Remember when Street Fighter 5 came out and a lot of people were disappointed by its distinct lack of meat on its bones? Street Fighter 6 is the polar opposite. Complete with an excellent 18-character roster of both new and returning fighters rendered in a killer new art style, an incredibly ambitious online Battle Hub that puts all other online fighting game lobby systems to shame, and just about everything you could ever ask for when it comes to training tools and systems to help you get better at fighting games, it’s a spectacularly feature-rich fighting game. Street Fighter 6 takes many swings in many different directions, and though not every blow connects, the ones that do are absolute knockouts.
The gameplay of every Street Fighter game since Street Fighter 2 can generally be defined by a unique mechanic. Street Fighter 3 had parries, 4 had focus attacks, 5 had the V-System, and now Street Fighter 6 has the Drive System. And for my money, it’s the best the series has ever seen.
Street Fighter 6 Screens
Every character gains access to five powerful abilities that are all governed by their Drive Gauge: Overdrive special moves, Drive Rush, Drive Parry, Drive Reversals, and Drive Impact. Overdrives are essentially the new EX Special Moves and cost two bars, Drive Rush allows you to quickly close the distance between you and your opponent at the cost of one bar (or cancel out of specific normal attacks at the cost of three bars), Drive Reversals allow you to get an opponent off of you while you’re blocking their attack at the cost of two bars, and Drive Impacts… well we’ll get into those in a bit.
I love this system for a lot of reasons, but chief among them is that it opens up so many options, and at the start of every round you have a full meter and have access to all of them. There’s no building this meter up, or worrying about the amount you’ll have left over for the next round. I could start aggressively by using a Drive Rush right out of the gate to put on pressure; I could save my meter for Overdrive special moves to increase the damage of my combos; or I could fish for a crouching medium kick and then Drive Rush cancel it to convert big damage off of a single hit. Those are just a few of the options, and managing them makes the already extremely cerebral fighting of Street Fighter 6 even more enjoyable.
The way it’s handled when you run out of Drive Meter is also excellent: your character enters a Burnout state where you’re completely unable to use any Drive Meter-related techniques; your opponent’s attacks become more advantageous on both block and hit; you take chip damage, and Drive Impacts are even scarier than before (I swear, we’ll get to Drive Impacts in just a bit).
Being in Burnout is a terrible position, but it is far from an unwinnable situation. You still move at the same speed, your attacks do the same damage, you still have access to all of your super moves, and while your opponent’s Drive Impacts are a huge threat, you know that they’ll be looking to do them, which can lead to some interesting mind games on both sides. Some of the most tense and fun matches I’ve had in Street Fighter 6 have been when I managed to pull out a victory even while in Burnout.
Now let’s talk about Drive Impact, because I have a feeling that for a lot of people, whether or not they enjoy Street Fighter 6 is largely going to come down to their feelings on this one move. Drive Impact only costs one bar of drive meter to use, it has super armor that can absorb up to two hits, and if it hits while your opponent is in the middle of their own attack they will be knocked into a crumpled state, giving you a full combo. And that’s not at all! Even if they block it they get blown back and lose half a bar of Drive Meter, and if they get backed into the corner you get to follow it up with a combo. That’s not all either! Remember how I said that they’re even more scary when you’re in Burnout? Well, if you block a Drive Impact and you’re close to the wall you get stunned and you’ll eat a full combo in the corner, even though you blocked their attack. It’s one of the most powerful universal mechanics I’ve ever seen in a fighting game, and if you don’t respect it, you will get crushed by it.
And yet, I love Drive Impacts, because they’re tuned so that they’re just reactable enough to be defended against if you’re looking out for them, but also still fast enough to catch you by surprise if you’re not. All you have to do is Drive Impact them right back: you’ll absorb their attack, hit with yours, and now the roles have reversed so that you get the opportunity for a full combo. Countering Drive Impacts is just so incredibly satisfying, especially when it’s the key to you turning the tables and winning a tight round.
