VICE contributor Andi Hamilton is a bit of a Street Fighter wizard. He emerged victorious at a recent event for the UK games media, making him the best British journalist at the game, by our reckoning. So VICE Gaming editor Mike Diver, who's just started playing Street Fighter V, exchanged a few emails with Andi in the hope of learning a few tricks for competitive play success.
Mike Diver: Historically, I've always been a Ken man, since Super Street Fighter II on the Mega Drive. Going online with V for the first time last night with him, though, I found myself in trouble against fighters who used Nash. Like, they could inflict massive damage to me in no time at all.
Is that just something that can happen in that particular match up? Or is there a killer Ken technique that I need to be taking into online play? Or, is he just the wrong character for a V beginner, altogether?
Andi Hamilton: One of the main design decisions with SFV is that every character is quite different from one another. That's why the roster features lads like Dhalsim and Zangief over more popular but way more standard characters like Akuma and Sagat. Because of this, they've completely changed Ken and the way he plays—he's no longer a "palette swap" of Ryu. So if you're trying to play him the way you're used to, you're going to encounter a few problems because you're simply not playing to the character's strengths. The community seems to think that Ken should be used at mid-range and use his dash, which is the best in the game, to move into range whenever he gets the opportunity.
So, if you're just getting started with V, I'd lean towards using Ryu. He's got way more in common with the older Street Fighter games you're more accustomed to and, not only that, he's really good. He doesn't have much immediately flashy stuff, but his fundamentals hit really, really hard and played with a little bit of knowledge and patience, can cause a lot of good players a load of problems.
The problem is that the game explains absolutely none of this, at all. So in lieu of a proper tutorial, I'd recommend checking out this video. It's an episode of The Excellent Adventures of Gootecks and Mike Ross, two veteran and highly skilled Street Fighter players who, for this episode, have WWE wrestler and video game YouTuber Xavier Woods as their guest. It's clear from the very beginning that he's simply not very good at the game, but it is fascinating to watch him, even over the space of that first half an hour, go from that to actually quite a solid player with even the smallest amount of coaching.
MD: I did notice that SFV begins with a very brief tutorial that takes you through some moves as Ryu. Are we back to him being the "hero" of the game, the character that Capcom really want players to be proficient with? Because I don't think he was regularly used in competition play for SFIV, was he?
AH: I think because he is the "hero" of all things Street Fighter, it makes sense to make him the character so reliant on being proficient with the basics, as new players will likely go for big man Ryu on their first go. He was used in competition in Street Fighter IV, but was kind of tossed to the side when Capcom brought in Evil Ryu. The biggest example of this was career Ryu player and Street Fighter legend Daigo Umehara (who just lost a match to Lupe Fiasco) making that jump to the dark side in the past few years. He's back to Ryu now in SFV, by the way.
MD: And, getting right back to basics, what essentials does the Ryu player need to learn in order to take themselves online, right now, and maybe steal a few wins? Special moves aren't going to win you many matches, are they?
AH: The reason why Ryu is so good for beginners is because he has a bit of everything. He has decent pokes—strikes that you use to jab away at your opponent from the very tip of their range—and a few anti-air options—strikes that will hit an opponent who is jumping in on you. He's also got special moves that cover a few different scenarios, and a couple of easy to do combos that you can use to punish your opponent when they leave themselves open—a missed Dragon Punch, for instance. A reliance on super technical combos is less of an issue in SFV, as knowing what buttons of yours are most effective in any situation and against a particular character, are way more important in this game.
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MD: So what does the newcomer, who's using Ryu and been practicing a bit with him, need to look for in the behavior of opponents? As that's half the game here, isn't it, reading the other player's intentions?
AH: You need to look for tendencies. Some newer players do things like always throwing a Dragon Punch on wake up—in other words, when they get up off the floor. So you can walk up to them to bait that out, block then watch them fly straight past you. Or, if they jump a lot, as jumping is very bad. Seriously, don't jump too much. And yes, half the game is knowing the match up and implementing the best possible strategy based on it.
MD: I know you're a Dhalsim player—are you sticking with him for SFV?
AH: Yeah, I play as Dhalsim, and if I get matched up against a Zangief then my entire plan their is to keep him as far away from me as possible. If I do it well and don't screw up, it's a fairly easy match for Dhalsim. However, 'Gief hits so hard that I get maybe three mistakes. Three good combos from the big man and I'm dead.
