It’s no secret that the launch of Street Fighter V was a complete disaster. Due to a lack of basic features, questionable gameplay changes, and lousy monetization practices, it took years for Capcom to salvage what was once the face of the genre. Street Fighter 6 feels like a direct response to the failures of its predecessor, and after sinking over 20 hours into the beta, my only complaint is that I can’t play more of it right now. On top of its core mechanics coming together excellently, it is also packed with myriad small design decisions that could single-handedly raise the genre’s standards.
To get right into the juicy part, Street Fighter 6’s central gameplay seems to be an excellent combination of mechanics from previous entries that maintains depth while offering an onboarding ramp to new players. It retains the series’ identity by emphasizing deliberate exchanges full of fireball lobbing, pokes, and positioning. While it keeps the faster speed of Street Fighter V, bouts feel less manic and scrambly due to improved defensive options. Almost every character in the beta had strong anti-air moves, such as air-invincible uppercuts, meaning it was possible to snipe jump-happy opponents out of the sky. Additionally, most characters have normal attacks with significant range, meaning it’s possible to stuff incoming approaches. And perhaps most importantly, far fewer moves are plus on block, meaning it won’t be as easy to relentlessly pressure opponents. This change will likely force more interaction between foes, so one can’t keep the other on the defensive for as long.
However, being on offense is still rewarding, thanks to quick walk speeds and a buffet of options with the new Drive Meter system. The Drive Meter is a resource that can be used to perform Overdrives to buff your specials (think EX moves from previous games), blow-absorbing Drive Impacts (like Street Fighter IV’s focus attacks), parries (sort of like in Third Strike), and Drive Rush, which unlocks new combo and pressure routes. While that list of options sounds imposing, there is an elegance to having all these maneuvers behind a single resource. Because each match begins with both players at full Drive Meter, you can immediately use most of your abilities, and it is rewarding to have this extensive moveset available from the jump.
One of the most flexible elements is the Drive Rush, which lets you chain together combos that wouldn’t be possible otherwise and start tricky offense. I’ve already seen some wild combos that indicate this system has a high ceiling for creativity. However, if you spend all of your Drive Meter or if your opponent hits you with certain moves when you’re low on the resource, you’ll enter a brutal cooldown state. While in this debuffed mode, you take chip damage while blocking, are more disadvantageous on block, and most importantly, can’t use any Drive moves, leaving you wide open.
Since around the release of Street Fighter V, many genre veterans have complained that recent fighting games have been getting “easier” and less complex to appeal to newbies. Although Street Fighter 6 has several considerations meant to onboard new players, such as a “Modern” control setting that simplifies complex inputs in exchange for not being able to use some moves, it doesn’t seem simplified in a way that will take away from long-term complexity. While many characters have easy-to-perform beginner combos, more damaging sequences either use tight timing or necessitate the usage of Drive Rushes to cleverly chain attacks. Between each character’s large ability list and the balance between offensive and defensive options, it seems like seasoned pros have much to look forward to.
The only two complaints I’ve seen about the gameplay are its reportedly noticeable input delay on at least the Xbox Series X version, and that the strike absorbing Drive Impact move feels overtuned. As for the first, I didn’t feel latency on the PC version, but hopefully this will be fixed to make things more responsive on consoles. As for the second, while Drive Impact is undoubtedly strong when it lands and probably should burn more Drive Meter, there are multiple counters, such as using your own Drive Impact in response. The move is very reactable when you’ve practiced it, so I don’t foresee this being a significant problem at higher levels of play.
I also found that each of the characters in the beta was well-designed. Ryu, Ken, and Luke are still all-rounders, Juri and Jaime are centered around resource management and power-up states, Guile is a defensive turtle, Chun-Li has an imposing neutral game, and Kimberly is a mix-up machine that feels like she’s from an anime-fighter (which is probably why she’s my new main). Their moves are well-animated, with counter-hits communicating satisfying impacts, and personality comes across in their walk animations, win-poses, and pre-match banter. Combined with the much-improved graphical fidelity and regained sense of aesthetic identity, I really enjoy the style of this one, something I can’t say about its predecessor.
