Friday Slide: Is Street Fighter IV on iPhone A Bad Idea?

The news about Capcom’s intention to release Street Fighter IV on the iPhone and iPod Touch this month is intriguing, to say the least. The very idea of the ambitious fighting game running on the iPhone has my heart split in two directions.

I believe in Capcom as a game developer. I truly think they have the power to harness unicorns. Put it this way: I’ve been a Mega Man fan for most of my gaming career, and I’ve stuck with the series through its highs (Mega Man 2/3), its lows (Mega Man X6), and its second round of highs (Mega Man 9/10). But the idea of a Street Fighter IV iPhone port gives me pause because there are so many ways it can go wrong.

For instance, handheld ports of fighting games rarely receive accolades on any portable platform. The best you’ll get is ‘Street Fighter Alpha 3 and Tekken 5 for the PSP were pretty good, actually.’ Typical complaints revolve around downsized graphics and slashed character rosters, which is necessary to pack a fighting game into a bite-sized format. Fighters are complex games to program– unless the developer doesn’t give a tinker’s damn about cool special moves, balance, or responsive controls.

And it’s the controls that have me most worried about the port of Street Fighter IV. Capcom’s plan seems to involve what you might expect: a virtual joystick on the left side of the iPhone/iPod Touch screen, and four virtual buttons on the right side. I can’t say I’ve had major problems with every iPhone/iPod Touch game that saddled me with virtual controls, but the percentage of games that give me problems is pretty massive.

I’m currently wending my way through Final Fantasy, which also provides the player with a virtual joystick/crosspad. Response times for the crosspad tend to be poor, and my little super-deformed Fighter guy sometimes has trouble getting a move on, especially if he has to squeeze between two mountain ranges on the Overworld map. Menu navigation is completed through screen-taps, which definitely presents issues: the game chooses to ignore half the instances I tap on my equipment menu, or even an enemy.

Am I tapping too hard? Too softly? The problem with virtual buttons is that it’s impossible to tell. But whereas troublesome controls aren’t terribly problematic in an RPG, they’re a tragedy in an otherwise solid fighting game.

The Street Fighter series has a favorable reputation that is made up in no small part by its responsive controls. If someone loses a match and whines about the controls being off, you can safely assume that he or she is full of it and simply couldn’t bring ‘teh skillz’ to the table (an exception can be made for matches held in ancient arcades, where the cabinet joysticks for Street Fighter games tend to hang flaccid).

Not to say the Street Fighter series hasn’t had some shoddy ports or some plain dark moments in its history (Capcom taking six years to count to ‘III’), but for all its fans, Capcom has an unfortunate reputation for phoning games in when it gets a little cash-mad. Will Street Fighter IV for the iPhone prove to be a filthy mess born only to rake in some quick change?

It’s impossible to say at this point. But hey, it’s Capcom. They can tame unicorns, you know.

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