Last year while visiting a retro barcade in downtown Los Angeles, I built up the courage to put a quarter down to reserve my turn on the Street Fighter II machine. It’d been a long time since I’d actively played the game, but I had a whole lot of fun trading blows with some of the bar’s other patrons that night.
To be honest, though, that is where Capcom’s legendary fighter exists for me at this point in life: as an occasional experience to be had in smaller, more casual bursts. There’s no downplaying what Street Fighter II meant to the world of gaming, from single-handedly establishing the fighting game genre to being an incredible hit both in arcades and at home (the entire reason I wanted a Super NES was because it was the sole place you could play the game at first). Still, fighting games have advanced by leaps and bounds over the years, and it’s really hard to go back to a lot of older releases that existed before some of the niceties of the modern era. Samurai Shodown II I’ll always be able to return to, but Street Fighter II has been tough at times.
Which is why, in part, I was skeptical of Ultra Street Fighter II: The Final Challengers. It seemed like a weird choice for a full retail Switch title, and after digging into my review copy, I still wasn’t sold. As yet another release of a game we first got in 1991, the basic features you’d expect—Arcade mode, local Versus, Training—have been paired up with a few notable additions. First off, two new character variants have been added since the game’s last iteration: Evil Ryu, who has shown up in a number of titles starting with Street Fighter Alpha 2, and Violent Ken, who exists because Capcom felt like I hadn’t been punished enough by players of regular Ken.
Two major new modes have arrived as well, starting with Buddy Battle, a new take on the “Dramatic Battle” idea where one or two players can team up to take on a CPU rival in a handicap fight. The other, Way of the Hado, is probably the most-touted inclusion—yet it’s also near worthless. In this totally new minigame that uses assets from Street Fighter IV, players use the Joy-Cons as motion controllers in first-person battles where certain hand movements will perform Ryu’s signature moves. Even if the motion tracking wasn’t chaotic and frustrating, the game itself gets old after mere minutes of playing. Way of the Hado is what you break out when you’re hanging out with friends, you’re all slightly tipsy, and you want something to provide a short burst of hilarity and embarrassment. (If that isn’t your current situation, then I wouldn’t even bother.) Finally, Ultra Street Fighter II includes a surprisingly nice gallery option that replicates the out-of-print Street Fighter Artworks: Supremacy, as well as a Color Edit option for giving the cast your own awesome (or hideous) new alt colors.
While it’s not a new feature per se, Ultra Street Fighter II does also include the Udon-crafted visuals that were produced for 2008’s Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix. Personally—and I mean no disrespect to the folks at Udon, who have done some artwork that I’ve loved—the upgraded visuals aren’t something I’d ever use, as they just look far too awkward for my tastes. (I stick to the original arcade visuals, which—like many retro games—are presented in their original 4:3 aspect ratio with borders on each side). Still, I’m never against players having more options than less, and I know that some out there will appreciate having the choice.
Modes and options only excite you for so long, however, and I was left somewhat soured at the idea of Ultra Street Fighter II pretty quick. I just wasn’t having fun with single-player arcade, soon returning me to my bafflement at Capcom for thinking that this release made sense. Still, before I reviewed it, I wanted to hop online and get some games in—something that was unavailable for the earlier reviews that hit, as the game’s servers weren’t online until days after embargo. I’m glad I did; playing online, and having some proper human competition in the game (in those matches where lag wasn’t a problem), Street Fighter II’s lasting qualities won me over once again. I won’t change my opinion on it being a fighting game whose time has mostly come and gone, but that simpler fighting style still offers some legitimate depth and strategy if you’re able to dig below its surface. Ultra Street Fighter II isn’t a game I’d break out on a regular basis—like I would Street Fighter V or other modern-era offerings—but I can see myself picking it up when I’m looking for something a little different, and finding some real enjoyment in doing so.
The downside, though, is that both options for proper multiplayer—online and off—each have their own limitations. The basics of what you need for versus play over the internet exist here, but I couldn’t help but wish things had been a bit more robust. After Street Fighter V’s data-intensive profiles, Ultra Street Fighter II is barren in comparison, and both Ranked and Casual Match modes give you enough to make games happen but not much more than that. Also, what’s up with Ranked Match? The standard for Street Fighter has long been best two-out-of-three, but here, you’ll always have the option to play three matches no matter who has already won what. Locally, the problem the game has overall becomes more pronounced: controllers. Using both Joy-Cons, I can get things done and reach a decent level of competitiveness, but I found myself wishing I had a proper controller or arcade stick the entire time. On the other hand, if your friend doesn’t have their own Switch and copy of the game, or you don’t have additional controllers on the ready, then it’ll be one Joy-Con per person—and, at that point, don’t expect to have any “real” matches.
The biggest problem with Ultra Street Fighter II hits on a subject we here at EGM tend to try to avoid when reviewing games: its price. Simply put, this is not a $40 experience. I was honestly wrong in how much enjoyment I thought I’d get from this release, and I’m legitimately glad that I now have it as an option to pick back up whenever I feel like it. Still, all of that should have come in an, at most, $19.99 digital download, not a higher-priced released getting into brand-new-game territory. If Capcom really wanted to go that route, this should have been like “Street Fighter Memories” or something, offering Super Street Fighter II Turbo bundled together with Street Fighter Alpha 3 and Street Fighter III: Third Strike. That would have given far better bang for the buck, and would have played better to the Switch’s “come together and play” strengths.
Whatever I may wish it had been, however, Ultra Street Fighter II: The Final Challengers can only be what it is, and that’s one of the most groundbreaking fighting games brought back in a package that’s sadly underwhelming and overpriced. If you’re a casual fan, this is a nice choice to have on your Switch when getting together with friends or jumping online, but you might find yourself wishing there was more. Meanwhile, if you’re a hardcore fighter fan, having a slightly upgraded and rebalanced version of Street Fighter II might be more than enough, but you still could be left frustrated at the current lack of controller options. Either way, you’re sure to have a great experience—but one that comes with one or more conditions attached.
I walked away from Ultra Street Fighter II: The Final Challengers surprised at how much fun I could still find in the game, even when playing on the less-than-adequate controls the Switch offers by default. Still, that enjoyment doesn’t change the fact that Capcom was off the mark on this release—we either should have received the game as a cheaper digital download, or as a more expansive collection.
T - Teen
|Ultra Street Fighter II: The Final Challengers is available on Nintendo Switch. Primary version played was for Switch. Product was provided by Capcom for the benefit of this coverage. EGM reviews on a scale of one to five stars.
Mollie got her start in games media via the crazy world of gaming fanzines, and now works at EGM with the goal of covering all of the weird Japanese and niche releases that nobody else on staff cares about. She’s active in the gaming community on a personal level, and an outspoken voice on topics such as equality in gaming, consumer rights, and good UI. Check her out on Twitter and Mastodon.