LOS ANGELES—After spending two days smacking strangers around in the world’s first playable version of Street Fighter 6, I’m convinced that this is the entry that will bring me, a casual fighting game player, back to the series.
Already, this “2023” fighting game is beautiful. It’s accessible. Its combat has real impact. And its strategies and moment-to-moment gameplay come with clearer consequences and learning opportunities than I’ve ever seen in a Capcom fighter.
As the version I played was quite early, with only four playable characters, I’m left with the impression that Capcom still has some fine-tuning to do. I can already imagine where the devs will focus efforts like damage balancing, recovery windows, and other numerical tweaks. I’ll do my best to share what I’ve learned so far about SF6‘s myriad of systems, particularly the “drive” abilities that gather prior games’ coolest mechanics into a “greatest movement hits” gumbo. These all appear to be subject to change.
But the most crucial stuff—the delirious fun that made me want to cancel all of my other appointments at an in-person Summer Game Fest event and play more Street Fighter 6—already feels locked in.
New, optional “modern” controls: Dumbed down yet clever
Despite being a pretty lousy fighting game player, I found I was immediately able to hold my own against my earliest opponents. What’s more, the difference-maker wasn’t necessarily the series’ new “modern” control suite—though I still appreciated it as a mostly elegant option.
Think of the modern control option (as opposed to the game’s other option, a familiar, six-button “classic” mode) as a way to play SF6 with “macro” button command chains built in. The most substantial difference is a button dedicated to “special” attack activation, and it resembles Smash Bros. and other arena brawlers. Press the joystick in different directions at the same time as the dedicated special button (triangle on PlayStation), and you’ll get the same result as if you committed to the typical quarter-circle, half-circle, or hold-back motion demands.
Modern players only get three attack buttons instead of six, and it’s like returning to a classic Sega Genesis gamepad, only with Capcom deciding for you whether your quick, medium, or fierce attack will be a punch or kick. That kind of control detail matters more when chaining together combos, but SF6‘s modern option has your back here. Hold “R2” or “RT” on a gamepad, then tap any of the attack buttons, and so long as your timing is on point, you’ll rattle off a basic attack combo, nimbly switching between punches, kicks, and special attacks, as if you’d downloaded martial arts knowledge from the Matrix.
Unfortunately, modern mode users cannot adjust special attacks between weak, medium, and fierce variants; Ryu’s “Hadouken” fireball is always the same speed for modern control users, for example. Additionally, a few special commands aren’t available outside of classic mode, such as Ryu’s new “tap down twice, then punch” move, which adds a bit more power to his next Hadouken fireball (though this comes with the risk of the charging move being interrupted).