Watching, and playing Street Fighter IV in person is a completely different experience from just downloading a video off Gametrailers or other gaming sites and just watching it. Something about the game just feels so fluid, expressive and alive. Me and my wife were talking about it and we came to the same conclusion:
The animation of Street Fighter IV is the star of the show.
You could take any screenshot of SF4 and complain about how the graphics don't look like it's previous predecessors; or how it doesn't look 'anime' enough. If you paused the game and looked at the design of the character models, it does seem more westernized than past Street Fighter titles.
But it's when the character models in the game start moving that it starts feeling like a Japanese-made game. The animation is just incredible.
There's Virtua Fighter 5's realistic animation---and there's Street Fighter 4's animation, which is just....something else.
It's cartoony...perhaps a better term is 'anime-like'. It's very colorful and pleasant to look at. It elicits emotions out of you, the player, while you're watching it and playing it. When you hit someone with a sweet SHORYUKEN! it's a sight to behold and you feel elated at pulling off what seems to be a simple special move (you'd even be more elated if you're new to the game and you master executing the move for the first time, with proper timing). Graphic effects enchance the effect, with sparks of color and light making what is the usual special move seem even more special. The camera sometimes zooms in quickly to the action for an ultra combo or a special combo....the slight pause in between hits of a combo that you're executing....the massive explosive effect when you knock out someone with an ultra combo....it's little touches like this that make Street Fighter IV seem like an anime of a fighting game come to life, that you can be a part of, and enjoy playing.
If you've played Street Fighter II and previous games in the past, you'll be very pleased with Street Fighter IV. This Street Fighter fan was constantly amazed---practically blown-away by the game. Capcom has succeeded in getting me interested in Street Fighter again.
If there's one shortcoming to Street Fighter IV, it's that it doesn't teach a new player well enough. A lot has been said about the game's CHALLENGE mode and TRAINING modes. As a player coming off Virtua Fighter 5's DOJO mode, I feel that Street Fighter IV still has a lot to be desired in terms of training someone completely new to the game. For instance, when you play training mode, there is no prompt that tells you what move to execute and how to do it. The prompt is only available in CHALLENGE mode, and the game does not have a 'demonstration' feature which shows you how to do the move.
Back in the 90's when I learned Street Fighter IV, it was all through other peers playing the game at local arcades, and the knowledge has stayed with me over time. But I can imagine there are players out there, younger players, who won't have had the same experience as me. They won't have grown up with SF in the arcades (instead being used to games like Tekken or other 3D fighters), so SF will be very alien to them. Even worse if SF is played by someone who has never, EVER played fighting games. For example, the training mode doesn't exactly tell you what a 'charge' move is (I already know what it is. It's just that it doesn't 'explain' it to you, so if a new player picked up on it, he wouldn't really know what to do). Some of the directions on the instructions aren't too clear, coupled with the fact that, when you're playing training/challenge mode, the instructions aren't oriented to the direction you're facing. For instance, if you end up on the right of the screen, HADOKEN is still displayed as D, DR, R + punch, when it should become D, DL, L + Punch. I recall in Virtua Fighter, the direction for the instructions would also reverse when your character faces a different direction. Both Training mode and Challenge mode seem to be designed for players who already know Street Fighter, and it's only those players who can really appreciate it for what it is. Absolute newbies have to find guides to learn how to play; and it's challenges like these (and the dying of arcades) which is causing the fighting game crowd to shrink further as time goes by.
That said, don't get me wrong; even if I really have a problem with how the game trains absolute newbies, Street Fighter IV is a spectacular fighting game. Even with the limitations set by its' 2D gameplay, it manages to introduce new things to the fighting equation which give it an 'easy to learn, hard to master' quality about it. Older players like myself will find some interesting new mechanics in there, such as Focus Attacks, and the infamous new 'Focus Attack Dash Cancel' move, which will give you a new set of possible approaches to attacking and countering your opponent. Some new combos are possible because of these new gameplay mechanics, and no doubt, at this time there are a lot of older gamers that are probably obsessing over figuring out how to do these tricks in their sleep.
I haven't spent any time with the online multiplayer mode because playing the Arcade mode made me realize, yes, I am going to get owned in this game. At some point, in NORMAL difficulty, I was having trouble fighting certain characters like Rufus and Abel, who have completely new play mechanics which make them hard to beat, and old characters like Balrog and E.Honda have received incredible upgrades that make them tougher opponents than usual. I found myself spending a lot of continues with those guys. Maybe I need more practice....which is why I'm not feeling like going online yet. The A.I. is pretty brutal on NORMAL difficulty; or maybe I'm just getting used to all the new mechanics, I'm not sure. Right now, I'm devoting my time first to figuring out the new combos, the differences between attacks, and which ones are useful for which situations, and more. There's a lot to learn in Street Fighter IV. What amazes me, yet again, is how SIMPLE it can be. As someone who's been from VF5, SF4 gives a complex fighting package, and yet disguises it as a relatively simple to learn game. Perhaps it's because SF4 sticks to 2D gameplay that learning the game seems so simple. It's just mastering how to execute 'simple' moves at the right time that takes a lot of practice. If this game were in Philippine arcades, I can guarantee it will be more popular than Tekken 6, simply because anyone can learn it quite quickly. It's just mastering what you've learned that will take a lot of time.