This will be a constant work in progress as I’m sure I’ll keep thinking of things to add, alter, or remove as I spend more time with the game. I’m not going to focus in on individual characters here, but rather sound tips for people who are either new to the Street Fighter series or for those that need a general refresher. I’ll divide everything up into three sections: Starting Out, Ready for More, and Getting Competitive. If you have anything to add to this guide, please post it in the comments or email me at jar155 [at] gmail.com. I’m all for keeping this an open discussion of tactics and observations. As time goes on I hope to add in images and videos to illustrate moves, strategies, and some of the more abstract concepts.
Hopefully some of this is useful…
Starting Out – Your First Steps in Street Fighter IV
If you’re new to Street Fighter, or if it’s been a long time since you’ve played, try to focus in on one or two characters at first, in much the same way you’d learn a few game-types in Halo or Call of Duty. If you’ve played other fighting games and you already have a style, do a little research to see what character fits your groove, so to speak. Many newcomers are drawn to the “Shotos” (Ryu, Ken, Akuma) in Street Fighter due to the simplicity of their moves and their flexibility, but don’t force yourself into playing with them until you’ve tried out the rest of the field.
Once you’ve selected the fighter you want to focus in on, it’s time to practice. In fact, you’re not going to get anywhere unless you’re willing to spend hours exploring the ins and outs of your character’s moves, matchup advantages/disadvantages, combos, and quirks. Play through the game multiple times in the single player mode on varying degrees of difficultly, spend time perfecting moves in the training mode, and start playing some matches online. For best results online, set your matchmaking options to look for similarly skilled players.
Don’t get discouraged! When you first start playing online, there’s a good chance that you’re going to take a beating. Instead of writing the situation off as hopeless, look closely at what is going on in your matches and why you’re taking so much damage. Does it seem like the same move keeps working on you? Are you relying too much on a move that worked well on the computer but not so much on human players? Do you keep finding yourself getting backed into corners or constantly getting thrown? All of these are symptoms that you’re too limited in your grasp of the battle system and how to react to an opponent’s moves. What you need is a primer on the basic battle system.
Basic Commands and Moves
If you can’t block your opponent attacks, you’ll be sent packing quickly. To guard from an enemy attack, simply hold the opposite direction that you’re facing. For overhead attacks, hold directly back on the stick/d-pad. For low attacks, you need to hold down and away. Some attacks can be blocked either way, but none of these will come from the air (all high blocks). Be careful, while blocking, you can still be thrown and you still take small amounts of damage from certain types of attacks. Experienced fighters know how to chip away at players that block too much.
Each character has three types of punches and three types of kicks. They are officially known as Jab, Strong, and Fierce for punches and Short, Forward, and Roundhouse for kicks. However, they are more commonly referred to as Light, Medium, and Hard or Heavy. Abbreviations for these in most guides you’ll come across for punches will be LP, MP, HP for punches and LK, MK, HK for kicks. I will use the same abbreviations.
To throw your oppenent, you press either toward or away from your enemy (at very close range) and press LK + LP. The direction you press on the stick will determine the type of throw. For Ryu, press toward the enemy throws them away from you in a forward fashion while pressing away will flip them behind you. If you’re more comfortable on a certain side of the screen, or if you want to get out of a corner, throwing the opponent to the opposite side can be a good strategy.
Special moves are performed by a combination of directional inputs and/or button presses. Learning these is vital for mastering any character. Some of these moves help you attack more aggressively while others can improve a defensive strategy. Moves like Ryu’s Hadoken (fireball) force players to either block and absorb a little damage or to jump, which can possibly leave them open for different types of attacks. Use special moves to discover what sort of setups your can force your enemies into and to probe out what sort of weaknesses your opponent might have in their defensive strategy.
Now that you have basic understanding of the controls, it’s time to apply some strategy to your command inputs.
As you play Street Fighter IV, you have to remember that all of your moves should be deliberate. It’s easy to get caught up in a fast-paced fight and just go wild on the buttons in an attempt to drive your opponent to the corner. This will probably work with the computer on lower difficulties, but an average Street Fighter player should be able to counter any sort of unplanned attack. Always think about how your current move can set up your next move. If you’re going to execute a special move, you should think about how you’re going to deal with whatever reaction it draws from your opponent. Here are a few things to keep in mind.
