For the purposes of this “review”, I’m going to take one major point off the table before I start, which is the price.
Sure, at £34.99, you could buy five SNK fighting games – King of Fighters 98, Waku Waku, Garou: Mark of the Wolves and a couple others – and still get some change out of it. And yes, that would be far better value for money. You can also argue that the original Street Fighter 2 HD Remix still only sells digitally for £12.99 on PS3 and XBox 360. Thing is, price will change – and you’ll obviously in the future be able to buy it for significantly less than its current launch price. If it looks too expensive for you right now, then you’ve already got a good enough reason to hold off and wait. Do so. That’s not a bad thing.
With that said, Ultra Street Fighter 2: The Final Challengers is an odd choice for the first Street Fighter game on the Switch.
The first thing to point out is that the two ‘new’ characters are hardly new to the series. Evil Ryu’s first canonical appearance was in Street Fighter Alpha 2, back in 1996, and Violent Ken was an offshoot character debuted in SNK vs Capcom: SVC Chaos, back in 2003. Compared to these, the variants in USF2 are pretty stripped back – sure, Evil Ryu has his Raging Demon and Violent Ken has a few additional air fireballs, but they’re not very well fleshed out – nor do they look like anything more than basic palette swaps of the original characters. When you consider that Capcom could have released anything in this series on the Switch – Alpha 2 was released on the SNES (it wasn’t great but it’s on the Wii U), and Alpha 3 happens to be a firm favourite of mine in particular – this is underwhelming in terms of “final challengers”. Two basic palette swaps with a couple of new animations? I think we expect better these days.
So too must it be mentioned that one of the most vocal gripes for Street Fighter over the years is the speed – or rather, the lack of it. One of the strongest cases for Street Fighter 2 was that you could crank up the speed of combat if you wanted, or tone it down – setting it how you like it, getting the pace you enjoy, hence the “Turbo” aspect of Street Fighter 2 Turbo. USF2 does not come with this hugely important element of the Street Fighter 2 machine, and I just think that’s kind of missing the point. It could be patched in at a later date, but this is Capcom so I’m going to presume it won’t be.
Thing is, as it stands, USF2 is a great version of Street Fighter 2. The HD Remix visuals look great, the original visuals are still pretty amazing and everything looks and feels somewhat like it should. Perhaps more hardened and technically-minded fans will find parts of the remixed balance and mechanics changes a little distasteful or unfaithful – but I’m a casual Street Fighter fan, so I can’t say that I paid much notice to that. Everything and everyone works as you’d expect them to, and for a game that’s 26 years old, that’s at least a huge point in its favour when compared to things like SoulCalibur or… ahem… Street Fighter 5.
Yeah, it’s the elephant in the room. Street Fighter 5 is a Sony exclusive because Sony paid for its development – not that I’d say Sony got a good deal out of that, with a paltry 1.6 million units across its first year, and USF2 has it licked in many respects. It’s nicer, cleaner, a little faster and most importantly it comes from the start with a little thing called an Arcade Mode (it lacks the bonus stages but eh, they weren’t much fun anyway). Where it matters to a lot of people, this remix of a game rapidly approaching the big 3-0 stands head and shoulders above its most contemporary entry, and if that doesn’t have Sony spitting enough fireballs to make Mario and Bowser blush then there’s something wrong over at Sony. This Switch version -is- the better game. Practically no loading times, two-player out of the box with the machine, decent netcode from the outset… you could go on, but suffice to say, most people I know who are far more devoted fans of this series than I am are begrudgingly conceding that they’d rather have Ultra Street Fighter 2.
So it’s the better game, but with that, Capcom takes aim and points directly down at their feet again.
The Way of the Hado is… well… it’s crap. There’s no good way to say this, no massive punchline, no comical edge to lay onto it. It’s just crap. The first-person Ryu mode where you use motion controls to use your specials and supers to beat waves of enemies and then M.Bison never looked like it was going to add much to this package, but even playing the thing is an exercise in both boredom and frustration. For a game defined by its speed, skill and showy nature, this mode is everything that Street Fighter 2 isn’t – slow, sluggish and not all that visually interesting. There are better implementations of motion controls on the Switch than this game.
Then there’s Buddy Battle; two-on-one, with you and a friend on the same team. You can sort of understand why this is in the Switch version – gotta have something to ring that Smash Bros. bell before Nintendo get around to porting the thing – but it’s just so basic and limited, and kind of forgettable.
In a sense, that’s perhaps both this games strength and its fundamental weakness. As far as ports go, Ultra Street Fighter 2: The Final Challengers is faithful enough that it will appeal to a very select audience of fans, but for a celebration of arguably one of the defining releases of the 90’s – a game which defined and refined a genre – it’s remarkably bare-bones for the most part, lacking a few key retro flourishes (like the speed) and rather than putting in at least one new character, went for two palette swaps. Faithful fans will no doubt appreciate this, because they won’t like their baby being touched or messed around with too much, but with so many good fighting games on the Switch already, and with the likes of ARMS and Smash Bros. to come there’s a case to be made that this is perhaps, just maybe, a touch –too– basic.
If you were to be incredibly cynical – which I am – you could argue the reason Capcom didn’t port Alpha 3 or even Ultra Street Fighter 4 to the Switch (hell, the 3DS had Street Fighter 4!) was that it absolutely, categorically does not want you or I or anyone to draw sales comparisons between the ported old game and the new-ish Street Fighter 5 on the PS4 (and PC, but those sales are pretty small). To give us a game we wanted, or a game which might have been popular, would be a direct competitor to a game it is still desperately trying to push on another platform. So it went far enough back and perhaps did enough of a basic job that it makes the newer game seem better value. It worked in some ways, and not at all in others.
The question is – should you buy it?
Eh… probably not, at least not right now. If you have then you obviously love Street Fighter 2, in which case this whole post has been pretty damn moot hasn’t it? If you haven’t, then you’re either more casual and want to see what people think or you’re not that interested right now, which is fair enough. That the game debuted in the top 10 best-selling games in the UK this week (admittedly at #10) suggests that even at its current price, there’s a significant audience out there for this kind of retro nostalgia.
I just think it’s a bit… simple. There’s a palette editor if you wanted to… I don’t know… make a purple Chun Li, maybe? Or make her skin-tone a bit more Asian maybe (is that racist… eh, who cares…). It’s just light on meaningful content. What extras are here are either terrible or just not compelling, and it adds nothing to the game. Which remains a damn fine fighting game, there’s no question of that.
But as a sort of Anniversary celebration thing, which Capcom were screaming from the rooftops, this is not a posh do. It feels like all the party food came from your local SPAR, the booze was bought from some dodgy bloke behind a shed down the road and the entertainment amounts to the hosts kids singing bad karaoke.
It’s still a party… but you can’t help feeling maybe their heart wasn’t in it this time.