Like Tetris, Doom and Minecraft., Street Fighter II is one of those games which will forever have a special place in the history of video games. Upon its initial launch in 1992 it captured the hearts and minds of an entire generation of players, triggering a genre explosion which would last for the remainder of the decade and birth multiple sequels, spin-offs and - of course - merchandising and multimedia opportunities. The series continues to this day, with last year's Street Fighter V continuing the lineage, but Switch exclusive Ultra Street Fighter II: The Final Challengers is more retrospective in scope; it's positioned as the ultimate iteration of the 1992 original rather than a totally fresh entry.
Dialing things all the way back to the mid-'90s might seem like an unnecessarily retrograde step, especially when you consider the advancements and tweaks that have taken place in the genre since then - not just in Capcom's output, but in that of its rivals, like SNK. As a result, Ultra Street Fighter II lacks common features such as dashing and mid-air blocking, which does make it feel a little lightweight when compared to more recent one-on-one fighters. To their credit, Capcom's developers have added in enhancements such as grapple breaks and have also worked diligently to re-balance the gameplay over the previous update, 2008's Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix, which was handled by external studio Backbone Entertainment.
The end result is perhaps the slickest version of Street Fighter II yet witnessed, which is saying something when you consider how many updates we've had over the past few decades. There's a purity to this title which is missing from practically every other fighting game, and that's largely thanks to the fact that many of these characters are ingrained in our memories; pulling off Dragon Punches or Sonic Booms is second nature even for those players who don't consider themselves followers of the genre, and this joyful familiarity means that Ultra Street Fighter II tickles the nostalgia bone as well as providing a tight and rewarding battle engine.
The mix of fighters is excellent - this alone must account for much of Street Fighter II's initial success – and each one is equipped with strengths and weaknesses that ensure that, in the right hands, every combatant is deadly. There's a good reason that Capcom resurrected the cast of Street Fighter II for Street Fighter IV after going with a practically all-new roster for the third outing – these are some of the most recognisable and beloved video game characters ever created, and getting to know them again on Switch is, in all honesty, a joy. Sadly, there's no option to toggle between the various versions of each fighter across the whole Street Fighter II franchise (as was the case in 2003's Hyper Street Fighter II: The Anniversary Edition) but that's a minor complaint.
It's a shame, then, that Capcom has been so lazy when it comes to including new fighters. Evil Ryu and Violent Ken feel little more than slightly-tweaked palette swaps, and to make matters worse they're not totally new, as they were in Street Fighter Alpha 2 and SNK vs. Capcom: SVC Chaos respectively. Considering that Capcom is pitching Ultra Street Fighter II as a major retail release, it's massively disappointing that we couldn't get at least one entirely fresh inclusion to the cast.
Ultra Street Fighter II uses the updated HD visuals created for the aforementioned HD Remix in an effort to bring things up to modern standards. Created by respected studio UDON, these pin-sharp designs capture the spirit of the original sprites, but as is often the case when upgrading existing imagery something's not quite right. The animation remains largely untouched, which gives the fighters a strange cardboard cut-out feel. Some of the facial expressions look a little goofy as well, and series purists may well find themselves reverting to the original, pixel-heavy graphics (which look great on the Switch's screen, by the way). The audio has also been upgraded with new tunes (sadly not based on the excellent music provided by OverClocked ReMix for HD Remix) and freshly-recorded voices. Again, you can drop back to the originals if you so wish, and it's even possible to mix and match, so you can have new audio, old visuals or the other way around.
In terms of modes there's little here that will surprise life-long fans of the one-on-one fighting genre. The arcade mode sees you picking a fighter and then taking down a series of opponents before facing off against the four "Grand Masters": boxer Balrog (M. Bison in Japan), "Spanish Ninja" Vega (Balrog in Japan), Thai kickboxer Sagat and supreme wrongdoer M. Bison (Vega in Japan). Strangely, the bonus rounds which saw you destroying a car and breaking barrels in between bouts have been removed entirely. Alongside the arcade mode there's the Buddy Battle mode, which takes inspiration from a similar feature which made its debut in the Street Fighter Alpha / Zero series. Here, you team up with a friend or CPU-controller ally and take down Evil Ryu, Violent Ken, M. Bison and Akuma, with the proviso that your two characters share a health bar which retains the majority of damage taken in between rounds. Buddy Mode might have been more interesting had it presented a bigger challenge; as it stands, once you defeat the four fighters the game abruptly ends with a "Game Over" message – there's not even a special ending to mark your achievement. Like so much of Ultra Street Fighter II, it feels like a token inclusion rather than a selling point.
