Street Fighter V launched with an identity problem. When it came out in 2016, it felt unfinished; it had a relatively small pool of fighters, and lacked some of the basic options usually found in fighting games, including a story mode. The actual fighting was fine—although the new V-Gauge system felt a bit confused, as it tried to simplify some parts of the game in a way that’s a little complicated and confusing. Its impact at the time was muted, and not just because it was (and remains) exclusive to the PlayStation 4 and PC. It felt like a game that didn’t really have any reason to exist, outside of Capcom’s financial interest in continually making new Street Fighter games.
Much has changed in the last four years. Capcom released a full story mode within a few months of launch, and has added 24 more fighters, both new and familiar, through DLC. What once felt light on content is now bursting at the seams, between the cinematic story, short cut-scene based individual stories for each character, multiple arcade modes patterned after the history of the franchise, and an online suite laden with options and alternatives. It’s all included in the new Street Fighter V Champion Edition, which is a major improvement over the original 2016 game. And even though Street Fighter V finally knows who it is, it now has a different identity problem: it’s still not clear who this game is for.
Street Fighter V’s problem is the same as it’s always been: Street Fighter IV still exists. Ultra Street Fighter IV, 2014’s final update of the 2008 original, is still the best modern Street Fighter game, with a deep roster of characters from throughout the game’s history, a more stylish art aesthetic, and an overwhelming number of bells and whistles. It made sense to update the series’ basic architecture for the new generation of gaming systems that launched in 2014, but Street Fighter V has still failed to capture the magic of its predecessor. And with Ultra Street Fighter IV being available on both the PlayStation 4 and PC—the same hardware as Street Fighter V—it’s even harder to see why anybody would play the newer game instead.
The first fight in Street Fighter V Champion Edition is with the title screen and you will always lose. On the PlayStation 4 it takes a minute or more to actually start the game from the moment that title appears. It has to login to the internet and for some reason it always takes so long that it feels like dial up. This has no bearing upon the game itself once it’s actually up and running, but it’s such an annoyance that it needs to be mentioned. It also hints at the kind of questionable decision making and execution behind the whole game.
I’ve played Street Fighter V Champion Edition almost nightly over the last two months. I’ve polished off the main story, all the character stories, and the arcade modes, and gotten destroyed online several dozen times. (I did win like 10 matches, so I’m not entirely hopeless.) I even bought an arcade fight stick (a first for me) to play and feel the game the way it’s meant to be played and felt. And it’s totally fine. It offers what a Street Fighter needs to: street fights between colorful characters with a range of different play styles, and that can range from lightning-fast sprints to tense stand-offs marked by patience and defense. If you’re in need of a Street Fighter fix, this is a totally acceptable option. I don’t regret any of the time I’ve spent playing it. And yet, that entire time I would’ve rather been playing Ultra Street Fighter IV.
IV is simply the better game. The more cartoonish art style may not be as technically impressive as the graphics in V, but it’s far more pleasing to look at it, with its vibrant colors and bright, clearly defined characters. The Focus Attack system, which let you instantly whip out a counter-attack after essentially absorbing the impact of your opponent’s strikes, wasn’t especially friendly for new players, but once you get the hang of it it’s more strategically useful than V’s V-Gauge system, and more satisfying to pull off. And although most of V’s new characters are welcome additions (sorry, Necalli, you’re the glaring exception), it’s missing some of the most interesting characters found in IV.
Not every Street Fighter game is going to please every Street Fighter fan. It’s not hard to find people online who prefer Street Fighter V to Street Fighter IV, though, and their opinions are exactly as valid as anybody else’s. Even with the understandable need to update the game’s foundation for new technology, it’s hard not to feel like there was a better path to take after the artistic success of Street Fighter IV—one that enhanced that game’s strengths to keep them relevant throughout the PlayStation 4’s lifespan, while adding the new characters and story of Street Fighter V. Still, despite the soft tug of disappointment, Street Fighter V is more than capable of holding its own in a fight, especially the new Champion Edition; it’s just not an all-time great like its dad.
Street Fighter V: Champion Edition was developed and published by Capcom. Our review is based on the PlayStation 4 version. It’s also available for PC.
Senior editor Garrett Martin writes about videogames, comedy, travel, theme parks, wrestling, and anything else that gets in his way. He’s also on Twitter @grmartin.