In one play session, I'm honing my skills with my main man Zangief. In another, I'm walking a fully customized avatar through a bustling city, its streets lined with AI-controlled strangers I can challenge to battle at my leisure. In a third, that same avatar is dropped into a massive room filled with arcade cabinets and other players looking for a fight. Street Fighter 6 learns an immediate lesson from the content-bare release of its predecessor, as it offers a variety of significant features and modes right out of the gate. It is a robust fighting game that is of premiere quality. Street Fighter 6 is incredible; a return to form for the franchise that welcomes both new fighters and seasoned pros.
SF6 splits its content into three hubs: Fighting Ground, which most closely emulates the classic SF experience; Battle Hub, where players can congregate to challenge each other and compete in tournaments; and World Tour, which is a sprawling, globe-trotting story mode with an open world and RPG hooks. Each format centers around the classic Street Fighter style of 2D fighting gameplay, and that excellent core experience is what drives everything.
Mechanically, Street Fighter 6 doesn't fall far from previous games in the series: You have multiple normal attacks, special attacks, Super Arts, and movement techniques specially designed for each of the roster's 18 characters. Some have an in-your-face style with heavy strikes and damaging throws, while others are better suited to keeping their distance and picking moments to strike. What distinguishes SF6 from previous iterations are the core universal mechanics shared by all characters. While the effects and execution are the same for each fighter, these mechanics have their own distinct flair and flourish of personality depending on the character you choose. These universal mechanics are also where much of Street Fighter 6's gameplay depth is.
The Drive system is SF6's new universal battle mechanic, and I'm amazed at how much it adds to a match despite being simple to grasp. By pressing the two medium attack buttons, I can parry an attack using Drive Parry, or, with Drive Rush, I can immediately dash forward out of it for a burst of speed that can catch opponents off guard or introduce new combo sequences. Functionally, players that are experienced with Street Fighter 4's Focus Attack Dash Cancel or Guilty Gear's Roman Cancels will feel right at home. By pressing both heavy attacks, I can initiate a Drive Impact that can stagger an opponent and leave them open, ensuring that overly defensive players can be opened up. If an opponent is backed into a corner, landing this will make them bounce off the wall, adding a variety of other strategic considerations and opportunities. Drive Reversals, meanwhile, allow me to block an attack and counter with a move that, while not very damaging, will help escape tricky spots. Finally, Overdrive lets me power up special attacks like the EX systems of old.
These aren't unlimited, however, as each move uses up part of a Drive Gauge just below the health bar, and a fighter can "burn out," which slows their movement and makes certain offensive and defensive moves inaccessible for a period. The strategic implications of this system cannot be overstated, as these new tools do wonders for the overall fighting system. Drive Impacts in particular can swing the tide of battle in an instant, as catching an unsuspecting opponent with one will allow you to put a hurting on them. Keeping these tools in front of your mind is key to victory, and luckily it's not an overwhelming amount to recall. One of the major criticisms leveled at Street Fighter 5 was the rigidity of battles, with some going so far as to call it turn-based. However, these new mechanics make Street Fighter 6 feel more fluid.
Despite these differences, all 18 characters somehow feel balanced. I imagine once the pros get their hands on the game, a few top fighters will emerge, but from the jump there was never a matchup I thought to be too difficult to overcome. Characters who have previously suffered in other areas have new abilities to make up for it--Zangief, for example, has a running throw with armor properties that can absorb projectiles, which are an old nemesis of his. The new fighters also fit right into the mold, perfectly complimenting the existing roster while also serving as a new puzzle for players to crack open. I've already seen some Manon players online that gave me nightmares, and can only imagine how much more potent these new faces will be in the hands of the Street Fighter faithful.
No matter how simple Street Fighter 6 can seem, novice players are going to feel some trepidation when stepping into the ring for the first time. The game is ready for you, though, as Capcom has implemented a new Modern control scheme that makes controlling fighters more like Super Smash Bros. than traditional Street Fighter. This gives new players a foundation from which to learn, but that growth does have a ceiling. If you decide to transition to the Classic control scheme, players will need to learn the manual input controls that have been used since Street Fighter 2. While Modern controls did not translate well for me personally--I've been throwing quarter-circle Hadokens since I was six years old--I always appreciate the offer of a new stepping stone for novice players.
