Fighting games have always been awkward—and a little sad—as portable experiences, like Rottweilers stuffed in sweaters. Touchscreen controls, you'd think, would be adding a bowtie. But Street Fighter IV iPhone is a poodle in a cardigan. It fits.
It's a gorgeous port of Street Fighter IV, from flaming dragon punches—when you can pull them off—to ultra moves, which retain the quick cut scene close-up as a prelude to beating the unholy crap out of your opponent, to the booming, overly enthusiastic announcer that no Capcom fighting game is complete without. If you remember the days of Mortal Kombat on the Game Boy, it's kind of awe-inspiring how richly they've translated the audio and visual experience, even if the framerates do get a little choppy on anything pre-3GS.
What's missing? A bunch of characters, namely. You get just seven and a half: Ryu/Ken, Guile, Bison, Axel, Dhalsim, Chun Li and Blanka. Where's Honda, or Zangief? Multiplayer is over Bluetooth only—no Wi-Fi, no online service to get your ass beat by Japanese dudes who can EX counter your every move, half a world away.
Oh yes, the controls. The make or break. You have a sparse selection of buttons, at first glance, just four onscreen, plus the virtual joystick: punch, kick, special attack (which can be used for fully automatic specials, or just be the button you tap after performing the full movement for EX specials), and saving, which is used for focus attacks and counters. What you didn't know is that the ultra and super meters are buttons themselves, which you can tap to unleash ultimate destruction, if your meter's filled. Truthfully, this layout is as good it could get. It works, and feels as natural as it possibly could, tapping on a piece of glass with no feedback as to whether you hit the right "button." You won't even notice all that much that you're covering a bunch of the screen with your meatnuggets, honest.
What's both shocking natural and at times utterly frustrating is the joystick. It's awesome and smooth when you want to do nothing in particular. Like jumping, or moving back and forth. But when you NEED to nail that dragon punch, it will fail you more often than not. If it's more complicated than a hadouken, you will not pull the maneuver off flawlessly ever single time. I guarantee you. (This, I suspect, is one reason Zangief, my main character, got ditched. I'd have a stroke trying to pile drive people.)
If you're using a notebook right now, I want you to make a dragon punch motion on the trackpad with your thumb. See how weird that feels? Also, notice how you have no feedback as to whether you actually swiped correctly? There's no precision. And nothing guiding you to be precise. So, if you're a skilled player, who expects to nail your god combos flawlessly, you'll be frustrated by the touchscreen controls, because it's not going to come out every time you want it to. In fact, the better you are at Street Fighter, and the more skillfully you try to play this, the more this game will piss you off.
But! If you're in their spamming fireball motions, jabbing at punch and kick trying to kick the shit out of somebody for fun, you will have a blast. It's real Street Fighter, in your pocket, and it looks, sounds, feels and just plain is awesome. [iTunes]