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Thursday
Nov132008

Street Fighter HD Remix: Balrog

Balrog is generally considered to be tied for the best character in Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo (ST). Pretty much everyone ranks Balrog and Dhalsim as top, with some Americans adding in Old Sagat, some Japanese adding in Vega, and a few people claiming Chun Li. But there’s not much debate about Balrog (or Dhalsim) being top.

The knee-jerk reaction is to nerf, nerf, nerf (that’s internet-speak for “reducing the power level” of something). I want to leave the top characters top, so it’s been quite a test of willpower to avoid bringing down the hammer on Balrog.

Before you read the actual nerfs, I’d like you to consider what might have happened. By far the most common suggestion for Balrog was to reduce his overall damage by about 20%. Almost everyone who said anything about Balrog said this. But reducing the overall damage of a character by 20% is mostly just another way of making him 20% worse, and does nothing to remove the tactics we’d like to tone down. So the good news for Balrog players is that he still does a whole lot of damage and is not a 20% worse Balrog.

Throw Loops

After Balrog’s headbutt hold, he can do a mixup where he either walks under the opponent (to get on the other side) or not walk under and say on the same side. He can threaten to do a low roundhouse from either side, resulting in a knockdown. This part is fine. He can also do a low forward or low strong and then attempt another throw, resulting in a loop. This part is too abuseable.

As with Ken, it was a tough decision, but I think it’s more fun if Balrog gets to keep his mixup, yet loses the power of a repeatable loop. His low strong, throw, low strong, throw sequence could be done from literally so far away that some characters cannot counter throw. The change is that Balrog’s throw range is now shorter, and the first hit of the hold does less damage. The walk-under tricks still work, as do the throw tricks after whiffing a short dashing punch, but if you want to attempt a throw loop, you a) have to be close enough that your opponent might counterthrow and b) deal less damage when you successfully do it. Balrog’s relentless offense is so good that a slightly worse throw game should leave him plenty powerful.

Safe Attack, Safe Attack

Another problem with Balrog is this sequence: low rushing punch, then jab headbutt. The low rushing punch is fast, damaging, must be blocked low, and is safe on block. The command for the move leaves him charged to immediately do a Buffalo Headbutt. So not only can you not hit back the low rushing punch on block, but if you even try, you will probably get hit by the headbutt (it’s an invulnerable startup move, somewhat like a Dragon Punch). If you block the headbutt, it too is safe on block. And to make matters worse, he gets a huge amount of super meter for doing that sequence. And to make matters worse than that, he has the best super move in the game. Something has to give!

I thought for a very long time about removing the ability to charge for a headbutt right after a low rushing punch (or some method of making sure you couldn’t do those two moves right in a row). In the end, I have to say that the fun-factor of that sequence is good, and the problem is the safe-on-block jab headbutt. This feeling was corroborated when I asked multiple-time tournament champion and Balrog player Graham Wolfe what the most abuseable Balrog thing is. His answer, “Safe jab headbutt…and Daigo said so too.” (Note to Daigo: If you never really said that, I hold Graham Wolfe responsible!).

The jab headbutt now has more recovery and can sometimes be hit back on block. It actually ended up not that much different from ST though. To keep things in line, the strong headbutt also has worse recovery (and can now go through fireballs), but the fierce headbutt is not changed. All three headbutts also generate less super meter, and the first few levels of the turnaround punch also generate less super meter. Note that all the rushing punches generate just as much super meter as ever though. So when you do low rushes (Balrog’s bread and butter), you have the same priority, same speed, same damage, and same super meter gains as ever.

Super

Balrog’s super is probably the best in the game in ST. It’s high priority, full screen range, goes through fireballs, and is safe on block almost all the time (except notably against Zangief). In HD Remix, I tinkered with it several times to make it worse in various ways, but in the end I reverted all those changes except one: it now does about 50% damage rather than 60%, putting it in line with most other supers in the game in HD Remix.

Turn Around Punch

To be consistent with the rest of the game, this move can now be performed by pressing and releasing just two punches or two kicks, rather than three. I don’t want to allow Balrog to access fierce and roundhouse while he charges turn punches though, so here’s how that works. While you are holding two punches (or two kicks) to charge the turn around punch, you CAN press the third punch (or kick) and get it to work. But once you’ve held the buttons long enough that you’re actually charged for a turn around punch, pressing the third button will do nothing at all.

You don’t really need to grasp that though. The point is that you can either do the move the same way as always with three buttons, or just use two, but no one can really exploit this by charging up a final-punch while doing fierces and roundhouses at the same time.

The New Move That Didn't Happen

Every character in the game got at least something in HD Remix. I gave Dhalsim a mostly-useless new upflame (and made the control motion easier to do) as way of giving him something, even though he is such a top character. For Balrog, at one point I planned a "cross-counter" move like Dudley's in Street Fighter 3. This would make him totally vulnerable to low attacks or throws, but if you hit him out of it any other way, he automatically attacks you. Another idea was to make the turn around punch with the kick buttons have different properies. I thought about making it so holding the kick buttons would immediately make it so Balrog did his (vulnerable) turn around pose, as opposed releaseing the buttons triggering that. So holding the kick buttons has the drawback of locking you in place, but has some advantage such as giving you a higher level turn around punch than you'd usually get for how long you charged.

Anyway, I didn't get a chance to implement these for schedule reasons. You might wonder how that's possible because the game was delayed so long because of the art, the programmer who would have been able to implement those things was put on another project, so I had no resources to make it happen. And even if I did have the resources, I'm not sure if it would have panned out anyway because those ideas are fairly powerful and Balrog is very good already. You'll have to settle for the top character being mostly the same as last time around.

Conclusion

In closing, Balrog remains incredibly powerful. His throw game is barely weaker, but his throw tricks are still intact. His ability to generate super is a little worse, but the power of his super is still intact. His general ability to rush you down is also intact, as is his high damage, so I expect him to remain near the top.

–Sirlin