Street Fighter IV has all the different gameplay modes you'd expect from a fighting game these days. In Arcade mode, you'll take your character around the world beating people up before facing off with your rival and ultimately the game's brutally-difficult final boss, Seth. Every character has anime-style cutscenes at the beginning and ending of Arcade mode, and while the stories they tell aren't exactly War and Peace, it's nice to have some context for elbow-dropping someone's face.
A particularly nice touch is the option to activate a sort of virtual arcade: If you're going through Arcade mode while online, anyone can challenge you to a match - sort of the Internet equivalent of walking up to somebody and putting your quarter into the machine. Rather than try to revitalize the dying arcade scene, Capcom has opted to let players bring the arcade feel home to their living rooms.
It's difficult to sum up a game like Street Fighter IV. It might almost be easier to start by saying what the game isn't: SF4 isn't a game that will miraculously breathe life back into arcades. It isn't anywhere close to being as groundbreaking as its older brother was before it. It does not innovate, and it does not experiment.
What Street Fighter IV is, is a success - a game that made me feel like I was a grade-schooler again, hammering the kick buttons so that Chun-Li would beat the crap out of some poor bystander's car. It's easy to pick up and intuitive to play, but it doesn't settle for mere accessibility - rather, it aims to teach button-mashers how to actually become good at the game via Trial Mode. It is an evolution of the genre rather than a revolution, a refinement of everything that made Street Fighter II great, touched up by calligraphic brush strokes and splotches of ink.
Is it flawed? Certainly - unlocking all the characters by playing through Arcade Mode can be somewhat tedious, especially if you just want to sit down with friends and play winner-stays-on for a while. The music is forgettable, some of the English voices are simply awful (though the option to change voices from English to Japanese on a per-character basis is certainly welcome), and the loading times before battles can occasionally be a few seconds too long. Honestly, though, these feel more like nitpicks than anything else.
Imperfect though it might be, this just makes Street Fighter IV a slightly flawed gem, nothing less. If there is any game that could bring the fighter back to the limelight, this is the one.
Street Fighter is back.
Bottom Line: A visual treat, very easy to pick up and play - and thanks to Trial Mode, making the leap from newbie to expert is (relatively) painless. Despite its flaws, it's a tremendous success, and one of the best fighting games we've seen in ages.
Recommendation: Did you grow up on Street Fighter II? Check it out. Do you like fighting games? Check it out. Do you think you might like fighting games? Check it out. Worth a rental at the very, very least - and for all the potential replay value, you might just want to go ahead and buy it.