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'Street Fighter 6' gets the vibe right

Finally, Capcom does the series justice.


It didn't take long for me to fall in love with Street Fighter 6. Maybe it was during a particularly epic Drive Gauge parry, which filled my computer screen with explosive color, or while playing through the Yakuza-esque World Tour, as I picked fights with randos on the street. At some point, I felt like I was home again, combo-ing into Dragon Punches and wreaking havoc with Chun Li's endless arrays of lethal kicks. Street Fighter 6 proves that Street Fighter is back — it's a game primed to welcome new fans and bring old ones back into the fold.

When I talk about old fans, I'm referring to myself. I remember the sense of awe I felt when I first encountered a Street Fighter 2 cabinet at my local Burger King (my hometown was sadly devoid of arcades). The sprites were bigger than I'd ever seen and gorgeously animated. The characters were all distinct and filled with personality. And the controls opened my eyes to the possibilities beyond mere platformers.

There's a reason Street Fighter's special moves have lived on: They're easy to learn, but they require practice to pull off consistently. Get good enough, though, and they start to feel like an extension of yourself. If you're a hadouken master, you may as well have lightning crackling around your fingers.

Ryu charging a hadouken in Street Fighter 6

In an effort to open up to new audiences, Street Fighter 6 takes a remarkable new approach to special moves. In addition to the classic controls fans love, there's also a "Modern" scheme, which dramatically simplifies button inputs, as well as "Dynamic" controls, which basically let you mash buttons to have the game's AI take the wheel. The modern mode replaces the six separate punch and kick buttons with three buttons for light, medium and heavy attacks. There's also a standalone special move button that activates different attacks depending on how you're holding the directional pad. This change gives you four functional buttons right on the face of your gamepad, rather than shoving some attack buttons to shoulder buttons like the classic controls.

While Street Fighter's hardcore fans may decry these options as a way to water down the series, I see them as essential to its survival. The previous entry, Street Fighter V, was widely criticized for catering to e-sports players and other diehards. It took years for a traditional arcade mode to appear, but by then many had already written the game off. Street Fighter 6, on the other hand, is a direct appeal to casual fans and the Street Fighter-curious.

That's also evident in the new World Tour mode, which involves designing your own fighter to go on a series of quests throughout an NYC-like environment. It's basically a Street Fighter RPG crossed with a Yakuza game: You'll earn experience points and level up, and you can also challenge people on the street to impromptu matches. The results are almost always ridiculous — I never got tired of seeing bored businessmen throw down — but crucially, it's also genuinely fun.

Early on, World Tour also serves as a sort of interactive training mode for new players. It helps you understand the modern fighting mode, as well as some of the finer details of street fighting. You're also coached along the way by Luke, the last character introduced in Street Fighter V, and the ostensible main character for this game. As a big brother figure, he's cocky yet supportive, a helpful combination for new players.

Even before you get into a match, Street Fighter 6 oozes style. The opening menus are a combination of neon city lights and street art, the character select theme is a catchy (if cringey) hip hop tune, and the music in every stage got my subwoofer thumping. Street Fighter 6 feels like a party that everyone's invited to, the vibes are just spot on.

Maybe that's why I had a hard time peeling myself away to deal with the real world, or to play other titles like Tears of the Kingdom. The arcade mode is breezy enough to complete in under 10 minutes. By default, it includes four fighting matches and one classic vehicle destruction mini-game, and the actual gameplay feels more addictive than ever. As usual, playing through an arcade session unlocks background details for characters, but this time you also earn classic Street Fighter art, most of which hit me right in my ‘90s-nostalgic heart.

Guile punching Ryu in Street Fighter 6

On top of the usual super-responsive Street Fighter mechanics, there's also a Drive Gauge that unlocks a wealth of new options. You can use it to launch into attacks that throw your opponents against the wall (leaving them vulnerable to some satisfying follow-up combos), parry attacks, throw out a reversal after blocking and rush across the screen. The drive gauge, which regenerates over time and with your own attacks, can also be used to give your special moves more bite. All of the drive mechanics are relatively easy to pull off, they typically just involve hitting two buttons, but learning how to deploy them will take some time.

Super Arts, the super-powered attacks that require more complex button inputs, also make a return. (Otherwise, Street Fighter players would probably just revolt again.) They rely on a separate super gauge, and in addition to dealing tons of damage, they can be used to blow away your competitor's drive gauge.

I swapped between an Xbox Elite 2 controller and a Hori arcade stick while playing Street Fighter 6 on my PC, and both inputs felt incredibly smooth. As someone raised on SNES fighting games, I tend to favor gamepads, but I also found myself enjoying the arcade stick experience more than usual. The combination of Street Fighter 6's visuals, thumping soundtrack and overall style made me feel like I was in an actual arcade, and having a fight stick on my desk just enhanced that sensation.

In addition to Luke, Street Fighter 6 adds new characters like the Judo expert/supermodel Manon (what a concept!), and the dapper older fighter JP. It usually takes me a while to warm up to new characters, especially when I haven't had much time with the classic Street Fighter roster recently, but all of the new additions bring something to the franchise. A few are also nods to earlier characters: Kimberly is a student of the former Final Fight ninja Guy; Lily is a member of T. Hawke's Thunderfoot tribe; and Jamie takes inspiration from Yun and Yang.

As for online play, I was only able to try Street Fighter 6's multiplayer for a few short sessions, but all of my matches felt smooth and lag-free. Of course, the experience will likely be different once hordes of desperate players show up. A new dedicated Battle Hub also serves as an online space for interacting with other players using your World Tour avatar. You can queue up for matches at arcade cabinets, play older games like Final Fight and Street Fighter 2, and even jump into matches with other player's avatars. I enjoyed the social element of Battle Hub, and it made multiplayer matches far more appealing than just queuing up against faceless players.

Street Fighter 6's many modes and fighting options may feel overwhelming to new players, but it's ultimately a celebration of everything that makes Street Fighter great. Franchises like Mortal Kombat have their extreme gore and (surprisingly) robust storytelling to rely on. The joy of Capcom's series has always been around hanging out with your friends, perfecting your combos and special moves, and learning the intricacies of your favorite characters. Street Fighter 6 is a reminder that Street Fighter is for everyone, and that's a beautiful thing to behold.