Since Street Fighter 4 was released in 2008, fighting games have again become one of the biggest genres in gaming. Once thought dead after home consoles overtook arcades in popularity, over the last few years alone we’ve seen several major releases such as Mortal Kombat X, Injustice 2 and of course Street Fighter 5. All of which owe their existence to one title released way back in 1991 – Street Fighter 2: The World Warrior.
It’s impossible to overestimate Street Fighter 2’s impact both on gaming and popular culture. Almost straight after its release it became a phenomenon both in and out of the arcades, going on to spawn comics, films, records and TV series. Even in its fallow years, it could still inspire a dedicated community to keep the fighting game scene alive with regular tournaments and in-depth tactical discussion that kept the genre evolving.
25 years on from the SNES release comes this supposedly final iteration on the Switch, with two new characters and more tweaks to the balancing. But what should be a love letter to one of the most iconic titles in gaming ends up as a bit of a half-hearted attempt to please both casual and hardcore players that ends up satisfying neither.
For a start, the sprites and backgrounds are lifted from the HD remix released on the Xbox 360 and PS3 almost a decade ago. Despite their crisp resolution, they look awkward and stiffly animated. There’s an option to switch back to the classic arcade sprites, which is welcome, but the picture reverts back to the 4:3 aspect ratio which is a bit lazy.
New features have been added, such as the buddy battle mode where you team up with a friend or AI to take down a single opponent, like the dramatic battle in the home ports of Street Fighter Alpha/Zero. And Way of the Hado is a half hearted attempt to utilise the motion controls having you literally throw hadokens into the screen just like you did as a kid. But the poor controls and frankly tedious gameplay won’t have you coming back.
But even with these disappointing new additions, Street Fighter 2’s genre defining fighting system shines through. When all’s said and done, it’s hard to believe that Ultra Street Fighter 2 is still mostly based on a game that came out over 25 years ago when it still feels so fresh. Capcom’s genre defining fighter has always stood above the pack for its beautifully free flowing battles, which combine immediate, bone crunching gameplay with incredible depth.
The AI in single player is way more forgiving than the original arcade, no doubt to ease in new players and raise their confidence before they go online. Special moves have been made easier to pull off using the joycons along with being added to the touch interface so players of all levels can easily pull off that recovery dragon punch. In keeping with the Switch’s philosophy of social gaming, this is best played sat next to a friend. The range of control options mean that even a total newcomer can pull off a super combo finish.
But the main issue with Ultra Street Fighter is the price. For a fraction of the cost you could buy any of SNK’s excellent Neo-Geo fighting games. MKX and Injustice have made huge efforts on expanding the single player experience along with the range of options for multiplayer. For a full price title this is a barebones experience, a criticism justly leveled at SF 5 on its launch but the amount of post launch content soon made that irrelevant. There’s very little chance of the same happening here.
With no fighting stick available, it’s hard to see how this new version will do with the hardcore players. Especially as this version seems more tuned to newcomers and lapsed players from the SNES era. So unless a good online scene builds up, you could be stuck with arcade mode and whoever else you can convince to play with a joycon.
What could and should have been a celebration of a gaming landmark is a deeply flawed full price release. Wait until it gets cheaper if you hunger for some retro fisticuffs. The core game still shines as bright as ever, but the lack of play options and archive material make this a missed opportunity.
Ultra Street Fighter 2 is out now on the Nintendo Switch.