Capcom was notorious in the 90's for releasing small updates to their fighting games in rather rapid succession. There would be some balance changes, a few more characters, and arcade managers would get charged full-price for software and hardware updates. The same is true for Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition (referred to as SSF4AE). While dead pretty much elsewhere in the world, arcades have thrived in Japan, and Capcom saw money to be made by first only producing arcade cabinets of SSF4AE and then offering it as DLC and later as a limited-run disc. But this isn't about their business practices. This review is on the game itself.
1. Is SSF4AE worth buying?
If you are competitive at all, yes, you almost have to buy this game. If you don't frequent sites like shoryuken or play in tournaments, then you probably aren't going to appreciate some of the smaller nuances of SSF4AE. The game features a complete re-balance of old characters, with four new characters, which doesn't seem like much when you take into account SSF4 had 35. Again, if you aren't into competitive street fighter, skip arcade edition, unless Yun, Yang, Evil Ryu, or Oni appeal to you that much. With a price-tag of $40, it doesn't make much sense to pick this up unless you are a tournament organizer or don't have internet access where you play. As mentioned in another review, SSF4 can be bought online for ~$15 and the DLC costs about another $15. Tournament organizers will want this because quite frankly making sure every set-up has the proper DLC on the ready is a hassle. Having the disc is more convenient as well if you ever want to play the game on someone else's system without having to log in to your account and download it onto their machine.
2. What about the new characters?
I. Yun is considered widely as the second best or best character in the game. His learning curve on combos is not steep at all, however learning spacing might be beyond you those first few weeks. He is highly mobile and his air-to-ground dive-kick leads to big, easy damage if spaced well. Many of his special moves are unpunishable if spaced correctly and he is generally a pretty safe character when you take into account how agile he is. His super, genei jin is arguably the most fun super in any Street Fighter game ever behind Urien's aegis reflector. Yun has a fat sack of advantages over most of the cast, and although you will inevitably be labeled a tierwhore for using him, he is a lot of fun.
II. Yang is Yun's twin in Street Fighter canon, and he plays like him to an extent. His normal moves are for the most part worse than his brother's. At face value, he seems to a lot like Yun, but he really is his own character. He is top tier as well, though not Fei or Yun level. He is highly mobile and has a lot of safe options to keep the opponent pinned down by constant pressure, complemented by a divekick (although worse than yuns as it has a height restriction).
III. Evil Ryu is a worse Akuma with a few Ryu-esque tricks. The general consensus seems to be Akuma is better than Evil Ryu, but Evil Ryu is better than Ryu (who was nerfed this version). It really might be too early to tell, since Evil Ryu was on a timed-release in even Japanese arcades. There have been a few Evil Ryus on the tournament scene, and most recently Justin Wong (a top player) was eliminated from NCR 9 by an Evil Ryu player.
IV. Oni is unique. His normals are fantastic. His forward fierce nullifies fireballs and has good range and a good hitbox. His sweep has an oddly long recovery time for technically being Akuma, but his pokes are safeish and his links are pretty simple. I don't want to put my foot in my mouth, since Oni was released even later than Evil Ryu in arcades and AE has only been available a few weeks now, but Oni seems to be just OK. It's clear he has potential, but his awful fireball game and un-FADC-able shoryuken, and the fact that he plays kinda like gouken (who was a relatively hard character to use well to begin with) but with good normals, makes the future look bleak for Oni.
3. How about that balance?
Well, there is some pretty major stuff that changed from Super to Arcade Edition. To give you an idea, look at the top 10 from SSF4 compared to Arcade Edition:
SSF4- Akuma, Fei-Long, Guile, Cammy, Chun-Li, Dictator, Boxer, E. Honda, Abel, Ryu
SSF4AE - Fei Long, Yun, Yang, Gouki/Akuma, C.Viper, Ken, Sagat, Cammy, Makoto, Zangief
The SSF4 list was taken from iplaywinner.com and the AE list was decided by Daigo, Mago, and Tokido- three of Japan's top players (who use Yun/Fei/Akuma, respectively). Akuma got slight tweaks and is still a strong character as he has been in every incarnation of the game. Fei-Long got better while mostly everyone else in the top 10 was nerfed or left mostly the same. Guile was beaten up with the nerf-stick. He was a defensive character before and as you can see, the top 6 in AE are all highly offensive characters, making his job even worse. He gains less meter on his sonic booms, his most important normals are now average, and his flashkick is as unsafe as ever. Cammy and Chun were nerfed somewhat, but Chun is probably number 14 or 15 in AE. Much is the same for Dictator and Balrog. E. Honda was made much worse in AE, although the Honda specialist Mike Ross recently placed top 16 at Shadowloo Showdown 2011. Tier lists should be taken with a grain of salt. If you have the skill, YOU are top tier. At SS 2011, Poongko, the machine from Korea, placed 1st with Seth, who has never been considered "top tier." A Sakura player (Uryo) also placed top 16, and Sakura has been considered pretty bad for quite a long time now. But this still doesn't change the fact that characters like E. Honda, Ryu, Dhalsim, Guile, Rose, Abel, took a big hit in Arcade Edition. One of the rags to riches story in AE is that of Makoto, who was considered the 3rd or 4th worst character in the game and is now number 9 on the list. Almost all subpar characters received buffs, though some buffs haven't done very much for those characters. Many on the competitive circuit are criticizing these changes as ineffective or nonsensical. And in the case of Fei Long, Dhalsim, Gouken, Hakan, etc I agree. Fei Long is absurdly strong in this game, Dhalsim was made practically unusable, and Gouken/Hakan are still pretty bad.
4. You mention a lot about competitive Street Fighter, where can I find more information?
Shoryuken.com is a great place to start.