Between its gameplay trailers and closed beta tests, Street Fighter 6 is already poised to run unopposed as 2023’s best fighting game.
Even if we hadn’t got to play the game ourselves back in September, we’d be fairly confident in calling Street Fighter 6 a marked improvement over its predecessor, based on pre-release material alone.
It may have been a solid fighter, but Street Fighter 5 was something of a mockery at launch. And if its barebones content wasn’t bad enough, its online play was plagued with issues. Capcom fixed it all up, after a year or two, but for many it was too little, too late.
Since Street Fighter 6’s announcement, the energy surrounding its pre-release has been far more positive, especially once its first gameplay trailer dropped. It may be baby steps, as it is with all fighting game sequels, but Street Fighter 6 is doing quite a bit to push the series forward and ensure it’s still fun to play for everyone.
Capcom has clearly learnt from the mistakes of Street Fighter 5. Its base roster is only marginally larger than Street Fighter 5’s (18 characters compared to 16), but there’ll be much more to do than just play a basic training mode and online matches.
Though not the first entry to feature a dedicated story mode, Street Fighter 6’s World Tour Mode is already vastly more interesting than the usual arcade routes that reward you with maybe one cut scene or some pretty artwork. As your own custom character (be they a self-insert OC or a hideous abomination birthed from your nightmares), you’ll get to explore open environments and be trained by Street Fighter icons like Ryu and Chun-Li.
A lot of the finer details are currently a mystery, but what we’ve seen from trailers is far more engaging than any of Street Fighter 5’s single-player offerings, promising a more jovial tone compared to the rather po-faced A Shadow Falls story mode, as well as interesting deviations from the traditional one-on-one matches.
This even extends to the online battle hub mode, which features an incredibly campy host in the form of Eternity (a no doubt deliberate reference to Chris Tucker’s character in The Fifth Element) and goofy alternate match types called extreme battles, like one where you and your opponent need to avoid being run over by a stampeding bull.
As a fighting game, multiplayer is always going to be Street Fighter 6’s most important feature, and one Capcom can’t afford to get wrong again. However, all seems well if the general response to the beta test sessions is anything to go by.
Aside from the game boasting mostly solid netcode (meaning laggy matches should be the minority and not the norm), the battle hub serves as an open space for players to interact in and show off their custom character. It’s far more of a social environment than just a selection of static menus.
However, Street Fighter 6 isn’t so wrapped up with appealing to diehard fans and competitive players that it neglects would-be newcomers. If anything, Street Fighter 6 is set to be the most accessible entry in the series.
Its tutorials are already above and beyond Street Fighter 5’s, by being more in-depth, but the game also offers an alternative and simplified control scheme akin to Super Smash Bros. Now it’s possible to pull off those flashy special moves with just a directional input and a button press. The game even boasts detailed customisation options for visually impaired players so they can play more easily.
All this is wrapped up in some impressive visual flair and presentation. Sure, the characters are more realistic looking, but they haven’t strayed too far from the series’ anime inspired roots, with matches literally bursting with colour when certain moves land, complimenting the graffiti art influences.
The hip hop theme could’ve risked coming across as too try-hard, but Street Fighter 6 owns it well. The in-your-face attitude of the presentation and music is more energising than annoying. Not to mention it harkens back to the days of Street Fighter 3, which is appropriate since Street Fighter 6 canonically takes place after that game, making it the most recent entry in the series timeline.
It’s in that regard that Street Fighter 6 feels like more of a step forward than Street Fighter 4 or 5 were, with the former playing things rather safe as a pseudo revival following a 10-year hiatus. Street Fighter 6 may still mostly rely on old faces, but their new designs perfectly highlight the passage of time and their respective growth.
They are the aging but still tough as nails masters while fresh new blood has arrived on the scene, almost all of whom have been received very well by the fanbase. Whereas Street Fighter 5’s Necalli and F.A.N.G. failed to leave much of an impression, you’d be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t enjoy drunken master Jamie or ninja graffiti artist Kimberly.
Capcom itself seems very confident in these new faces taking centre stage since Luke, a new lead introduced in Street Fighter 5’s DLC, is plastered all over the advertising instead of series mascot Ryu. Luke’s even the sole face on the box art, with none of the classic characters in sight. A tad ironic considering Luke’s probably the least popular of the new fighters.
Story and characterisation may have never been a priority for Capcom or most fans but moving past the long-running plotlines of Shadaloo and Ryu’s inner turmoil, and embracing new story elements and characters, adds some much-needed zest to the overall package. Even if most players don’t particularly care why Ken’s dressed like a tramp or who the new villain replacing M. Bison is.
While Street Fighter 5’s post-launch support provided much needed improvements, Street Fighter 6 stands to be a fantastic fighter from the get-go – that will only be enhanced with the inevitable DLC to come. Just like its predecessor, Street Fighter 6 will likely be the only mainline entry this generation and so you can also guarantee it’ll be a considerably changed beast within just a few years.
Nobody comes into a new fighting game sequel expecting innovation but Street Fighter 6 seems to have everything needed to be a major mainstream hit, instead of only appealing to existing fans. Nothing else will ever have the same impact as Street Fighter 2 but in the long history of Street Fighter sequels this is looking like one of the best.
Street Fighter 6 launches for PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X/S, PlayStation 5, and PC on June 2.
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