I like being able to tell the future--in early 2013, I predicted one more upgrade to Street Fighter IV, adding Street Fighter X Tekken's returning fighters. As the fourth (and very likely final) upgrade to 2008's Street Fighter IV, Ultra Street Fighter IV adds five new(ish) characters, six new(ish) backgrounds, new mechanics, and a roster-wise balance update in an attempt to make this the definitive version of the Street Fighter IV series.
Now, before we talk about the game itself, let's talk about Capcom "milking a franchise." Since Capcom released Street Fighter IV in Japanese arcades in 2008, we've had four title updates (Super, Arcade Edition, Arcade Edition ver. 2012, and Ultra) and Street Fighter X Tekken over a six-year period. Contrast that with the six years after Capcom released Street Fighter II in 1991, which gave us four title updates (Turbo, Championship Edition, Super, and Super Turbo), Street Fighter: The Movie, Street Fighter Alpha and Street Fighter Alpha 2, Street Fighter III: New Generation and Street Fighter III: Double Impact, three versions of Street Fighter EX, X-Men vs. Street Fighter and Marvel Super Heroes vs. Street Fighter (which in turn led to a whole new franchise--Marvel vs. Capcom). So yeah, modern Capcom ain't got shit on Capcom of old--they've done a good job keeping their urges in check.
Ultra Street Fighter IV adds Elena, Hugo, Poison and Rolento from Street Fighter X Tekken, along with strangely-familiar "new" character Decapre, bringing the roster up to 44 characters. We also get six stages from Street Fighter X Tekken, although some (like Cosmic Elevator and Jurassic-Era Research Facility) really feel out of place among SFIV's battlegrounds. Capcom has done a great job bringing SFXT characters into the SFIV framework--they're very different games, each with a unique rhythm and feel. The more methodical SFIV playstyle changes the way you handle a character--in SFxT, I used to regularly charge Poison's projectile, but you can't do that here. My Hugo was built around doing tag setups into his Super--now, I have to find a way in on my own. Even after the adjustments, they're all welcome additions to the SFIV roster that are a lot of fun to dig into and learn with.
Let's talk about the elephant in the room: Decapre. Visually, it's one of the laziest "new" designs I've ever seen this side of a Shoto-clone or a Mortal Kombat ninja, but mechanically Decapre is a whole new beast and incredibly fun to play. I've been a longtime Cammy main since vanilla SFIV, and while Decapre's normals are identical to a certain Killer Bee, I've had a lot of fun learning the ins and outs of a character built around her variable dashes and mash command, and being able to maintain similar pressure to Cammy while being a charge character.
However, the real meat of the game--what updates really count for even above characters--comes in the gameplay. Ultra Street Fighter IV introduces three new mechanics: Ultra Combo Double, Red Focus, and Delayed Standing.
-Ultra Combo Double gives you access to both Ultra Combos during a match, at the cost of reduced Ultra damage. This is great for mind games and maintaining the threat of losing large chunks of health all in one go, but only time will show which characters work best with this setup.
-Red Focus (activated with LP+MP+MK) absorbs multiple hits by eating your Super bar, but it's still weak against throws and attacks with Armor Break. It'll be interesting to see high-level applications of Red Focus.
-Finally, Delayed Standing changes wakeup options, letting you "stay down" for more or less time to throw off your opponent's follow-up attacks. I'm finding it to be very useful against aggressive opponents, and contributes to the seesaw nature of a match's momentum.
I've been regularly playing Street Fighter IV since it hit consoles in '09, and these changes are big enough to make Ultra feel less like a title update and more like a new game--there's a lot to learn, and a lot to apply in training and in actual matches.
Online play is still strong, with lots of sharing features to save matches to YouTube, even allowing you to save or upload offline matches. Network Simulation is a great new addition that lets you practice under laggy conditions--an invaluable tool for online competition. Taking a page from other fighters, Ultra Street Fighter IV finally allows you to accept challenges while in Training Mode, including options to save and reload states to practice hit confirmation and learn timing for your combos. Also, it's a little thing, but it's important enough that it needs to be said: Ultra Street Fighter IV finally lets you map your buttons on the Character Select screen. Took 'em long enough.
Are you still playing Street Fighter IV? Then Ultra Street Fighter IV is a no-brainer. But what if you're a lapsed fighter, or want to start playing the SFIV series? Ultra Street Fighter IV will bring you back into the Endless Battle, and give you plenty of new things to learn while you're at it. Casual players won't find a lot to make them commit, but Ultra Street Fighter IV rewards longtime fans with the best possible version of this game to date, and is far more than just the sum of its parts.
+ Far from simple copy-pastes, the new additions are seamlessly integrated into Street Fighter IV's engine
+ Despite her appearance, Decapre is an absolute blast to play
+ Balance fixes breathe new life into characters like Dudley and T.Hawk, keeping competitive players on their toes
+ New gameplay mechanics change the flow and feel of the game, giving players something new to learn and hone
+ Lots of new, welcome additions and updates to streamline playing, sharing, customizing, and training
- Very little actual "new" content from the perspective of non-hardcore players