The sweet science of Street Fighter is a fluid concept. Many building blocks have remained the same since the beginning, and every version has always been immediately recognizable as Street Fighter, but that formula has been tooled and re-tooled over the years to better accentuate its core concepts.
Each Street Fighter entry brings a host of new changes, but Street Fighter V might be one of the biggest steps for the series. The developer isn’t just adding new meters and fighters, but greatly re-tooling the direction of things to come. Street Fighter V will have to stand alone through the years, with no sequential releases to help overhaul any portions of the game that fall short or miss the mark.
It’s in that way that Street Fighter V manages to vastly succeed, even when the initial offering appears slimmer than you might expect.
The core of any fighting game is the roster, and in this area, Street Fighter V excels in spades. In both online and in local play, the 16-fighter lineup is varied and interesting enough to keep you engaged with every match-up. Newcomers Rashid, Laura, Fang and Necalli all bring fresh ideas to the table, and provide a new element in their own way. Returning fighters have received a touch-up, in the form of changes to their skill sets and more tools to reinforce their strengths.
Although the prospect of zoning out opponents with Fang’s poison or mastering Laura’s many mix-ups seemed enticing, I found myself hovering over Rashid in the Character Select screen more than anyone else, old favorites included. His ability to use tornados to both block fireballs and dominate the air game intrigued me, in a game filled with a lot of fighters who love to forward-jump right into your face. With a lot of options for controlling the opponent’s movements and forcing them into situations they don’t want to be in, Rashid was perfect for mind-gaming people and putting them on tilt long enough to secure the W.
These strengths, like Rashid’s zoning power and others, are best personified in the addition of the V-Trigger system to Street Fighter V. You still have the standard Super meter, which lets you expend bars on either beefed-up versions of your special moves or unleash your Ultra combo, but there’s now a V-meter that gives you more options in combinations and interplay.
Each character has a V-Skill, V-Trigger and V-Reversal, metered by a bar that you build up through the rhythm of combat. Reversals, similar to Alpha Counters from the Alpha series, are universal and let you expend one bar of your meter to execute a counter-attack after a successful block. V-Skills cost nothing to use, and give fighters options to combat opponent’s play, like Ryu’s parry skill and Cammy’s spin-punch. Most of them give you something to deal with fireball spam and projectiles, but some, like Karin’s V-Skill, give you extra offensive options to keep a combo going, or to finish with one last big hit.
V-Triggers are the peak of the system, expending all of your meter to power up your fighter. Each character’s trigger empowers their own special abilities: Ryu can charge up Hadokens for bigger blasts, Ken’s Shoryuken gets a little bit of fire, Bison’s Psycho Power moves get more… psycho?
Through these systems, it’s easy to see the grand goal of Street Fighter V: to simplify the game down and open it up to more people. The combination of several big and small changes, from V-Skills letting you deal with fireball spam to chip damage no longer being lethal, makes spamming attacks and combinations without forethought a significantly less viable strategy. Unrelenting offense now gives way to careful footsies, as combatants spend more time thinking about zone control and opportunity than forcing their way to victory through mashing buttons.
It’s a careful, calculated Street Fighter title that seems much more approachable to newcomers. The changes all work excellently, and mixed with the new style of graphics, the presentation is top-notch. There’s no doubt that the bones are here to build something to last for years of competitive Street Fighter to come.
Competitive play might be the only reason to buy-in early, though. While the bones are in place, the offering seems slim at launch, especially for those who aren’t predisposed to playing competitively, online or off.
Each fighter in the game has their own character story to play through, but they’re short vignettes meant to build up to the main story mode that’s coming in a patch a few months from now. The stories are fun, and have a unique art style and humor their own, but they really just serve as a set-up for the main attraction that isn’t present yet. Each individual story resembles the many Marvel superhero movies, like Iron Man and Captain America, that led up to The Avengers; interesting in their own right, but there’s always a sense that this is just exposition for something else, something bigger. Whether it delivers on that promise or not, we won’t know for a few months.
Challenges, which are forthcoming as well, plan to offer more for the solo player, but the main attraction here is playing against other people. The system built around that concept is elegant, and focused, letting you even train against computer opponents or practice your moves in-between matches. If you aren’t interested in leaderboards and competition, this won’t offer you the same trimmings that others do.
As a competitive title and platform, though, Street Fighter V excels above most. The new design, excellent roster of fighters and re-vamp of the overall fighting landscape sets the stage for even more growth, and even more players to get involved in the sweet science. If you’ve been wanting a new title to sate the need for fighting and bragging rights, this is a solid entry, with a promise of even brighter things to come.
Eric Van Allen is a Texas-based writer. You can follow his e-sports and games rumblings @seamoosi on Twitter.