It's fair to say that gamers of a certain age have a very unique bond with Capcom's Street Fighter II. Upon its initial arcade release in 1991 it was instantly hailed as a coin-guzzling classic, and kick-started a one-on-one fighting game revolution which would last for the majority of the '90s. Securing the first home conversion was a vital coup for Nintendo and the SNES port would become an entry point to the franchise for millions of players globally. Capcom knew it was onto something and milked the title for all it was worth, giving us Turbo, Super and Super Turbo in quick succession. In the years that have followed we've seen numerous sequels and spin-offs, but it's clear that the second Street Fighter title is always going to have that special edge, at least with veteran players.
That point alone makes Capcom's decision to produce another update of the title for the Switch seem sensible; it's also a neat callback to the history of the franchise, which owes so much to that timely SNES port. An entire gaming generation got to know Ryu, Ken, Chun-Li and Guile on Nintendo hardware before moving onto the likes of the PlayStation, Dreamcast and Xbox 360, so with Ultra Street Fighter II: The Final Challengers it feels like we've come full circle.
In case you weren't already aware, Ultra Street Fighter II is yet another update of the original game, based largely on the Super Street Fighter II Turbo iteration from 1994. It boasts HD visuals (taken from the digital release Super Street Fighter II: HD Remix) but the core gameplay has been retooled by Capcom itself, rather than Backbone Entertainment, the company behind the aforementioned 2008 game. Local multiplayer and online modes are included (sadly the latter isn't active at the present moment in time so we've not been able to test it), while two new characters have been added to the roster in the form of Evil Ryu and Violent Ken. They may sound like a particularly poor superhero duo, but to be honest they don't feel like fresh additions; both have previously appeared in other titles and they naturally control very similarly to their non-possessed counterparts. It would have been nice to see some genuinely new combatants added to the cast.
Outside of this, we have a new buddy mode where you can team up with a second player (or the computer) to fight a single opponent - again, this doesn't feel all that "new" as it was previously showcased in the Street Fighter Alpha series. A gallery mode comes packed with gorgeous HD artwork from the entire Street Fighter universe (sadly the Switch's screenshot button is disabled in this mode so you can't share any of it on social media), and there's a training mode to assist you in honing your pugilistic skills. None of these features will be particularly surprising to anyone who has played a fighting game from the past decade, but the all-new "Way of the Hado" mode is a drastic inclusion, offering a first-person viewpoint on the action and tasking you with using motion controls to unleash special moves. Early video footage appeared to confirm our worst suspicions about the controls being a bit of a gimmicky mess, and now we've had chance to sample it properly it would seem those fears were well-founded. The most positive thing we can say about the Way of the Hado mode at this juncture is that the 3D visuals are excellent - in fact, it makes you wonder why Capcom didn't consider porting Street Fighter IV to the Switch instead, as that title would arguably have had more impact from a purely visual perspective.
The option to toggle between HD and classic graphics will be a boon for those of you who prefer the original pixel artwork to the new-fangled visuals. Sadly this cannot be done in the middle of a game, like it can in Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap; you have to drop back to the main menu and enter the settings (it's also possible to select the original music and vocals, if you so wish - or mix up the two with modern visuals, old audio, and vice versa). The HD artwork - supplied by the highly respected Udon Entertainment - is great, and when playing with the updated graphics you benefit from a widescreen view of the action. The biggest issue is that while the HD art looks crisp, the animation hasn't received the same upgrade; as a result, the game resembles a fan-made browser-based Flash title at points. This will clearly be a matter of personal taste as there are many who vastly preferred the graphics in 2008's HD Remix over the originals, but it's a shame that Capcom couldn't have added in more frames of animation to smooth things out, especially as modern development tools can make the process a little easier.
We'll save any other critical thoughts for the upcoming review, but at this stage it's impossible to not feel a pang of nostalgia for Ryu and company, despite the fact that there are probably undiscovered tribes in the Amazon rainforest that are sick to death of Street Fighter II. Once again, the Switch's ace in the hole is the fact that it has two controllers and can be played anywhere there's space to pop out that kick-stand and place it down; like Super Bomberman R before it, Ultra Street Fighter II is a title which is perfectly suited to impromptu multiplayer matches with friends or (if you're feeling brave) complete strangers. Unlike so many other examples of the one-on-one fighting genre, there's a familiarity with Street Fighter II which means most casual gamers at least know Ryu and Ken's move-sets, so the potential challenger base is much larger.
Ultra Street Fighter II may just be another version of a game that has been played to near-destruction on multiple formats over the past 25 years, but it's impossible to shake the feeling that it will find an audience on a system like the Switch, whereas it may have been met with hoots of derision on rival consoles.
Ultra Street Fighter II: The Final Challengers launches on Nintendo Switch on May 26th.