The New World Warriors
Street Fighter 6’s roster of 18 characters is mostly familiar, with 12 returning characters and six being entirely new, but even the returning characters feel fresh thanks to new quirks added to their move sets. Ken’s command run, for example, now changes up the properties of several of his special moves when he uses them out of it, giving them EX-like properties without having to spend Drive Meter on them; Cammy can now charge her special moves and give them V-Trigger like qualities; and Dee Jay has a ton of new feints that make him an extremely tricky character to use and play against.
The new blood, meanwhile, are some of the best additions Street Fighter has seen. Kimberly is a clear standout, with a ninja-inspired moveset that has her closing the distance with quick teleports, piledriving you into the ground with Izuna drop-like air throws, and mixing you up with tricky leaps from half a screen away. Jamie, meanwhile, is a drunken melee powerhouse who is able to buff himself by taking swigs of his flask, and once he takes four drinks pretty much all of his moves become extremely dangerous with multi-hitting attacks that left me totally clueless on when it was actually my turn to try and fight back until I labbed against him in training mode.
Pretty much every Street Fighter character archetype has representation here. You’ve got your grapplers in Zangief and Manon; your rushdown fighters in Ken, Jamie, and Cammy; your zoners with Guile, Dhalsim, and JP; and your powerhouse bruisers in Marissa and Honda. It’s everything I want out of a roster.
Gonna Take You For a Ride
World Tour is an ambitious single-player mode, and while it is a big step up from Street Fighter 5’s attempt at a cinematic story mode (and anything else Street Fighter has done before) it’s certainly the weakest part of Street Fighter 6. It’s at least a great idea: It’s a surprisingly enormous RPG that allows you to take a created character into the world of Street Fighter, interacting with the playable roster by becoming their disciple and learning their moves, and then building them up from scratch by leveling up, equipping various types of stat-altering gear, and selecting powerful skills. It also does a good job of teaching new players the fundamentals of Street Fighter 6 by including lessons as sidequests, with steadily increasing difficulty over the course of about 20 hours.
However, RPGs live and die by their stories, and the story of World Tour is unbelievably dull. With paper-thin characters, predictable plot twists, and a mute protagonist whose main purpose is just to be an errand boy for various gangs and factions, there’s nothing to get excited about. It feels like it was written with the primary purpose of having your character jump around to various countries to meet the roster characters, and yet it never really bothers to justify those trips. In one chapter, a random gangster all of sudden tells me that I need to get her bag back that my buddy stole. And so without any objection, the most reasonable solution is for me to make a global trip to Rome in order to fashion a counterfeit bag that I can hopefully use to fool the gangster into thinking I got her bag back. In another chapter I had to go to Jamaica and Brazil because my original mentor, Luke, wanted souvenirs from those places and doesn’t know how to shop online I guess?
At least the tone is goofy and fun, which is a great fit for Street Fighter. You can fight just about anyone on the street, regardless of whether they deserve a Rising Uppercut to the face or not; it’s fun to use ridiculous-looking moves like the Spinning Bird Kick to cross gaps like you’re a human helicopter, and there’s a surprising amount of enemy variety, many of which do an admirable job of teaching newer players how to deal with specific situations that will come up outside of story mode. Some enemies will favor blocking high, making them vulnerable to low attacks; others will stay permanently in the air and must be brought down by anti-air techniques; and others still will try to hang back and pepper you with projectiles, forcing you to fight them like you would a zoner-type character. And then you can also fight refrigerators… And Roombas. It’s weird, but in a very amusing, Yakuza-esque kind of way.
There’s also a variety of fun minigames that do a great job of “gamifying” techniques that you actually would use in a typical fight. In one of them you have to chop bottles by holding back for a second and then quickly moving the stick in the opposite direction and pressing a button, which is how you’d perform charge-type special moves on a character like Guile or Blanka; another has you making pizza by quickly performing special move inputs as they appear on screen; and another still has you using your combos to quickly destroy a big rig in a nod to the original car-busting minigame from Street Fighter 2.
The best thing about World Tour, though, and the thing that really serves as the carrot at the end of the stick, is the promise of being able to outfit your character with moves from every other fighter. By the end of the campaign I could use Dhalsim’s teleport to instantly appear behind an opponent, hit them with Zangief’s Spinning Piledriver, and then use Ken’s Dragonlash Kick to get right back up in their face. Being able to customize my character in ways that would make them absolutely broken in the real game is a lot of fun.
