I’ve lamented the death of arcade culture over here before, especially for someone outside of London, who must go on some crazy pilgrimage, or to a tournament to even play games in this style. However to my amazement, Capcom decided to run a mini Street Fighter 4 UK tour with some actual arcade cabinets in tow. Despite the fact I’d have my hands on the game itself in only a few weeks – what made this truly special was that it was going on just a half-hour drive out from my home city. As an SF nut, I just had to show my support for this, no matter what. Sadly on the first day, the whole of the shopping mall in question, Meadowhall, was snowed out; my calls to the shops there going unanswered, the helpdesk did eventually answer me to to explain that the whole place was pretty much closed down and that the SF4 event wouldn’t be going on. I’d later find out that it had been on, but virtually no-0ne had showed up due to the weather & the fact most of the mall was closed. I would have been more upset at missing a chance at this, but I’d had a fantastic evening gaming on HD:R and GoW2 anyway so I couldn’t be too miffed.
The next day however, the snow had died down and melted somewhat, and I had a roving informant already at the mall who eventually tracked down the cabinets and confirmed it was on and would be going on until later that evening.
I was shattered after being at work all week (and too many late nights gaming, naturally), but nothing was going to stop me, as I dug my car out from under the snow and ice with gloves and an ice scraper, and then proceeded to try to drive it off the icesheet that called itself my road. No go, it was literally impassable without some snow tires or something. But instead I managed to slide my car back down the hill on the ice, and managed to get it around the corner and onto the, thankfully clear, main streets of Sheffield. Whew! When I got there I knew exactly where I was headed… yep, I walked straight past the SF4 cabinets with a grin, and wearing my ‘Sonic Boom’ t-shirt like a true SF geek, went on my way to Starbucks. I grabbed a vital double espresso to go, and made my way back to the SF4 stand.
There wasn’t too many people about so I almost immediately got a go, and supping on my espresso, went to select Guile and discovered I had to play as f**king Ryu as the previous person had actually won despite vacating the machine. But I hate Ryu I thought to myself (and perhaps sung out loud)… but proceeded to play anyway. I immediately noticed something was terribly wrong. What was this.. LAG??! On a cabinet? How on earth was this possible? It was actually really horrendous slowdown at times – and as I discussed with the Capcom booth staff on hand later, apparently these weren’t “full spec” cabs, and didn’t have the correct graphics cards or RAM or something. Of course their reassurances to me that the console version would be fine weren’t really necessary as I knew this was some really freaky problem, having played at least a little on SF4 cabs that were perfectly fine before; but talk about a terrible way to promote your game. 🙁
Still, it was free, and so my quarter-circle-punch’ing went on unbowed by this unfortunate turn of events. I discovered I couldn’t seem to get out a Super or Ultra move though, despite the fact I find Ryu’s double fireball motion easy most of the time. My opponents weren’t exactly taking advantage of the flaws in my game though, and three easy wins later my opponent was motioning wildly at my win counter for some reason. Bemused, I then discovered this had earned me an SF4 t-shirt for my troubles, and I also realised as his arm waving got more exasperated that he was in fact using sign language. Sadly I don’t know any sign language, but I still managed to communicate through the universal language of Street Fighter, smiles and points at the screen with both him and his friends during the course of the evening. There was only one competitor all night though who could give me anything like a good game (wushudude, who’d travelled from Manchester), but I was still having fun, and we were more interested in experimenting with focus attacks, dash cancels, different characters and the like. I even discovered that due to the slowdown on the machines that Ultras and other complex motions could be performed, you just had to input the motions incredibly slowly for the game to register it.
A day away later, I woke up after hardly any sleep after playing Drunken SF HD Remix all ‘night’ until 8am, and in a very short space of time somehow managed to get myself back to Meadowhall, for more coffee & SF4, this time with a couple of friends with me, including fellow blogger Navan Daughn. SF4 does seem to be associated with a lack of sleep for me now. This was quite a different experience to the other night, as the weather had cleared further, and the mall, and the machines were packed. The bad news was it took some time to get a go and you probably wouldn’t stay on the machines for the maximum 3 wins unless you got a run of weaker opponents. However it was great to chat with a lot more knowledgeable players and bigger fans, and to get some good competition – not to mention the tantalising “oooh” of the crowd when spectacular moves and near misses occured. Of course that competition was really dulled by the amount of experimentation with the new game systems going on, and not to mention our total exasberation with the slowdown, causing some stages of fights to become utterly random. 3rd Strike player SrWilson has put up some videos on youtube of the SF4 games at Meadowhall.
So yes, all in all it wasn’t an incredible experience thanks to the dodgy cabs, but there were some real highlights for me. The chance, if only for a few brief hours, to play games in this kind of arcade environment was really fantastic for me. In fact it was arguably better than ever before for me, as now I’m a converted stick player, I don’t feel like I am playing with one arm tied behind my back just because I have to use a joystick. In fact the Viewlix cabs had absolutely gorgeous controls – and it was great to really start to get to hands-on with them, knowing that my Tournament Edition Madcatz SF4 joystick is only a few weeks away, and it itself is modelled off these same cabs; even using almost the same parts. But it was the comaraderie and audience of the crowd that makes this kind of gaming just so special. Not to mention the game itself. I’ve been pretty harsh on SF4 in general, as it’s taken a number of design turns that I really disagree with, completely counter to say, the great decisions made in HD Remix. However I have to say with actually a few hours of play under my belt now, the game is warming on me. The amount of mind games and techniques based around the focus attack is really impressive, and the mixture of some of the best elements of Street Fighter 3 is really a great idea. Not to mention giving anyone with a good grounding in SF3 a huge initial advantage at SF4 I would suggest. I’ll never agree with choice to maintain (and even worsen) the overly complex commands, and I’ll lament the atrocious character roster until hopefully one day something like SF5 makes amends for it. But until then, it was good to see some more good in SF4 than I expected – and I’m really looking forward to the home version much much more now, thanks to this UK Tour.