I'm also looking at playing as Vega and Necalli for SFV. Vega is really, really good now they've made him a motion character instead of a charge character; and Necalli is currently acting as a surrogate for Alex, who was my guy in 3rd Strike, who is being added to this game in March. They've got similar tools—a command grab, a charge dash move, an anti-air Dragon Punch thing. I'm treading water a bit until Alex shows up.
MD: For total beginners, can you explain the difference between a motion character, and a charge character? Which do you think is the easier type to pick up and really get ahead with?
AH: A motion character uses the traditional Hadoken-style directional inputs to perform special moves, like Ryu and Ken, whereas a charge character has to hold a direction first, effectively "charging" it up, then push the opposite direction and a button to perform a move. The archetypal charge character is Guile in Street Fighter II, IV, and soon to be V. Remember: never jump at a crouching Guile. That's because he's sat there holding down-back, which means he can push forward and punch to give you a Sonic Boom or up and kick to give you the old Flash Kick. Which is easiest? Honestly, it is personal preference, but some of their bigger combos require you to be charging a direction during another move, and that takes a bit of getting used to, so I'd say motion, for sure.
MD: Okay, so what would be your premier tips for coming to SFV cold, so that absolute, no-previous-experience newcomers can earn a win or three? Give me, I suppose, a five-point checklist for getting that all-important head start at SFV?
AH: Sure, here are five pieces of advice:
One, jump less. I guarantee you this is the top of most Street Fighter tips guides all over the internet. Basically, when you jump, all you can do is throw out an attack and if your opponent has that scouted, you're in a world of trouble. Jumping leaves you incredibly vulnerable and by reeling it in you'll instantly see results.
Two, learn your buttons. Learn what sort of attack each button throws out. Whether it hits an opponent jumping in or whether it has quite a bit of range on it. Street Fighter V relies quite a bit on "footsies," which is two characters trying to hit one another with the absolute tip of an attack, so they can then quickly follow it up with something else, so learning what sort of range and space you get from each button is key. After all, it's easier to react with a button press than a special move. That's something that'll come with practice.
Thirdly, watch some videos. For a game so designed around attracting new players, there is absolutely nothing in it explaining what exactly does what. Training mode is fine once you actually know what you're doing, but there's nothing explaining even the basics of combos or even special moves in SFV. I highly recommend Bafael's BnB tutorials for SFV. He shows you a few basic options for each character, then a couple of simple combos you can use against your opponents. If something like this were in the game, it'd be a revelation. For now, you'll have to do your learning elsewhere.
This is an obvious point maybe, but it's important: remember to block. If you press buttons, you'll get hit. If you block, you won't. It's dead easy. If you knock an opponent over and hit them easily when they're getting up, without fail, it's because they're pushing a button. If they just blocked, they'd be fine. Obviously you could throw them, but that's part of the mind games involved in Street Fighter. In SFV every strike, move, and throw has to be committed to, and leaves you open for big punishes. So don't mash buttons—just block.
Finally, practice, practice, practice. Yes, I'm aware that drilling Ryu's crouching medium kick into a hadoken is dryballs as fuck, but all practice is good and you're building that muscle memory so that when the split-second opportunity for a particular move or combo appears in a real match, you'll hit it no problem. Drill stuff from both sides of the screen, do it ten times without screwing it up. Soon, you'll be the next Daigo.
MD: More critically, as someone with fireballs in his blood, what do you think of the game? It's not "all" out yet, of course—there's more characters and content to come. But it's a pretty damn slick fighter, isn't it? What little time I've spent with it so far, across expo sessions and a few nights at home, has been great.
AH: I was at a local multiplayer session last night, playing endless games against a load of ridiculously skilled players at Situational Damage in London. In that setting, it is an untouchable fighting game. Unfortunately, that's not something that everyone is going to do and right now, on launch day, the servers are—surprise!—completely ballsacked. They're dropping games all the time, and Battle Lounges barely work at all. It's a mess. The offline content is basically non-existent and although this is all promised in an update next month, I fear it might be too late for newcomers to the game who are put off by this somewhat botched launch. It's very hard to defend the lack of really obvious stuff currently available—you can't even play two rounds against the CPU or invite more than one person into an online game right now. Saying that, the game is grand and, for what it's worth, there's a real chance that this will be a fixture of the gaming landscape for the next five years and more, like SFIV was. With that in mind, what's a month? It's great now, and hopefully only going to get better and better.