The issue is that it takes forever to level up a character’s style to the point where you learn new moves from them. You do this simply by using them, but even though I only used Luke’s and Ken’s throughout the entire mode, I still didn’t max out either of them. Those who love a good grind may enjoy having plenty left over to unlock after the 20 or so hours it takes to complete World Tour, but I would’ve liked the drip feed of new unlocks to be substantially faster considering the sheer amount of rewards there are to unlock by maxing out the ranks of each character.
I have many more issues with World Tour, but even despite them, I still had a fun time with it in the end. It’s a mode that’s more directly aimed toward people without a lot of fighting game experience, and I think those people will get a ton more out of it than I did. The character customization elements are great, the way it incentivizes fundamental lessons of how to play Street Fighter 6 by dressing them up as side missions and minigames is extremely well done, and there’s just an overwhelming amount of content to discover with two very large open worlds to explore (both of which have day and nighttime versions that each have their own set of side-missions to discover).
I Got Next
Another reason why you might want to go through World Tour mode is that you’re able to take your character and all the gear they’ve earned into the online Battle Hub, which is an online social space where you queue into both ranked and unranked matchmaking, or pull up on a cabinet much like you would in a local arcade and await challengers.
Online lobbies are not a new thing in the world of fighting games, and truthfully, I’ve never been the biggest fan of them, but Street Fighter 6’s implementation of the Battle Hub has won me over. For one, it’s super cool to look at because Street Fighter 6’s character creator is absolutely wild, and gives you the freedom to make beautiful creations with finely tuned features or unspeakable monsters with out of this world bodily proportions, and it’s fun to just wander around the hub and see what people have come up with.
There’s also a lot of things to do beyond just parking at a cabinet playing with either friends or random players. There’s a section of the hub where you can play a rotating selection of classic Capcom games like Final Fight and Street Fighter 2; another section where you can play Extreme Battles with party-like rule sets and gimmicks; a store where you can purchase more customizable clothes for your avatar with in-game currency; and you can even pit your created character against others in Avatar Battles.
But the most important thing about Battle Hub is that it’s all optional. If you don’t want to deal with it, you don’t have to. You can simply queue up for ranked or casual matches via a menu, go into training mode while you wait, or create a custom room for multiple friends without ever having to go through the Battle Hub – which is exactly how it should be.
The Little Things
What really pushes Street Fighter 6 over the edge is how it completely nails virtually everything outside of its main modes that you could ask for in a fighting game. Based on my experience playing pre-launch and in all three betas, including the open beta, its netcode is excellent; it’s got the best training mode I’ve ever seen in a fighting game, complete with frame data and cancel window data; it’s got extremely helpful character guides that make it very easy to learn a new character from scratch; combo trials that teach you practical combos for a variety of situations; load times are extremely quick and rematches are nearly instantaneous; you can search for replays with a ton of different filters to help you learn matchups; there’s crossplay across Xbox, PlayStation, and PC; you can create and join clubs; and so on. Many fighting games also have these features, but very few have all of them, and especially not right out of the gate.
Street Fighter 6 also deserves credit for really making an effort to welcome newcomers in innovative ways. On top of the World Tour mode, there’s also a new Modern control scheme that allows you to play without having to worry about character-specific command inputs or combo routes. Special moves are mapped to a button and a direction, much like Smash Brothers – there’s one button each for light, medium, and heavy attacks, you can execute combos by holding down an assist button and mashing one of the three attack buttons, and you can use super moves just by pressing two buttons at the same time.
Street Fighter 6 Character Customisation – Tokyo Game Show 2022
The playing field is kept even by the fact that those using Modern Controls don’t have access to a character’s full repertoire of normal moves, but being able to perform special moves with just the press of a button is a tradeoff that makes the Modern Control style appealing even for those who aren’t beginners.
And for those who just want to hold forward and mash on one button to execute special moves and combos, there’s a new Dynamic control scheme that’s only usable offline and essentially lets the AI choose the attacks for you. Capcom’s really covered all the bases here.