Capcom producer Yoshinori Ono is a very cuddly man. Plump, T-shirted and permanently, guilelessly a-bubble with love for his craft, he seems terribly out of place among the practised blank suits that take the stage at Nintendo’s 3DS conference in Amsterdam. Even veteran compère Jonathan Ross doesn’t quite know what to make of him, looking on in bemusement as Ono hops, skips, gestures and giggles, entirely unbothered by either the language barrier or the damage he’s doing to the event’s vapid corporate veneer.
Ono deserves to be happy – he’s one of the minds behind Street Fighter’s blistering return to form in 2009, the high point of a portfolio that includes Devil May Cry, the original Marvel vs Capcom and Breath of Fire IV. Street Fighter IV‘s blend of back-to-basics pummelling, new attack layers and chunky elaborations of the original arcade sprite designs had reviewers rolling in the aisles, and is credited with reigniting interest in the fighting genre. The game Ono’s showcasing today, Super Street Fighter IV 3D Edition, purports to jiggle the enhanced 2010 version onto the handheld with nary a frame or feature unaccounted for. At the moment, however, the producer is focussing on what’s new.
3DS’s contributions to the hyper-connected world of modern on-the-go entertainment are SpotPass and StreetPass, the first being the ability to download content via WiFi while in sleep mode, the second allowing passive local communication with other 3DS units. As a key partner at launch, Capcom has been called on to prove the worth of these functions, and the firm has stepped up to the plate with the figurine system – a high-impact mash-up of Pokemon-style collection and alternate reality game.
In brief, whenever your travels carry you past a fellow 3DS owner with a copy of SSFIV plugged in, the two handhelds will silently “duel” along what seem to be randomised lines, the winner taking one of the loser’s figurines (of which there are 500 in total, some drawn from the Street Fighter cast). Thus, as Ono breathlessly explains, the wrath will be unsleeping. Terrible battles will erupt right under our noses as we go about our non-pugilistic business. Fists will fly invisibly on crowded tube trains! Fireballs splat unheeded against bus shelters! It’s probably going to hurt the battery life something awful.
Besides courting the OCD playground demographic, the idea, I guess, is to keep users checking their pockets for fresh figurines and thus keep them immersed in the main game. We might ask whether SSFIV really needs a helping hand in this department, and presently answer: not a bit of it. Hurrying over to the game’s booth after the presentation stumbles to a close, I find it just as slick and spectacular as on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.
For that you can partly thank Nintendo’s analogue stick or “circle pad”. Where PSP’s awful textured “nub” ground the prints off thumbs, the wide, dimpled pad grips you comfortably, making it far easier to nail those signature quarter-roll specials. It can’t rival an arcade joystick, of course – as purists will hasten to remind us, nothing can – but it closes the gap to that hallowed ideal considerably, and there are touch-screen shortcuts to fill in the remaining ground.
The game can be tackled in Light or Pro mode. Light mode allows you to set up four Special moves, combos and Ultras as fat, colour-coded hot keys on the bottom screen. Pro also allows hot keys, but confines the choice to basic moves.
Likely to be decried as dumbing-down by the aforesaid purists, these are sensible compromises in the face not just of cramped analogue control but of “softer” tastes, even among chippy core players. I like to think of myself as one of the latter, and frankly, I’m no longer interested in tests of my manual dexterity. I’m aware that my left thumb is about as surgically precise as a water balloon, thanks – why keep reminding me of the fact? Why not make it easier for me to embroil myself in the wonderful, wonderful game behind the control scheme?
Running at 60 frames a second, even with the 3D effect enabled, SSFIV on 3DS puts obvious rival Dead or Alive: Dimensions to shame in the technological stakes, and the thickly outlined art style makes the reduction in character model geometry almost unnoticeable. All those fearsomely cinematic, off-the-wall Ultra combo scripts appear to have made the cut.
The basic side-on view gives little play to the all-new 3D visuals, so Capcom has built in a dynamic option which tilts and zooms the camera in step with the battle, maximising the sense of depth. Even without the benefit of a parallax barrier screen, the shifts and dips in perspective lend dramatic value to already breathtaking encounters. Nothing says “taking care of business” like a low-angle shot of a lightning kick.
Applying the same to Ken for a third time, I find myself craving real opposition, thirsting for a chance to put my patented “Dying Giraffe” style to work on the other journalists at the booth. Supporting versus play both locally and over the net, the final version should provide plenty of serious competitors. There’s Download Play too, and an impressive-sounding spectator option for online matches.
Super Street Fighter IV was already a masterwork, and it’s to Capcom and Ono’s credit that they haven’t sat on their laurels with 3D Edition, embracing the particularities of the new platform. Some of the additions are a little for-the-sake-of-it – as you may have guessed, the figurine system leaves me cold, and then there’s the broader question of what, exactly, that much-sung third dimension really brings to things, besides a greater potential for headaches. But it’s hard to argue with those lightning looks, or that accommodating control scheme. Whatever else you think of 3DS, you’re unlikely to find a superior fighting game on any other handheld.