Street Fighter 6 - Welcoming New Challengers (Review)
Street Fighter 6
Released: June 2, 2023
Systems: PC, PS4/5 (reviewed), Xbox One/X/S
Street Fighter 6 is, without hyperbole, a phenomenon.
The very fact this review exists is testament to the miracle it has performed, standing proof that a person who hasn’t been able to play a fighting game since Primal Rage can sink over fifty hours into a new one and remain engrossed to such an almighty degree they feel confident enough to pen a full critique. While it’s not the first game of its category to offer accessibility features, Street Fighter 6 is so comprehensively inviting, digestible, and just plain playable that I truly believe its contributions to the genre are culturally significant.
Anybody who’s followed my work for a decent length of time will know that I can’t play fighting games. It’s a fact I’ve lamented often - my memory disorder prevents me from recalling the lengthy button inputs that typify the average fighter, and dexterously pulling them off in any case is something I just couldn’t do while also remembering the many features and mechanical intricacies. By the time I’ve been overwhelmed by all the complexities, the actual opponent is the least of my worries!
Street Fighter 6 is Capcom’s answer to the impregnability of fighting games, one designed to be approachable with remarkable consideration. I don’t just feel capable of playing Street Fighter now, I feel welcomed. I’ve always wanted to like them, going all the way back to Street Fighter II (I even had the Merlin sticker album!), but I just couldn’t “get” it, and the genre went so far down the rabbit hole of complexity it had become truly offputting. Rolling the dice on Street Fighter 6’s new Modern controls has led to one of the loveliest experiences I’ve ever had with a videogame.
Players comfortable with one-on-one fighters still have access to “classic” controls, giving them the involved data entry they’ve come to love. For the rest of us, the Modern style takes some cues from Super Smash Bros. and halves the amount of attack buttons to be considerably less daunting. Rather than every normal strike having its own dedicated button, they’re gathered under the broader umbrella of light, medium, and heavy attacks, with the game contextually choosing the exact one. Special moves are performed by pressing a single button in conjunction with the movement stick - if you want Ryu to do a Hadouken you press the special button on its own, while pressing it and moving forward at once will instead deliver a Shoryuken. It works fantastically, is perfectly responsive, and ensures almost anyone can now have fun popping off Spinning Piledrivers, Sonic Booms, and Spinning Bird Kicks.
Sure, a particularly snobby percentage of the Street Fighter community has been whining about the new control scheme and hilariously blaming it for any losses to so-called “scrubs” but fuck ‘em! They need to, as they love saying, “git gud” at the stuff that really should have mattered all along - the tactics, the psychology, and knowing how best to use the moves instead of how to simply do them. Those are the elements that always made fighting games fascinating to me as a spectator, and I’m thrilled I can experience them as a player.
Screw the gatekeepers, Street Fighter is now for everybody.
Another new feature adding both a fresh tactical layer and further approachability is 6’s Drive system. By expending bars in their Drive Meter, players can pull off a strong new move - a Drive Impact - that breaks through the opponent’s offense to shut them down and potentially leave them wide open. There’s also Drive Parrying, a stronger form of blocking that refills the meter by absorbing enemy attacks and can literally parry with perfect timing. These Drive maneuvers are interrupted by the series’ mainstay Throw moves, and if the meter is fully emptied, the player’s Drive attacks are disabled for a lengthy chunk of time while they become susceptible to getting stunned. In my experience with the game against both the CPU and humans, this Drive system is a useful tool that gives every player a potential fighting chance, but it’s not so overpowered that people are just trading Impacts back and forth. It’s just a good trick to have handy.
Street Fighter 6’s roster of characters isn’t the largest, but pretty much everyone is exquisite to play, with gorgeously animated moves and their own unique quirks to ensure they all feel different. A number of familiar characters turn up with excellent new aesthetics, from Cammy’s slick jacketed outfit to Ryu’s evolution toward an older, quite dashing look. Blanka looks utterly adorable in his little blue dungarees, and pretty much everything about Dee Jay is gloriously extravagant. I’m sad about the lack of Vega, who has always been my favorite character across the franchise, but I’ve found plenty to love, especially among 6’s new challengers.
The fresh faces arriving with this sequel are just ridiculous amounts of fun. Manon, the fashion icon ballerina, has an initially weak throw move that, with successive uses, gets more visually extravagant and powerful. Kimberly’s speed and trickery is dazzling, while the villainous JP uses Psycho Power to perform devastating long range attacks. By far though, my favorite is Marisa, the glacial gladiator who can set up a defensive stance from which an entirely extra set of special moves can be performed. In terms of videogame characters that feel truly powerful to wield, the Best Gladiator Girl is pure satisfaction.
A number of game modes are on offer, taking place within three broad categories…
Fighting Ground is where you go for “pure” Street Fighter gameplay, with basic one-on-one fights, the arcade mode, and character-specific story modes. Continuing the game’s commitment to newcomers, Fighting Ground also offers interactive and informative tutorials for every single character, going through their moves, playstyles, and tactical uses. I love that these tutorials exist, ensuring everyone can get to grips with and understand the combatants they want to use.