Many characters, especially the Shotokans (Ryu, Ken, etc.) have strong anti-air attacks that you’re helpless against when airborn. DO NOT ever jump at a standing Shoto that’s being controlled by an experienced player. Doing so will just get you knocked out of the sky. If you’re going to jump at a Shoto (or someone like Guile that also has anti-air attacks), make sure that you do so after they’ve been dizzied or knocked down. In fact, any time a character gets knocked down is a good time to jump at them, and I’ll explain why.
Crossing-Up is a very basic attack strategy that beginners can use effectively even against seasoned veterans. The basic idea of the cross-up is that you leap at your opponent and execute a move at a location where they’re not sure what direction your attack will hit from. The classic execution of a cross-up is to jump at a character as they’re standing up, do a jump kick late in your approach so that you’re directly overhead or slightly beyond them, and then watch as they try to guess whether the hit is coming from the front or back. If they chose wrong, you get a free hit which can often lead into a second or third hit as part of a combo. If you get good at crossing people up, you’ll be much more dangerous.
Don’t constantly rely on HP and HK attacks! Yes, the HK and HP are your most powerful normal attacks, but they’re also slower and most often have a lower priority hit rate. What this means is that if you attack with a HP at the same time as your opponent uses a LP attack, he’s going to deal the damage and possibly lead into a combo because his attack will take less time to execute. When coming in to attack through the air, using lighter attacks will often net you more successful strikes than your heavy attacks due to the game rewarding speed over power. This isn’t obviously a 100% rule, but the basic lesson is that light, medium, and heavy attacks all have their proper time and place, and you shouldn’t be limiting yourself to heavy attacks all the time.
Learn when it’s the right time to use a heavy special move versus a medium or light special move. This is very similar to what I said above, but when you execute a special move, doing the light, medium, or heavy variant alters the attack significantly. If you’re doing a Dragon Punch with Ken, for example, using the HP will make you go higher and more forward on your attack. You can also score multiple hits with the HP. However, if you miss, your recovery time is much longer, which can leave you open for counterattack opportunities, throws, and even Super/Ultra moves. Also, projectiles travel at different speeds, so varying up the H, M, L speeds can often trick your opponent into miscalculating their jumps and it can either score you a projectile hit or allow you to close in while they are in the air.
Exploit moments when your opponent is in a recovery mode. Advanced players will count frames or know about crazy things about block and stun reversals, but as you’re just getting your feet wet you should know at least when to counterattack. If your opponent misses with a special move, you have a free moment where you can attack as they recover. Remember, special moves with an HP or HK provide longer recovery windows. If you block an attack that brings your opponent toward you (such as Vega’s rolling attack), you can get an easy throw at the end of their attack.
This isn’t really a strategy, but it’s what I feel is good advice. Consider picking up an arcade stick or a dedicated fighter pad. Arcade sticks are best, as you can quite easily hit multiple buttons at once and your inputs with the stick will be far more accurate than a directional pad (with practice), but some of the dedicated six-button controllers out there are quite nice as well. If you plan on dedicating some serious time to this or any of the fighters out, you’ll be happy you put down the cash for a stick. I use the Hori EX2.
Ready for More
If you get a solid grasp on everything I mentioned above, you’re probably breezing your way through Arcade mode on medium difficulty and able to grit your way through the harder modes. When you jump online, you’re probably able to hold your own well enough to have fun, but your win/loss record isn’t anything worth bragging about. By now you should have a clear favorite character to use and a good secondary character. You know how to execute Super and Ultra attacks, and you’re getting a feel for what matchups are favorable and which ones are difficult for your preferred fighters. You’re now feeling ready to explore the deeper aspects of the fighting engine.
Putting EX Moves to Good Use
EX Moves are more powerful versions of special attacks. You can perform an EX move when your super gauge fills up enough to offset the cost of the given move. Some EX moves can cost one bar, others more. Not all moves have an EX “upgrade”, but you’ll quickly discover which moves are with your preferred character. With Ryu, his fireball attack has an EX variant. If you’re playing with Ryu, you can do the EX version of his fireball by doing the same directional input as a typical fireball, but instead of one punch button, you press two at the same time. Rather than the standard blue fireball, you’ll get a red ball which is larger and accounts for two hits.
