Once you’re comfortable with the controls, you can make your way through Arcade mode, which pits you against CPU-controlled characters in a number of fights. Though there’s a story behind each character’s motivations, they’re weak at best, doing little to explain exactly why everyone is fighting each other. They’re at least told in an attractive way, anime-style movies that play as you begin and when you complete Arcade mode. Interspersed throughout the fights are special stages, where you have to destroy a car or a set of rolling barrels within a set time limit–a nostalgic nod to Street Fighter II and a way to break up the action. There are a range of difficulty modes to choose from in Arcade mode, so no matter what your skill level, you can fight your way through. If you do battle it out on harder settings, be prepared for a challenge. Your CPU adversaries launch all manner of ultra attacks and combos, doing everything they can to defeat you–none more so than final boss Seth, whose seemingly endless supply of tricky moves feels as cheap as ever, making him incredibly frustrating to fight.
The real joy of Street Fighter lies in playing against human opponents, and there are a variety of options for doing so. Versus mode lets you play against other opponents via wireless, either nearby or on the same wireless network. Fights are smooth and free of any lag, so you’ve no excuses for losing battles, other than your own lack of skill. There is also a Download Play option, so you can fight against other 3DS owners with just one copy of the game, though the character selection is limited to Ryu. Battles can be played over the Internet too, with Quick, Custom, and Friend matches available. A Quick match pits you against a random player, while a Custom match lets you choose from a number of options before entering a match. You can change the number of rounds, the time limit, what region your opponents are from, their skill level, and whether they are using the Lite or Pro control method. A Friend match lets you play against anyone in your friends list, provided that they are playing at the same time too. You can set up a lobby and wait for them to join, but sadly there is no way to send a message to them from within the game; you have to exit and use the main 3DS message system to do so.
If you can’t find an opponent online straightaway, you can turn on the fight request feature, which lets players challenge you to a battle while you’re playing offline in Arcade mode. The performance of online battles against other players depends largely on your respective Internet connections. Matches are largely lag-free, though there are times when a bad connection causes the game to stutter significantly, making it tricky to compete. Disappointingly, there are no online leaderboards or tournaments. Though you do earn player points when you win battles, these are used to judge your skill level when you’re being matched up with opponents. There is, however, a local player data section, where you can see statistics such as your total play time, your progress through Arcade mode, and the number of wins and losses you’ve had in versus battles. You also earn medals, which are like achievements, by completing tasks such as doing a special move 100 times or winning three matches in a row online.
You don’t actually have to be playing to battle others, though, thanks to the 3DS’ StreetPass feature. When your 3DS is in sleep mode, it automatically sends a figurine team of your choosing to battle other 3DS owners who have the feature turned on. It works much like a turn-based RPG battle, with each figurine’s attributes such as their level, strength, and health points determining the outcome. How much you get out of StreetPass depends on how much interaction you have with other players, though if you do battle with people regularly, it’s exciting to see your team grow stronger, and it’s a nice diversion from regular fights. You’re not stuck with a single set of figurines when you battle, though. You can trade with others or get new ones using your play coins, which are earned via the 3DS’s pedometer. The more you walk, the more play coins you get. They can be traded in for figure points, which you can use to play a small minigame. A set of figurines spins around on the top screen, while a giant button appears on the bottom screen. Pushing the button stops the figurines from spinning and awards you with a new one for your collection. There are a lot to collect, all based on characters from within the game in various costumes and poses, which certainly extends the game’s appeal if you’re a completionist.
Whichever mode you’re playing in, the visuals are extremely impressive. The familiar pseudo-cel-shaded character art returns, with thick black borders and splattered inkblots making each detailed combatant stand out from the background. Their animation is very smooth too, so each fight is a fluid and graceful experience that’s heaps of fun. The backgrounds are less impressive, being largely static, but a variety of 3D models scattered across them add variety. Turning on 3D mode halves the frame rate from 60 frames per second to 30, but it’s still eminently playable, and you’re rewarded with a great 3D experience. Backgrounds stretch off into the distance, while fighters sit in front, and status bars hover over them, giving a feeling of depth. Ultra attacks benefit from 3D effects too, with explosions and fists flying out of the screen. A new 3D versus mode showcases the 3D effect even more with an angled over-the-shoulder view of your character. It’s fun to play the first time, but soon its shortcomings become apparent. The angle makes it difficult to gauge how far away you are from your opponent and makes it tricky to know what direction you should be pushing on the D pad or circle pad to move your character. Serious fighters will most certainly want to stick to the standard view.
What’s most impressive about Super Street Fighter IV: 3D Edition is how few compromises have been made to the core gameplay in its transition to the 3DS. From the fantastic visuals to the speed of combat, it’s as great a fighting game as you’ll find on a handheld, encompassing most of the features of the console versions. The lack of leaderboards and a tournament mode remains a mystery, but what matters most is that fighting remains fun and challenging. Whether you’re a newcomer or a seasoned pro, Super Street Fighter IV: 3D Edition satisfies your fighting urges on the go, doing so with a level of style and depth that few fighting games can match.