Street Fighter II is unquestionably the biggest arcade hit of the ‘90s which remains in active circuit to this day, accessible on nearly every modern console, including a new canonical sequel in Ultra Fighter II: The Final Challengers for Nintendo Switch. Street Fighter III certainly had an uphill battle trying to follow and replicate the draw of Street Fighter II, as even with cutting-edge 2D graphics and an immensely sophisticated fighting system, it only achieved enough success to be a cult hit rather than the household-name the one before it achieved, and still continues to enjoy.
After the release of Street Fighter III: Third Strike in 1999, Capcom took the cast of world warriors on a bit of a detour with the Street Fighter Zero/Alpha prequel series, and even the 2.5D Street Fighter EX spin-off, as well as a range of crossover dream-match fighting games with the likes of Marvel and SNK. In 2008 the world finally saw the canonical sequel in Street Fighter IV, which succeeded in rejuvenating both the franchise and the genre like it was the ‘90s all over again in the arcades, and even more so when the home release landed with network play in 2009. This would be followed by Super Street Fighter IV (and Arcade Edition) in 2010, and finally Ultra Street Fighter IV in 2014. It’s easy to make fun of fighting game revisions/expansions, but there’s no denying each entry bolstered the fighting roster and gameplay substantially, particularly with the swansong entry Ultra Street Fighter IV.
While the complete roster of Street Fighter IV was impressive enough with 25 characters, by Ultra Street Fighter IV the roster had grown to 44 characters featuring all the iconic ones from Street Fighter II, some faces from Street Fighter III and Street Fighter Alpha, and even an all-new fighter in Decapre. Ultra Street Fighter IV was worth it just for the diverse roster alone, all impressively balanced to ensure the gameplay was the best it could be.
Speaking of which, a number of new gameplay revisions and systems were included in Ultra Street Fighter IV, but players had the choice to switch between different editions for their preferred gameplay balance. If players wanted the simpler, bulkier, and heavier Ryu from the original Street Fighter IV then they could make that selection right from the get go.
What made Street Fighter IV so endearing as a series was that it managed to capture the magic and excitement which made Street Fighter II such a mainstream hit. First and foremost, the 3D cel-shaded graphical style perfectly captured the look and feel of the ‘90s; it was as if the character illustrations in the SFII instruction manual had finally come to life. Strong manga aesthetic aside, the gameplay balance and pacing were more akin to the balanced flow of II instead of the technical approach of III – still a thinking gamer’s fighting game. That being said, with each new edition our beloved Street Fighter IV became increasingly more complex, especially by the time Ultra arrived, which is why the aforementioned “edition select” feature was so welcome.
Ultra Street Fighter IV marked the end of an era; it was a testament to how successful Street Fighter IV was in the arcades, on tournament circuits, and even through home consoles. Its achievements were not simply for the franchise and Capcom to enjoy alone, because it also paved the way for other fighting games to the ride the coattails and enjoy a resurgence of their own. To put it simply, the mainstream success of fighting games in 2019 can be traced back to the release of Street Fighter IV, and every other franchise from BlazBlue to Mortal Kombat owe part of their recent success to Capcom and that game.
Ultra Street Fighter IV was the perfect culmination of everything that worked so well, a game which continues to be actively played with no sign of the fighting community losing interest any time soon. Street Fighter V currently remains a PlayStation 4 exclusive (no one will be surprised if the inevitable Ultra Street Fighter V ends up on Project Scarlett), but in the meantime you can enjoy Ultra Street Fighter IV on the Xbox One family of systems right now thanks to backwards compatibility.
You’re guaranteed to find people still playing it online.