When I think of fighting games, I think of in-person competition, whether it takes place in a smoke-filled arcade or huddled around a TV. I don’t usually think of portable systems. But looking back over my history with Capcom’s fighting games, and Street Fighter in particular, I’ve always had a portable version kicking around for a quick on-the-go fix.
These include games like the surprisingly great Super Street Fighter II Turbo Revival for Game Boy Advance; a near-perfect version of Street Fighter 3 Alpha, scuppered only by the original PSP’s terrible D-pad; and the impressive 3DS port of Street Fighter IV that I played far more than anything else throughout that system’s troubled first year. One thing I never did was play any of these games with other people. Whether it was the need for link cables or that every player required their own system and copy of the game, setting up portable battles always seemed more trouble than it was worth.
This brings me to Ultra Street Fighter II for the Nintendo Switch. It’s roughly the 700th rerelease of Street Fighter II, but it offers something no other version ever has — the ability to take it with you and play it against other people without any fuss.
Ultra Street Fighter II takes the visual upgrade from Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, and applies it to a newly balanced version of the game. The precise tweaks will no doubt be litigated among the fighting game community for months or years to come, but overall the game is still Street Fighter II, and you really don’t need me to review Street Fighter II. It’s one of the most enduring video games ever created, and its base elements haven’t aged a day.
You can switch between the updated graphics and original sprites, as well as the remixed soundtrack and original tunes. The HD overhaul was controversial when it first appeared, and I’m not a huge fan myself — it’s a little too “Newgrounds Flash game” for my taste. But the new visuals seem to fit the Switch’s screen better than a big-screen TV, at least, and you don’t have to use them if you don’t want to.
The real advantage of Ultra Street Fighter II is its flexibility. You can play it on a TV, of course, or take it with you as with any other Switch game. When you take the Joy-Con controllers off the tablet, you have a ready-made multiplayer setup. Two-player Street Fighter has never been more portable.
It isn’t exactly perfect. The Joy-Con analog sticks are less than ideal for Street Fighter, making it more difficult than it ought to be to pull off basic quarter-circle motions. Also, the L and R shoulder buttons are a little too stiff unless you use the wrist strap attachments. But it works well enough, and the convenience makes it worth it. The controls are better than I expected in single-player mode, too — unlike with games like Shovel Knight, I found that the left Joy-Con’s face buttons work well enough as a makeshift D-pad for Street Fighter.
Ultra Street Fighter II also makes use of the Joy-Con for its only truly new material, a mini-game called Way of the Hado. This mode uses a first-person view and sees you holding a Joy-Con in each hand to perform classic moves like fireballs and dragon punches against successive waves of foes. It’s kind of fun, but it’s also kind of dumb; while the moves work fairly reliably, there’s really no depth to the game.
The lack of significant new content in Ultra Street Fighter II isn’t all that surprising — the game is over 25 years old. That does, however, make its $40 price a little hard to swallow. It’s a comprehensive version of the game with a legitimately unique selling point, but it feels like Capcom is pushing its luck a bit with the knowledge that Switch owners are desperate for new things to play. How many of them will have already bought Virtual Console versions of Street Fighter II for a quarter of the price?
Then again, Street Fighter II is a great fit for the versatility of the Switch, and there’s not much more you could ask for from this version beyond a lower entry fee. If that doesn’t prove too much of a barrier, Ultra Street Fighter II could be one of the more popular examples of the Switch’s standout feature yet.
Ultra Street Fighter II is available on Nintendo Switch on May 26th.