Street Fighter 6 could be the game that expands the audience further than ever with impressive mechanics that feel like an amalgam of all that came before.
Street Fighter 6 is everything I’ve wanted from a fighting game, even as a casual fan of the genre. Sure, I love throwing down as Scorpion, Kazuya, et al, but Street Fighter as a franchise has always felt so geared toward competitive play that my brief stint on Street Fighter 4 was an exercise in futility – like trying to punch through a rock.
And yet, after just a short period of time playing Street Fighter 6, I may have become a true believer. It’s no longer a franchise I know through its characters – within an hour I was building strategies, layering mechanics, and delving more into the genre than I ever have before.
Back to the streets
Ever since the first reveal of Street Fighter 6, the game’s art style has been seared into the minds of players. Eschewing the cartoonish look of prior games, there’s a bizarre realism to everything except the character models.
Perhaps most surprisingly, though, it works – every fighter (particularly male characters like Ryu and Luke) is absolutely jacked, with biceps the size of cars and thighs to match. Whichever character you play (I had eight to choose from), animations are incredibly fluid.
That, combined with backgrounds that range from the iconic aircraft carrier to neon-drenched back alleys, make the game look absolutely gorgeous in motion. The smart injection of graffiti-style colors the fly out from Drive Impact attacks (more on those shortly) make it feel like something all its own, to the point where screenshots simply don’t do it justice.
Nowhere is that felt more than with agile debutant Kimberly, who, despite the stealth-focused origins of her ninjutsu fighting style, is full of vibrancy. From a paint can projectile, to the ability to bounce around the screen, she’s full of character and makes a strong first impression with somersaults, rush-down attacks, and flashy special moves.
Go for a Drive
If you’ve come to this Street Fighter 6 preview looking for all the Shoryukens, Hadoukens, and, well, all the other iconic moves, then I’m pleased to tell you that they’re all present and accounted for. Beneath those classic quarter-circle inputs, though, there’s something very impressive indeed.
Street Fighter 6’s Drive system feels like a refinement of everything added in the last few iterations, each one folded into the last to form a whole that’s not only more than the sum of its parts, but the most fun I’ve had in a fighter in years.
Players have to manage a new Drive gauge, with an array of special attacks lopping off varying parts of the bar beneath your fighter’s health. At the lowest level, you’ll find the Drive Impact causes an explosion of color, as players absorb an incoming attack and retaliate with one of their own, much like Street Fighter 4’s focus attacks. EX moves return, too, now known as Overdrive Arts that can turn the battle at the cost of two bars of gauge.
It’s not all about damage, though, Drive Reversals open up counterattack options, while Drive Rush can help close the gap against ranged fighters to unleash a flurry of fists and feet. Perhaps most useful, though, is the Drive Parry, which can deflect all attacks except for throws. That may sound like an overly casual addition, but timing it perfectly can lead to a Perfect Parry. This forces you to think about how you use your meter, and approach almost every situation.
In our short time playing Street Fighter 6, we were even able to time a Drive Impact into an opponent’s own Drive Impact to cause the screen to slow down and each fighter be pushed back while their feet are planted, anime-style. It’s electric, and has me itching to watch the best players go toe-to-digital-toe.
With classic and “modern” control schemes, players can spend less time trying to wrestle with the controls and more time wrestling with their opponents. However, you do lose out on a few crucial inputs that made the modern control system unsuitable for competitive play, as it locks you out of certain moves. However, if you’re just looking to get your feet wet and pull of some flashy moves, it’s more than servicable. That’s not to say the complexity is gone, though, and strategy is ultimately the most important thing in the game, but it’s sure to make Street Fighter 6 more accessible for those that need it.
Return of the King?
It’d be fair to say that 2023 is shaping up to be a big year for fighting games. Between Tekken 8 and Street Fighter 6, it’ll be interesting to see who comes out on top.
Still, from just a few matches playing Street Fighter 6, I’m more excited about the franchise than I have been in over a decade. It’s a fast-paced fighter that dares you to play it slowly, with a methodical pace that’s sure to ingratiate it to new players and the best of the best alike.