Before “League of Legends” filled arenas and “Call of Duty” dominated sales charts, there was “Street Fighter.”
In a way, this fighting game franchise has been a pioneer in e-sports. In the 1990s, it was the star of the arcade scene, with fans holding makeshift tournaments to determine the best player. That buzz gave birth to a dedicated community that kept the franchise alive during the days when this genre’s popularity waned.
Now, fighting games are enjoying a renaissance thanks to “Street Fighter IV.” Capcom’s blockbuster has spawned a new generation of fans that have bonded with characters Ryu, Ken and the rest of the roster.
For the new follow-up, producer Yoshinori Ono and his team had to figure out ways to keep the momentum going. Despite hiccups at the launch, they’re heading toward success.
With “Street Fighter V,” the developers attempt two things: making the game more accessible, and positioning it to be a prominent e-sport for years to come.
They’ve gone a long way toward reaching the first goal by building a solid foundation that doesn’t drastically alter the game for fans of the series. Visually, its characters and environment retain their bold cartoonish look, but with more definition in the fighters’ muscles and added details in their faces. Everything else in the “Street Fighter V” world has a softer, more realistic look, too.
Those eager for other kinds of changes will find them in the combat. Pulling off combos and Critical Arts is much easier in “V”. Though it still takes plenty of practice and skill to execute the right battle moves, players no longer need split-second timing or ridiculously precise reflexes to string together an impressive array of punches and kicks.
The effort to position “Street Fighter V” for prominence in the e-sports field is ambitious and forward-thinking. Over the years, Capcom has been criticized for asking players to buy yearly updates that tweaked gameplay and added new characters, but were sold at, or close to, the game’s full price, much to the chagrin of fans.
Ono and his team have opted to go instead with seasonal online updates that make “Street Fighter V” almost a living, evolving game. The roster of 16 fighters is set to expand later this year, and still more modes and features will be added over time.
Thankfully these additions won’t be locked behind a paywall. Players can access the new content for free by earning “Fight Money” through online matches, and using that to buy the fighters they want. Those who prefer not to grind through battles for Fight Money can spend real dollars to unlock new characters.
The possibilities are similar to what “League of Legends” and other free-to-play games are offering.
Since those possibilities loom, the launch version of “Street Fighter V” is bare-bones. The story mode is short and not very interesting. But the survival mode is a fun way to practice against the computer while waiting for an online match.
Compared to earlier editions, the launch version feels almost incomplete. But as with other e-sports titles, there will be plenty of changes once “Street Fighter V” gets off the ground and its server issues have been fixed.