and is now tournament-legal. He even gets a Super in the form of his notorious Raging Demon. Watch out for it on the wake-up.
HD Remix also takes the fight online, and playing the game over Xbox Live was a lag-free experience - even if every other match-up was against a tactically identikit Ryu or Ken. As with the Live Arcade version of Street Fighter II' Hyper Fighting, you can enter in Player or Ranked Matches, and if you really want to test your dragon punch reactions, there's a new Tournament Match mode that lets you duke it out with seven other players.
What's more, just in case the HD Remix refinery isn't your cup of Shadoloo, Capcom has included a Classic Arcade mode on top. This is essentially an arcade-perfect port of Super Street Fighter II Turbo, complete with classic music and sprites, and it's fully online-enabled.
All things considered though, HD Remix puts us in a dilemma. Do we treat it as an expensive (1200 Microsoft Points) rehash of an overly ported 2D fighter, with no new characters or play mechanics, or do we take it as a painstaking love letter to Capcom fans, and a worthy sixth addition to the world's most respected 2D fighting series? As long-time Street Fighter fans, we're leaning towards the latter, but we'd have trouble recommending this to anyone who only plays Street Fighter occasionally and already owns one of the many other ports available on Xbox Live Arcade, Wii Virtual Console or a compilation disk.
Still, we'd be boring if we never picked sides, so let's just say HD Remix is a worthy stop-off on the road to Street Fighter IV's console release next February, and a good training ground for anyone who wants to learn or relearn the Street Fighter fundamentals before then. In other words, it's time to brush up on your cross-ups and rush down some Ken-bashing scrubs!