Ultra Street Fighter II's online mode consists of ranked and casual battles, with the former keeping track of your performance via "Battle Points" and assigning you in a global rank based on wins and losses. It's possible to play against people on your friends list (in the casual mode, at least) and create lobbies, as well as perform a "quick search" to get into a match as quickly as possible. Finding an opponent in this fashion does tend to take a while, but this might improve in time. As far as the net code is concerned, Ultra Street Fighter II ran well enough during our review period without any noticeable lag, but it remains to be seen how the infrastructure holds up when the general public gets their hands on the game and places additional load on the servers.
Then we have the infamous Way of the Hado mode, which we're sure you've already heard mostly bad things about. This is the part of the package in which Capcom has perhaps invested the most time and effort; it uses 3D visuals and tasks you with performing gestures with the Joy-Con controllers to pull off Ryu's famous repertoire of moves. Three difficulty levels are offered, and completing each round earns you points which can be used to bolster Ryu's health, power, speed and other attributes. The key issue with Way of the Hado is that the motion controls simply don't work; the game regularly fails to register your movements and you're just as likely to hurl a fireball as you are to perform a Tatsumaki Senpukyaku. Even if the controls for this mode were totally perfect, it wouldn't be worth more than a few goes; it's painfully shallow and not all that enjoyable. The fact that you have only the most rudimentary influence over which special moves you perform takes it to a whole new level of pointlessness.
Outside of these modes, we have the Color Editor which allows you to customize the look of each character (handy if you want to give your favourite character a totally unique look when fighting online) as well as a gallery packed with gorgeous high resolution artwork from the entire Street Fighter franchise. On top of these you have the usual Versus and Training modes; the former allows you to take on a friend on the same console by detaching the Joy-Con controllers, but also supports local battles using two Switch consoles. There's also Online mode which was not active upon original publication of this review, so we'll be updating accordingly once it goes live.
Fighting games are heavily reliant on digital input thanks to the precise stick combinations required to pull off special and super moves, but we were actually surprised at how playable Ultra Street Fighter II is using the Joy-Con's analogue stick. A Pro Controller or one of 8Bitdo's recently-updated pads are naturally more preferable options, but it's not the end of the world if you don't have access to these. A more pressing issue is that the six button attack layout doesn't translate perfectly to the pad; as was the case with the SNES controller, the various strengths of punch and kick have to be spread out over the four face buttons and the two shoulder buttons. The amazing Mega Drive 6 button pad and god-like Sega Saturn controller remain the best pads for this kind of game, but hopefully the upcoming Hori Real Arcade Pro V Fight Stick will prove to be a solid alternative for Switch owners. For those players who are either new to the game or simply don't want to learn the moves, it's also possible to play with "Lite" controls which allow you to map moves to a button or even use the Switch's touchscreen when playing in portable mode. On a side note, when playing online the game doesn't separate "Lite" and "Pro" players, so it could be argued that those using the touchscreen shortcuts have an unfair advantage.
If the only question you have prior to playing Ultra Street Fighter II is "I want to know if this is the ultimate version of Street Fighter II", then chances are you're going to come away impressed. The gameplay is as tight and enjoyable as ever, and there's a simplicity to the game engine which makes it incredibly appealing – while it lacks some of the improvements seen in recent fighters, this simplicity somehow makes for a purer experience and one which is more accommodating to genre newcomers to boot. Sadly, Capcom's attempts to add value to this likeable yet aging template fall totally flat. Buddy Mode is so brief it borders on being pointless, while Way of the Hado – complete with its laughable motion controls – is something you'll only fire up for your own twisted amusement. Neither feature is worth buying the game for, and unless you consider online play as a major selling point there's little on offer here which allows Ultra Street Fighter II to claim superiority over the likes of Super Street Fighter II Turbo, Hyper Street Fighter II and Super Street Fighter II HD Remix.
We usually avoid citing cost as a reason for marking down a game, but the simple fact is Capcom is attempting to hawk this product as a proper retail release, albeit one which costs a little less than other major Switch titles. Even at £35 / $40 – the price at the time of this review – Ultra Street Fighter II doesn't offer true value for money and represents Capcom at its most lazy and exploitative; this really should have been a low-cost digital download. It's still a fantastic one-on-one fighter, but before making a purchase you need to seriously ask yourself if you need another version of this game in your life – and if you do, you should perhaps explore cheaper options.