You can use the EX moves in a variety of ways aside from just inflicting extra damage. Since EX moves can account for more than one hit, your opponent has to deal with them in a different manner. With Ryu’s fireball, if it’s met with another projectile it will pass on through it (absorbing one of its two hits) and continue on, forcing the opponent to either block or jump to avoid damage. Many times if they throw a projectile against your EX fireball, your attack will connect because it will arrive as they’re recovering from their special move. Other characters, like Zangief, have their EX moves tied to a rush motion. When Zangief charges, a fireball will not stop him, as the EX move allows him to absorb the first hit and continue forward. This is an excellent way for a Zangief player to close in quickly on a character like Ken or Ryu without fear of getting hit with a fireball.
Many EX moves will not only do more damage, but they’ll also score you a knockdown on your enemy. This opens up an opportunity to get near your opponent if you’re using a player like Zangief or Rufus where being close plays into your advantage, or it gives you the chance to cross-up your opponent as they recover from your attack. Think of EX moves as a setup move, not just as a stronger than average attack.
As much as you deal out EX attacks, you’re going to have to deal with them coming at you. Knowing that experienced users will use these as setup tools just as often as attacks, you’re going to need to know how to deal with them. If your opponent is using EX attacks that cause their character to charge, like Zangief’s charge/grab move, you can’t stop him with one hit, so your options are to either use an EX move that dose a double hit (Ryu’s EX fireball), or to leap over the opponent. You will NOT be ok trying to leg sweep this sort of move, and you definitely can’t stop it with a single projectile. Other moves will come at you in different ways, so make sure you get familiar with the type of EX moves that will be coming at you and know beforehand how you’ll deal with each character’s attack.
Using Focus Attacks Properly
A new addition to the fighting engine in Street Fighter IV Is the Focus Attack. This is an easy to use move, but using it correctly takes practice and recognition of your circumstances. On the surface, these attacks look like a way to deal extra damage with a single blow, but they actually provide some deeper strategy than that. Focus Attacks have three levels of power associated with them, depending on how long you charge the move. To do a Focus Attack, you hold the MP and MK buttons at the same time, and release it to execute the move.
The length of time that you charge your Focus Attack determines whether it’s a level 1, 2, or 3 move. If you release the MP and MK buttons immediately after pressing them, your character will do a very short charge animation and launch a weak attack. Holding the combo of buttons until your character flashes (roughly 1 second) and releasing will unleash a medium attack, and give you a chance to segue into a full combo. Holding the button combo until your character flashes yellow (a little over 2 seconds) will unleash the heavy attack, which is unblockable. You don’t need to release the button as when the Focus is fully charged it will execute on its own. You’ll also be able to combo your enemy after the fully charged attack.
As you charge up your Focus Attack, you’ll be able to absorb one hit. You take damage, but you will recover that damage if you avoid getting hit again for a short time period. This allows you to draw your opponent in, take the hit, and then unleash your attack. You need to be careful, however, because a smart opponent can quickly hit you twice with LP or LK attacks. Use this ability to absorb a hit to get your charge level up high enough where you can use the Focus Attacks to lead into combos.
Use the Focus Attack to put your opponent into the crumpled state. An opponent that is in the crumpled state (knockdown that lasts a while) is very vulnerable to combo and Ultra Combo attacks. If you have an Ultra move banked and ready to go and you are looking for the right time to unleash your character’s Ultra Combo, dropping them with a Focus Attack will buy you time to set things up.
There are more things that can be done with the Focus Attacks to take your game to the next level, but we’ll save them for the Getting Competitive section.
Counter Throwing and Quick Recovery
Getting thrown in Street Fighter IV is something that can be much less of a problem if you know how to tech out of the throw. Right as the character attempts the throw on you, press the LK and LP buttons simultaneously.If you time it correctly, you’ll tech out of your opponent’s throw. You will learn when to anticipate throws with the more you play, so your timing on this move will be better and better with time.
You can recover quickly from a knock down by executing a quick recovery. When you get knocked down, tap down on the directional input the moment before your character hits the ground. If done correctly, you’ll be back on your feet much faster than normal. Doing this will allow you to get back into a defensive position faster and help you avoid getting crossed-up as often. You can’t use this move on throws or on attacks that will either leave you dizzy or crumpled.
By now you’re probably pretty dangerous online and you’re well-versed on your main character’s combos, strengths, and despite knowing what characters have strategical advantages over your character, you don’t worry about any matchups too much. Still, you keep running into a handful of players online that seem to be one step faster than you or they’re doing things that you’re not quite sure how they’re being done. These opponents are doing crazy stuff like counting frames, using dash cancels, and the like. Here’s a peek into what you need to learn to step up to their level.
Focus Attack Dash Canceling Into Combos