Let me lay a hypothetical on you. Let's say that tomorrow, a major update is released for StarCraft 2, League of Legends, Team Fortress 2 or whatever your favorite, tightly balanced competitive online game may be. This update greatly reduces the effectiveness of many of your trusty techniques, but delivers a handful of overwhelming improvements to a select few others. It's fair to assume that the outrage over this un-balancing would be deafening, and that players would demand an explanation.
"While we originally designed this title with strong competitive balance in mind," explains your favorite developer, "we've decided to purposely make these specific elements overly powerful as to manufacture a competitive experience amongst players."
Sounds preposterous, right? After all, who would purposely sabotage their own title? Now for the Shyamalanian twist: That is precisely what is happening with the release of Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition. (Spoilers, I know).
Gallery: Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition | 19 Photos
While Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition has been available in arcades around the world since late 2010, the downloadable version for consoles will finally see release this week at a price of $14.99 (1200 Microsoft Points). The DLC contains a host of new balance tweaks for all existing 35 characters, in addition to four new world warriors.
The most prominent of these new characters are "The Twins," Yun and Yang, who originally hail from the Street Fighter III series, with Evil Ryu and Oni Akuma rounding out the package. While the four new fighters sound like a couple of pairs of clones, they're all fully independent of one another with each pair having only a handful of maneuvers that overlap. You will almost certainly loathe Yun and Yang for completely different reasons altogether. Evil Ryu and Oni are largely uninteresting, and may as well of been dreamt up from the doodles of a 13-year-old dreaming up the most awesomest Street Fighter evers. Oni Akuma does sport an air-dash, however (a first for the core Street Fighter series and typically reserved for the much crazier "Versus" titles), which will either be highly fascinating or profoundly disturbing, depending on how serious you take your Street Fighter.
The Arcade Edition DLC also features a few new updates to the online replay channel, though it still doesn't offer support for saving replays of local multiplayer matches.
What makes Arcade Edition such a crushing disappointment comes down to basic design flaws. In the plainest of terms, fighting games are built for two things: competition and power fantasy. You play them for the spirited competition of a (hopefully) fair fight and to live the dream of being an extremely powerful warrior capable of impossible feats. The latter part of this equation is where Arcade Edition fails as overall, the cast of Super Street Fighter IV has received more nerfs than buffs, many of which were wholly unnecessary.
The character balance in Super Street Fighter IV was nicely compressed, and while there were a few unfair match-ups spread amongst the cast, they were ultimately few and far between. Where only a handful of characters needed boosts in overall strength to improve upon this harmony, Arcade Edition instead offers an endless stream of demoralizing hamstrings. It's difficult to get excited about balance changes when, coming into a brand new game, the majority of the cast feels weaker than you last left them.
The introduction of The Twins opens a whole new host of balance issues -- some of which directly reflect lessons obviously not learned from the introduction and subsequent nerfs to Rufus since the original Street Fighter IV -- as they leap to the top of the tiers as easily as they haplessly dive kick and pressure their way through the majority of the cast that simply can't cope with their shenanigans. It's not that they're better than most characters, it's that they're flat out insurmountable to the point that you're left with the decision to either pick a Twin yourself, counter-pick or die trying.
When I reviewed Super Street Fighter IVa year ago, I awarded it five stars and I firmly stand behind that review. It's a game that I continue to play regularly to this day and I consider it one of my favorite fighting games of all time. But Arcade Edition -- both the cabinet-based edition that's been available for six months and the retail DLC, which are indistinguishable from one another -- is difficult to recommend.
For casual players, the additional four characters are interesting enough to warrant the cost, and the balance tweaks don't really mean anything if you're just having fun with friends anyway. For die hards such as myself, I can't say anything to dissuade you from diving in, but should you choose to do so, I hope that for the sake of your sanity it's with a sharp and obnoxiously fast angled kick.
This review is based on the Xbox 360 debug version of Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition provided by Capcom. Note: Joystiq does not provide star ratings for downloadable content reviews with the understanding that the quality of the core game's experience is unchanged from the retail release to DLC add-ons; see: Super Street Fighter IV review.
Jared Rea is a freelance writer, community specialist and Street Fighter. He lives in the California Bay Area with his fluffy dog Queen Momo XI and believes in blue skies in video games.