Battle Hub is an online space that lets user-created avatars run around and partake in pugilism together. The character creator, incidentally, is pretty great, being robust and versatile to the point where you’re gonna find eerie freaks and hilarious monsters running around! In the Battle Hub, you can take a seat at one of the many arcade cabinets and wait for someone to take the opposite chair for a fight between your favorite characters. If you want to enjoy some utter creatures duking it out, you can saunter to the center of the hub for direct avatar battles. These battles are enjoyable for the unpredictability, since avatars fight using any main character’s base style alongside special moves culled from whichever others they desire. They might not lead to the most balanced matches, but they’re fun nonetheless.
By far the most impressive part of the game is World Tour. It’s not what most fans would explicitly play Street Fighter for, but this single-player production is extensive, absorbing, and downright eccentric, compelling me pour dozens of hours into it and continue playing beyond its conclusion. Taking place in an explorable Metro City populated by shops, side quests and roving gang members, World Tour is essentially what happens when Street Fighter tries its hand at being Yakuza. It’s full of weird characters and charming interactions with the SF6 roster, each of whom can sequentially teach their moveset to your avatar as you gain experience in their styles and raise their friendship levels. The roster members can be given gifts, will offer unique missions, and may even text you some genuinely amusing stuff, with Ryu’s adorable inability to use his mobile phone providing some of the most entertaining videogame writing I’ve seen in a while. The main plot itself isn’t all that spectacular, as your avatar seeks the vague concept of “strength” and enters a tournament with obligatory sinister connotations, but it’s nonetheless littered with strange humor and baffling concepts.
You fight animated refrigerators and roombas, you get mixed up with Thrasher Damnd from Final Fight, and you get to acquire all manner of lovely clothing, from television helmets to kitty paws to a Blanka Chan mascot suit. Because the world of Street Fighter is like Pokémon, in which everybody is disturbingly obsessed with one thing (in this case fighting), roughly 90% of NPCs can be challenged to fights for items and XP. Outfit pieces can be upgraded to raise their stat boosts, food items grant temporary bonuses, and Master Actions are granted by roster characters to ambush opponents before a fight, destroy objects, and navigate places that are hard to reach - there’s something delightfully stupid about using E. Honda’s Sumo Headbutt to cross a wide gap, though I do wish such non-combat uses didn’t consume the avatar’s Drive Meter as an arbitrary restriction.
Plus, World Tour reveals Marisa is polyamorous and queer, so I couldn’t be more charmed!
While I’ve had a lot of fun in Fighting Ground and Battle Hub, I’ve been thoroughly taken by World Tour, especially as a fan of the Yakuza series. It’s a well crafted, funny, full length RPG. Oh, and it’s also full of training fights that drill battle mechanics, and minigames that sneakily help get players used to Classic controls. Clever stuff.
I love Street Fighter 6, and want to do nothing but sing its praises, but sadly I can’t give it the highest of plaudits thanks to Capcom’s monetization. Microtransactions and battle passes, designed as they are to manipulate players and especially target neurodivergent people, are ableist schemes that present their own accessibility barrier. The game industry may insist on denying it, but in-app economies are part and parcel of the accessibility conversation, and their presence will always undermine efforts to be inclusive and welcoming, inherently hostile as they are.
Street Fighter 6’s premium currency is tied to outfit pieces, alternate costumes/colors for main characters, and a whole bunch of more superfluous shit. Some, but not all, offerings can be earned in-game via significant grinding, with the “free” (lol) currency offered in tiny handfuls and other stuff unlocked by getting real deep into World Tour. The so-called Fighter Pass is thankfully pretty shitty, with barely any good stuff like outfits and a drip feed of premium coins occupying the upper tiers as if Capcom is openly admitting it ran out of ideas. The “free” (lol) track is practically threadbare, but one struggles to feel much FOMO about it.
I really resent the presence of predation in a game I otherwise have practically no negative feelings towards.
I really mean that last sentiment, too. I’d have to really strain to find anything but the tiniest nitpicks, though I do acknowledge veteran fighting fans likely have more to offer in that department. I simply adore how visually flamboyant everything is - combat performs the rare trick of being visually extravagant while remaining responsive and easy to follow, Drive Impacts are accompanied by gorgeous splashes of character-specific colors, and everyone’s ultimates are delicious in their absurdity, whether it’s Manon forcing her opponent into a dance montage before slamming them into the dirt, or the lavishly rendered looks of sheer fucking terror on a fighter’s face as Marisa looms overhead and punches them into a wall. The pre-match sequences featuring each combatant walking toward the battleground together is so damn cool, too.
As someone who grew up with Street Fighter II’s legendary soundtrack, I can’t say I find the beat-centric stage music particularly appealing or memorable. I miss the catchy tunes. Everything else in the audio department impresses me, with brutal sound effects and some really fun voice acting. Special aesthetic mention has to be made for JP’s victory scene. There is something devastatingly cool about the way he brings his boot so close to the downed opponent’s face before stepping over them with disdainful disregard. Chef’s kiss.
Street Fighter 6 has made me the happiest I’ve been with a game in quite some time. As somebody who always wanted to play fighting games but whose neurodivergence prevented them, the new Modern controls and consistent approachability is simply joyous. Brimming with personality, immensely gratifying, and packed with a shocking amount of content, I’m still rather shocked by exactly how hooked I’ve become. It’s just a shame Capcom’s insistence on pernicious monetization lets the welcoming effort down, because besides that I have no notes. Street Fighter 6 is the fighting game I needed.
And I didn’t even mention being dommed by Juri’s feet.