But as someone who has sunk a lot of time into modern fighting games, one of my biggest complaints with the genre is they almost always come with a long list of flaws unrelated to the core gameplay that slowly erodes your sanity. For instance, even if a game has a healthy player count, many make it hard to find opponents, like how Guilty Gear: Strive is plagued by an unreliable lobby system or how King of Fighters XV has buggy matchmaking. Street Fighter V, Tekken 7, Dragon Ball FighterZ, and Grandblue Fantasy Versus all have issues with their online play due to a lack of well-implemented rollback netcode, meaning internet lag will frequently ruin your tightly timed combos and muddy the feel of movement. Being a fan of fighting games has long meant enduring dozens of tiny annoyances, even before you get the chance to complain about balance issues.
With Street Fighter 6, Capcom has clearly invested the time and development resources to combat these problems while also including numerous clever features found in other fighters. In terms of finding games, there are smart additions like the ability to see an opponent’s connection before starting a bout, an indicator that shows if they are near your skill level, and an option for both players to opt-out if their connection is poor. One of Street Fighter V’s best features is the ability to easily queue up casual and ranked matches while practicing in training mode, which will also be included here as well. The ELO system for ranked play is revamped, giving win-streak bonuses and demotion protection to make competitive grinding less deflating than its predecessor. And perhaps most importantly of all, my experience with online matches was exceedingly consistent. In almost 200 throwdowns, I only experienced noticeable lag in maybe two or three, all of which were against high-ping foes. If there was one big concern going into the beta test, it was that the netcode wouldn’t be up to par, but things look rock solid so far.
The demo also showed off the Battle Hub, a lobby system where you can control an avatar in a 3D arcade, and chat, emote, or play against other people. While I was skeptical of this concept, in large part because Strive’s awful lobby system has caused me massive psychic damage, the implementation of this mode made for hilarious communal moments and showcased how the character creator can be used to create goofy body horrors. Although in the future, I will likely find most of my matches by queueing up in training mode, I could see myself using the lobbies for online tournaments or to chill out.
The beta only featured the Battle Hub, but Capcom has previously shown other modes like World Tour, an open-world experience where you explore the streets of Metro City. While it’s too early to tell how this will shape up without hands-on time, it looks more ambitious than any other single-player offering in a Street Fighter. This mode, combined with inclusions like the Extreme Battles that lets you incorporate items or being able to dive into classic arcade games like Final Fight, indicates genuine efforts to appeal to those beyond genre-aficionados.
On top of these larger features, many small additions make it easier to get into competitive play. The training mode feels robust and is defined by clever mechanics like a frame data visualizer which lets you see the exact startup time and end lag of moves as you perform them. This may sound like overkill to those unfamiliar with the genre, but learning frame data can be a critical aspect of knowing when to attack and when to give up your turn, and its inclusion will save a lot of time spent sifting through wikis. Beyond making this data more accessible to veterans, the visualizer also makes it easier for new players to understand what this information means.
This focus on clarity is a common theme throughout Street Fighter 6 and will hopefully nudge people towards immersing themselves in this complex genre. Another example is how in training mode, you can easily load up pre-made scenarios that can be tricky for beginners, like facing an opponent who jumps frequently or who keeps grabbing. Similarly, when viewing match replays, you can see frame data in real-time, making it easy to formulate future strategies. While many modern fighters have attempted to appeal to fresh players by decreasing complexity, I think the better solution is to make it easier to learn how to learn. Even in a less complex game, those with experience will usually trounce those with knowledge, meaning a better way to accommodate new folks is better-structured educational tools.
I will be frank; fighting games are really complicated. It is exceedingly difficult for anyone, even seasoned tournament players, to know if all of Street Fighter 6’s mechanics will click together based on just a weekend demo. But in virtually every respect it could, the game wowed me. It is a rare instance with the genre where I’ve seen little negative feedback after people have gotten hands-on time, indicating that many elements meant to appeal to newcomers have not alienated the old heads. My only concern is that some last-minute bone-headed financial decision could result in rotten monetization, but considering we already know there is a sizeable base cast, even here I am hopeful. Between its polish, mechanical depth, enticing characters, abundance of smart additions, and general degree of care going into its release, this one is looking like something special.
Elijah Gonzalez is the games intern for Paste Magazine. In addition to playing the latest indies and AAAs, he also loves film, anime, lit, and creating large lists of media he’ll probably never actually get to. You can follow him on Twitter @eli_gonzalez11.