The easiest place to learn SF6, in either Modern or Classic style, is in Fighting Ground, which is the "traditional" SF experience. This is where you'll find familiar modes like Arcade Mode, online ranked and casual matches, and offline versus modes. This section's shining feature, however, is its Practice area, which houses some of the best in-game tutorials the series has ever had.
Practice Mode has the classic freeform Training mode fans expect, but it also holds full tutorials for the game's core system as well as character guides and combo trials for all 18 characters on the roster. These character guides are a deep dive into what makes each fighter tick, as it explains not only their special moves, but also the best situations in which to use them. While I am a Zangief main, I've spent time in these modes to be confident enough with Marisa to take her online, and it didn't take me long to get there.
Street Fighter 6 is a robust, fighting game that is of a premiere quality ... Street Fighter 6 is incredible; a return to form for the franchise that welcomes both new fighters and seasoned pros
Fighting Ground also lets you tinker with in-game commentators, one of the more ballyhooed features of Street Fighter 6. The game allows players to pick real-world commentators from the fighting game community, who "call" matches as if players are competing at Evo. While the novelty is fun at first--hearing Steve "TastySteve" Scott and WWE's Zelina Vega in an official Street Fighter game is super cool--the excitement those commentators generate during an actual tournament isn't ever captured here. Those experiences are fueled by genuine, off-the-cuff reactions to the action on the screen and in the arena, while those same voices sound like they're reading situations from a script here (which, of course, is exactly what they are doing). It's a problem similar to what WWE video games have dealt with in the past; trying to script reactions in such a way that they sound spontaneous is incredibly hard to do, and this admirable attempt misses the mark.
If you're looking for a less traditional experience than what's offered in Fighting Ground, it's time to take a World Tour. This is a massive story mode with multiple chapters that unfolds across the entire world. The main hub is Metro City of Final Fight fame, and it is stuffed with things to do and references for longtime Capcom fighting game fans to find. The rest of the mode is broken up into smaller locations based on stages from the core game. Italy's Colosseo is where you find Marisa, and Jamaica's Bathers Beach is Dee Jay's hangout, for example. These are one-off locales you'll visit sparingly, so they're not as big as Metro City, but they all still have a charm to them.
The story being told in World Tour does not live up to the standard set by fighting games like Tekken 7 and Mortal Kombat 11. However, this isn't much of a problem, as everything happening around the story makes up for it in a big way. World Tour is essentially a Street Fighter RPG, where the fighting mechanics serve as the battle system, and it is very silly fun. As I'm walking through the streets of Metro City, I can challenge virtually anyone I want to a fight, be they a food truck attendant, an old lady going to the store, or a young troublemaker getting up to no good. Some potential opponents will initiate the attack instead, and can sometimes come in a group, forcing players to defeat a series of opponents. With every victory, my avatar gains experience and levels up both their core stats and the fighting styles I'm using at the time.
This "challenge anyone" mechanic is also technically impressive, as it really does let players challenge anyone. The game seamlessly goes from challenging a passerby, into a fight, and then returning to free roaming without loading. The "stage" is whatever we were standing in front of at that moment, and as I'm fighting, other NPCs that were standing around will flow into the background and cheer us on. There is a sacrifice being made here, however, and for some it might be a big one--there is a noticeable dip in frame rate when fighting in World Tour, one that immediately reverts to 60 FPS once you're out of a battle. And the visual quality of the stages and random fighters is nowhere near as good as Ryu fighting Ken on a carefully crafted stage. These performance issues are unfortunate, but I didn't focus on them much as I was too busy enjoying the silliness of fighting every Metro City denizen that passed by me, or using money to buy a hat that somehow improves my kicking power.
The hero in World Tour is a fully customizable avatar you create, and you have control over everything from their hair to their body size. As previously mentioned, clothing can be purchased or earned as rewards throughout the mode, with each piece of clothing offering a stat boost in a certain area. Also, if you have a favorite costume set, but you know you have more powerful gear, you can set your appearance separately from what's equipped. This lets you look how you want while also getting all of the benefits of the new gear you pick up, which is a huge plus. While I want to be able to fight like a ninja, I don't always want to look like one, and World Tour offers that flexibility.
