The most striking departure from the series norm lies in the graphics. The visual style is beyond anything I've seen in a Street Fighter game. You've all seen the screenshots that have been released but the static images don't do the game justice; heck, not even the videos that you've seen online do the proper job of conveying the game's visual prowess. The character animations are fluid and the color schemes are bold and eye-catching. For example, punch a foe in the breadbasket and his eyes will bug out of their sockets. The blows now land with a satisfying crunch, adding a nice visceral layer to the action. When Zangief picks you up and slams you to the ground, you can't help but wince as your neck breaks like a straw.
Gameplay-wise, it's still old school Street Fighter. The timing felt a tad slower than previous versions and there were small adjustments that I had to make-in the version I played, jamming the buttons got you up off the ground quicker. As someone who cut their teeth on old school Street Fighter, I kept expecting my fighter to just hop up by himself. It definitely affects the timing of the fight. But there's no need to worry: learning the rhythm of the action is what Street Fighter is all about and I felt confident that if I put in the time, I could learn the battle system, just as I did with all the versions of SF that have come out over the years. This means that I will eventually get used to the super move system, the countering system and the Revenge system (I wasn't able to get enough play time to figure out the nuances of that last one). And I might be wrong but I swore I saw a parry system in there. Again, I might be wrong on that one so don't quote me.
One other thing that caught my eye is there were only 10 playable characters as of this time. The original eight were there as were the two new additions, Abel and Crimson Viper. But get this: the character selection screen looked rather spacious, so I wouldn't be surprised if Capcom wasn't done introducing new characters. I'm not saying I have some sort of secret information but consider it an educated guess. Also, did I mention how awesome the game looks yet? Because it really does look pretty sweet. Visuals aside, the little touches are amazing. The camera will zoom in on a character as they set up for a special move, for instance, and watching Ryu scrunch up his face as he gathers up energy in his hands adds a nice touch.
The stages were also visually impressive, a definite upgrade from the flat 2-D battlegrounds of yesteryear. Guile's stage, for instance, has fighter jets in the background and bystanders observing the action. I did notice that there wasn't much in the way of visual fluff, however, but I quickly found out why: according to Capcom PR reps, the game is only about 51% of the way there. Yes, you read that right: Capcom is only about half way done with the game. That just makes what I saw all the more impressive. The company could drop that game machine in the nearest arcade and rake in the quarters. Sure, over time, people would notice the rough edges and start pointing them out but the game certainly looked like it was ready to enter the ring. The idea that Capcom will take the time to finish the other half of the game just has me salivating at the possibilities. I was told to expect things like gameplay tweaks, balancing issues and the overall quality of the visuals to be raised to final polish levels. For example, Capcom plans to spice up Guile's stage with fighter jets zipping through the sky during matches.
Of course, Capcom is being mum on the finer details. There was no talk about a release date or new characters or new features; also, they wouldn't talk about the possibilities of a home console version, but we all know it's inevitable, right? Though my time with the pre-production Japanese arcade I was able to see and play definitely raised my hopes that Street Fighter IV can reinvigorate the franchise and put Capcom on the forefront of the fighting game genre. I personally can't wait to line up at my local arcade machine and slap some quarters down to reserve my place in line, and I really can't wait for the home console versions to come out so I can kick some ass in the comfort of my own living room. Good thing the HD remake of Street Fighter II is coming out soon: I can use that to practice my rusty fighting skills.