Capcom's fighters are back, once again ready to punch people in the face. This time, both an updated game system and a massive single-player story awaits, and we've checked to see if it measures up.
If I were to rank the game series I've spent the most time with in my 40+ years as a gamer, I would say that Street Fighter would easily make the top five, maybe even the top three. Ever since Street Fighter II debuted, I played more or less non-stop until the fourth launched, as after that, Street Fighter and I began to drift apart as Street Fighter V went in a direction I simply didn't appreciate.
Therefore, I have been extremely curious about Street Fighter 6, which I hoped would mean a return to the Street Fighter I love without too many spectacular effects, glued-on gimmicks and with a hard focus on its core; the fighting. So, did I get what I was hoping for? Is my love for Street Fighter back? I would say there are two answers to that question; yes, but also no.
But let me start with a description of what the game has to offer this time, namely Fighting Ground, Battle Hub and World Tour. The latter two are the big draws, where Battle Hub is an attempt to create a good place for the community to hang out with lots of activities of different kinds (including retro arcade games) and of course avatars and lots of opportunities to personalise yourself in different ways. World Tour may well be seen as a response to the criticism Capcom received after Street Fighter V, which basically lacked single player at launch. This has caused them to go the extra mile and create something as lavish as what NetherRealm Studios usually offers in the Mortal Kombat games. Fighting Ground is what I would describe as classic Street Fighter, an opportunity to punch people in the face, either locally or online and without any frills.
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The major gameplay innovation this time is called Drive Gauge, a more diffused setup than before where several previous features from the Street Fighter series now come together around a single six-piece gauge. It automatically fills up when not in use or if you perform successful counterattacks (Drive Parry), but is drained if you use certain functions too much or take a beating. Draining the meter puts you in a helpless Burnout mode and puts you at risk of taking serious damage.
Another big new thing is that Capcom has tried to find ways to reach a new audience. Landing special attacks and understanding how everything is connected is more challenging in Street Fighter than, say, Tekken, and so there's now a control scheme called Modern, where your attacks have been slimmed down to just one button press and you can also spam specials because, again, it only takes one button press (can be combined with tilting the analog stick) to use them. Finally, there's also Dynamic, which adjusts the attack you deal depending on where you are in relation to your opponent. In short, you basically need to be able to button mash to accomplish anything. However, the latter is not something you can use online without limitations as it risks ruining the balance considerably.
So... Why am I so conflicted about what I like about Street Fighter 6? Well, because at its core, this is still a brilliant fighting series that I absolutely love. The sense of control over my character is downright magical, and from the moment I started playing with Guile and Zangief (my two personal go-to-fighters), I felt at home, while recognising that they have been revamped in several ways. Fighting my way through a projectile-spamming Ryu with Zangief to grab the person and deliver a solid Piledriver remains infinitely satisfying, as does executing a slow Sonic Boom against an opponent with Guile and going behind them and then doing a quick Suplex at the same time as my victim is forced to block the projectile.
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I also think the Parry system introduced here with the Drive Parry, and the ability to perform perfect ones adds a nerve I haven't seen since Street Fighter III (which is still even sharper though, and I wish this system would be dusted off again). Although the Drive Gauge feels like a bit of a fuzzy concept, it still works admirably, and the updated system for Super Combos with a three-part gauge (where each level is a separate attack) is downright crisp and clear. I have a fighting group of friends I've been playing with for well over 20 years, and the consensus has been that Street Fighter 6 is extremely entertaining.
So, what are my doubts? Well, Capcom has done a great job of preserving the game's fundamentals and adding mostly relevant new features that I think make this a better game than Street Fighter V, even though I think the graphics could be been better and the music is too bland. That said, I think almost everything else has taken a step back.
Let me start with the entire presentation, where Capcom for some reason decided that a Def Jam-inspired approach would somehow feel fresh. There's hip-hop and graffiti and bling galore, and since the colour purple is often used, it sometimes feels like the first Saints Row. There are two problems with this. Def Jam was certainly fresh and innovative - but that was 20 years ago. And Saints Row was a parody of gang and street culture. This makes the presentation feel equal parts old and silly - and I almost break a sweat at how embarrassing it feels at times, which also includes the Battle Hub (that I unfortunately could not fully test because it is something that requires much more time to see how the community responds to it and uses its features). Unfortunately, it also spills over into the characters such as Kimberly, a Chun Li challenger, who obviously loves to paint graffiti. It's so stereotypical it makes me cringe.
Then we have World Tour, the much talked about and lavish single player mode. The game control scheme is reminiscent of Shenmue, as I run around Metro City (yep, from Final Fight, Haggar is also mentioned) with my self-created avatar to become a powerful fighter under the training of Luke. While the game mode is definitely ambitious and big, and set up as a surprisingly comprehensive role-playing game complete with features like fast travel... it feels consistently old and cheap.
The graphics, for example, are very primitive, with all the characters sort of sticking out of the world with looping movement patterns. I can walk up to them and talk to them, as well as challenge them all to a fight. All the dialog is written, though, and while I'm talking, the NPC characters stand around spouting nonsense like "Alrighty" or "Yeah man" and the like, all while the text says what they really think. It's a very primitive design.
By doing side quests and defeating increasingly tough resistance, I get to level up and can thus become stronger and withstand more punishment via simple level trees. It is also possible to consume things I buy, find or get, to boost the odds further, and if I buy clothes such as a new hat or pair of pants, for example, my kicks can become stronger. It's like the most basic features of Japanese role-playing games combined with Street Fighter. I just can't appreciate any aspect of this, even when I run into Street Fighter legends and take them as trainers to access their attacks. It doesn't matter that I can climb onto roofs and find secret chests and odd characters when it's never fun to me. I'd much rather see all the Street Fighter characters get a regular story mode instead of this, or why not reflect NetherRealm Studios and write a custom story involving all the characters?
This leaves me with a game I know I'll enjoy for years to come thanks to the great fundamentals that have remained relevant for decades, and will continue to be so. Sure, I would have liked a little less flashy effects in the battles, and I dare to state here and now that the new characters will never be as loved as the classic ones, but in the end it doesn't matter. The fact that only 18 fighters are included from the start is admittedly a bit scarce, but it will of course be expanded, and I take it for granted that Street Fighter 6 will remain relevant until the seventh arrives in a decade or so.
That said, I really wish Capcom would zoom out and review their design. This game's presentation is built around what the Japanese giant thinks is "street", but with such a poor understanding that it feels like something I (a 46-year-old man with no idea what's hip) would have created if someone asked me to define "street". And while there will certainly be people who appreciate the single-player World Tour, there's no doubt that it should have received more love and tighter gameplay. This might have been acceptable in Street Fight IV from 2008, but not here.
My rating remains high though, because once the single player is done and you get used to the awkward presentation, we still have a very solid fighting game and a phenomenal foundation to build on. And at the end of the day, that's by far the most important thing in a game like this. As long as it's genuinely fun to punch your friends in the face, there's no way I'm going to get bored.
8 / 10
Extremely nice controls. Very good netcode. More inviting for beginners. Drive Parry is a masterful addition. Super Combos work better than ever.
Terrible presentation. World Tour feels old. Disappointing soundtrack.