Leveling up fighting styles is the other major customization option and growth path. Your avatar's moveset is in your hands, and as you progress through the story of World Tour, you meet the 18 "masters" of the world--aka the playable roster of Street Fighter characters. After earning their respect through mission completion or even a one-on-one fight, your avatar will be "enrolled" as a student and given access to that character's moveset. You'll pick a core moveset for normals, but then you can pick and choose which special moves you want your character to use. At one point, my avatar used Dee Jay's Rolling Sobat, Blanka's Rolling Attack, Chun-Li's Spinning Bird Kick, and Ken's Shoryuken, and I could change things up whenever I wanted. That versatility and ability to create your own fighter down to the moveset is something new for the franchise and a core part of what makes World Tour fun.
Using a fight stick to control an avatar in this mode is rough. The camera controls do not translate to a controller with only one stick, so getting around the city is cumbersome. The game does offer a solution, though not an elegant one: I can activate my fight stick as "Player 1" and my normal controller as "Player 2," and switch between the two at will depending on if I'm moving around Metro City or fighting a Mad Gear member. While this does mean extra space is needed for two controllers at once, I appreciate the convenience of the easy switch every time I want to use it.
Your avatar also takes center stage in the Battle Hub, which is the final section of the Street Fighter 6 experience. This is basically a middle ground between World Tour and Fighting Ground, where players bring their avatars into a massive dome lined with arcade cabinets. You can sit down at a cabinet and wait for a challenger while training, or you can join a queue of players already seated, the digital equivalent of putting a quarter on the machine.
This brings me to one of the major sticking points of any fighting game in the modern era: Netcode. Street Fighter 6's netcode sings, no matter who I'm fighting or, incredibly, which server I'm logged into. I made sure to log into the North America, South America, and Asia servers during my review time, and nearly every match I played in all three felt like my opponent was sitting in the room next to me. That's not to say it's perfect, as personal internet connections also are a major factor in performance, but the advent of rollback netcode has been a major boon to the entire fighting genre, and Street Fighter 6 is the latest beneficiary. I had a couple of matches in the North America region that did have some netcode issues, but my online play experience as a whole has been overwhelmingly positive.
If you want some variety, you can venture over to the classic games section of the hub, which offers full arcade ports of games from the classic Capcom catalog. Street Fighter 2, Final Fight, and Super Puzzle Fighter 2 Turbo were all available during the review period, and every one of them ran beautifully both when playing free play and shooting for the top of the leaderboard in High Score Challenge. Or, if you want something more novel, you can walk into the center of the arena and challenge anyone in there to a fight using your avatar, with each fighter based on their current World Tour builds. These fights can get wacky whether you're in them or spectating them, and they were always a welcome change of pace after multiple matches at the arcade machines. I expect Battle Hub to be a major hangout when the game launches, and while I cannot predict how the online experience will hold up when that happens, I can say that my time for this review was clean as a sheet.
Fighting games in the modern age live on through their extra content, and Street Fighter 6 is no exception. Capcom has not only already confirmed the first four characters coming via downloadable content, but, much like Street Fighter 5, the game will feature its own economy complete with multiple currencies--Drive Tickets that are earned in-game, and Fighter Coins that can be earned in-game or purchased separately--as well as a battle pass which will offer avatar gear, emotes, and other perks in both a free and premium track. Given how strong the base game is, having more content and being able to play the game in different ways is an exciting prospect.
I can't get enough of Street Fighter 6. It's been my last thought when I go to bed and my first thought when I wake up. It has a beautifully constructed fighting system, but also offers modes that take the game very seriously and, in other cases, not seriously at all. There are some small issues with performance in World Tour, but none of those are enough to derail the overall package. With the releases of new Tekken and Mortal Kombat games, it very much feels like we're in a new golden era for the fighting game genre. Thankfully, Street Fighter 6 steps into the arena looking good and fighting fit.