Street Fighter Identity Crisis

Posted: August 8, 2013

For the few who don’t know, I’m a big fan of Street Fighter 4, and fighting games in general this past few years. While it’s been a while since I’ve seriously practiced the game and really competed at my best it’s something I’ve been wanting to get back into.

I run and manage tournaments/events in the north east including Teesports, the major event I ran in 2012. We have a lot of people coming up for Teesports 2 and I’m very excited for it. Not only that, but I’m excited to start travelling out to more tournaments again and making another serious attempt to compete.

That said, most players that know me know of the tragic love-hate relationship I have with my ‘Main Character’ in Street Fighter 4, Blanka. Jimmy from the Jungle.

Now the misunderstood green jungle monster appeals to me no end. But the character by design has always had problems.

Blanka extensively crushes the weaker characters in the game. The characters that have holes and weaknesses to exploit are often very exploitable by Blanka. This includes T-hawk, Deejay and Gouken. Some of Jimmy’s strongest matches, where he has very clear advantages.

The problem comes from the characters who just play the game well. The characters with mechanics that exploit the system to its greatest potential. Or even just characters that have solid defensive games. These characters are the ones that make Blanka’s defensive and offensive flaws very obvious and that expose the character’s lack of real strengths when not given some kind of weakness to exploit. This includes characters like Seth, Cammy and Fei Long. Along with some of the defensive stalwarts like Honda and Balrog, who can merely play Blanka’s defensive game much better than he does, while also having safer offensive options.

As you might expect this causes quite a dilemma for the tournament player. The character excels at defeating the underused, lower tier characters in the game, and has decent match ups against most of the mid-range cast. But he is comprehensively crushed by the strongest characters in the game, the characters you need to be able to fight in a tournament. The problem is exasperated by the fact that Blanka has so many ‘extreme’ match ups. While most characters deal with 6-4s and 4-6s at worst, Blanka boasts the highest number of 7-3 and 3-7 match-ups out of any character in the game. This to me is a big indicator of inherently poor character design. He struggles to fit well into the game alongside the rest of the cast and either dominates or is dominated by a number of characters. It’s not as bad as I might be making it sound, but only with respect to the fact that the game on the whole is reasonably well balanced. Blanka however, feels like one of the worst designed characters in the cast from a tournament perspective.

I can’t claim to play the character to his maximum potential, but I am confident in my knowledge about the character and his options versus the rest of the cast. I know what I would need to improve about my game in order to perform better, but it’s the views I hold like the above which lead me to see Blanka’s potential as inherently limited. His role to me seems more and more as that of a ‘counter pick’ style character, that needs to be paired with a solid alt character in order for the player to succeed.

The question is who.

I’ve been playing a vast number of characters lately in an attempt to find someone that I might perform better with in the long run. While I don’t believe Blanka is the biggest problem in my play, I believe he is a significant long term problem that will only hinder me in the future. While there is a new version of SF4 in the works, I feel that Blanka’s core design will always inherently lend itself towards these kind of extreme match ups, and I want to offset this with someone more well rounded.

Here are the characters that after some time, currently sit at the top of my list as alts or replacements for Blanka.

Honda
Honda is seen by many as “Blanka done right.” and they’re not far off with that idea. He has great damage and a strong ground game often dominated by a single button. Cr.lp. All of his specials can be seen as stronger variants of Blanka’s tools, but in exchange he gives up the strong anti-fireball game that Blanka has. Honda feels like he could be a very strong replacement for Blanka but perhaps less suitable as a paired alt. Honda’s wake up game and reliance on charge gives him similar weaknesses to Blanka in important match-ups. But his similarity to Blanka with generally more well rounded and useful tools make him first in the running if I want to do away with Jimmy entirely.

Fei Long
Fei is a fundamentals monster and probably one of the most solid and ‘complete’ characters in the whole game. His buttons are great, his damage is great, Fei is great. No reliance on charge, a solid fadc-able reversal, decent match up against almost anyone in the cast, great normals and versatile specials make him an awesome choice for almost anybody. I would have a lot of execution to master if I wanted to pick up this character seriously though, including un-plinkable one framers. I also know a very strong Fei player that grinds me into dust on a regular basis. But while this might bias me into thinking Fei is the answer to everything, it’s hard to argue against his strength as a character.

Rose
Rose is a solid character whose great normals and strong anti-fireball game fits my playstyle really well. Her main weakness is already confirmed to have been addressed in USF4, which is the lack of full invincibility on EX Spiral. This alongside additional buffs makes picking up Rose seem like a very good long term investment. For the most part Rose has fairly easy combos and decent damage, but it’s normals like c.hp, cl.mk, and cr.mp that are most attractive. Having an airborne close normal which hops crouch techs like cl.mk is especially attractive. Rose has incredibly well designed normals and she’s straightforward to pick up and learn.

Ryu
The stalwart choice himself. Never really out of any match. And is good at more or less everything. There are no glaring holes in Ryu’s character design and that would certainly be a refreshing change. Ryu has all of the tools he needs to win pretty much any match-up, not the least of which is a three frame dragon punch. Being able to use your reversal anywhere on screen, without charge, as an almost infallible anti-air, to beat standard safe jumps, to land ultra and make it completely safe by spending bar is a totally alien concept to me. When I play Ryu I dragon punch or try to dragon punch almost anything I can think of out of sheer amazement at its versatility and strength as a move. Ryu will always be a solid character choice for anyone, anywhere.

Blanka
There are of course advantages to hanging on to Jimmy if only as an alt at least. I haven’t by any means played this character the best he can be played, and his underuse in the game, paired with nuances like his odd crouching hitbox and delayed wake up timing often give me competitive advantages over those who haven’t prepared for the match-up. The problem is this is kind of a temporary meta-game advantage that doesn’t help me as a player in the long run. As I said though, the character dominates some of the other underused characters in the game which makes having a solid Blanka a great option for dealing with these characters that I might otherwise be less familiar with. Having a powerful answer to wild cards like Deejay, Hawk, and Gouken is still a valuable resource, and blanka still contends very well against a lot of the middle tier.

Ultimately, all things considered it’s unlikely I’ll drop Blanka completely. But I seriously see it as in my interest to change main. I’ve never ultimately done this since SF4s release despite considering and claiming to swap to almost a dozen different characters.

Who knows what I’ll do, but I know for sure, Blanka will almost certainly never be solid. He’s just not designed that way.

-S