Let me start by saying that my love of Street Fighter 2 Championship Edition comes not from the perspective of an aficionado, or someone paid to study each nuanced piece of minutia that comes out about a game as it makes its way from concept to arcade.
My experience with Street Fighter 2 CE was born entirely in my time first hanging out at arcades and then running one in the 90s in Maryland. I loved the game so much that my time spent playing it is what likely lead to me being fired from the job. I slathered more attention on our big-screen SF2 box than I did every other machine in the place, combined. I regularly replaced the cherry switches and springs on a weekly basis.
But I couldn't have told you who the game's producer was, what sort of lore was buried in the creating of such an indelible franchise or how they came about with the idea of the characters in the game.
That being said, read on.
The first thing I noticed when I saw the game, was the 2.5D effect of the graphics. Described on paper, it sounds immensely off-putting, but in action it manages to pull Street Fighter into the modern age without sullying the gameplay at all. This is done by essentially making both the background and characters 3D but forcing the characters to move on a 2D plane. What you're left with is the best of both worlds.
More importantly, the game's look seems to have returned to its origins. Sure the graphics pop, really pop, but they're very reminiscent of II and not as SNKey as I felt Street Fighter III had become. I know, blaspheme.
While the controls haven't entirely returned to the grandeur of Street Fighter II, they have mostly returned. The same can be said of the attacks. Sure you have to still use two buttons to throw (so annoying) and taunt (so unnecessary) and there are revenge, super and ultra moves, but at it's heart this is a game that strips away the unessentials and returns to what made the Street Fighter franchise so addictive: Timing.
This isn't just my opinion. When I spoke with producer Yoshinori Ono he said that there was a concerted effort to refocus the franchise with this title. Street Fighter had become too filled with moves and had lost its way, he essentially said. What the game was always about was timing, much like real martial arts, not flashy moves.
Playing the game, after years spent ignoring the increasingly annoying character-driven Street Fighter III spin-offs, was like returning to a childhood home to find that it was, in fact, larger, not smaller than you had remembered it.
The game's timing, which plays at about the speed of Street Fighter II Turbo, has been tweaked, deliberately, and I believe the hit boxes (which invisible surround the characters) shrunk, but that just gives me an excuse to relearn the game. There also seems to be a slightly longer delay after pulling off a move, or whiffing one.
In fact, I can honestly say that the only thing about this early build of Street Fighter IV that disappoints me, so far, is that it probably won't be showing up in arcades across America and that's because there aren't arcades across America anymore.