Despite getting my ass kicked, I had a great time with Capcom's upcoming 2D brawler
It was short, but Street Fighter 6's closed beta test was sweet. Wrapping up earlier today, the beta gave a solid look into the future of the iconic fighting game franchise. There’s a lot to like, including the depth of the new avatar creator. But the best part, aside from learning character matchups and mastering your fave fighter, was how approachable the mechanics were. No lie, this might be the most accessible Street Fighter Capcom has made thus far, one that actively attempts to teach you its system.
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Running from October 7 through 10, the closed beta test had quite a few offerings. Alongside the training mode were casual and ranked online matches, as well as access to the cursed character creator and in-game shops in the Battle Hub central area to buy clothes for your avatar. It was surprisingly robust, letting you test out several fighters, spectate matches (by walking up to arcade cabinets in the hub world), and emote with iconic moves like Guile’s Somersault Kick and Ryu’s Hadouken. The main attraction of the beta, though, was absolutely the fighting game mechanics.
Fighting games are notorious for having high barriers to entry. Baiting attacks, chain grabs, empty jumps, frame traps—the glossary of terminology to comprehend if you wanna have a fighting chance online is staggering. Street Fighter 6 has all of this, of course, but it doesn’t concern itself with bogging you down with the minutiae. Instead, the beta threw you right into the action. It gave you the choice between two control schemes (classic for the diehard fans, modern for the beginners that allows for assisted combos and easier specials), a handful of characters (including mainstays like Chun-Li and newcomers such as Luke), and passionately screamed “Fight!” as you went toe-to-toe with players online. That alone, breaking down the intimidating walls while ensuring there’s still room for challenge, solidifies Street Fighter 6's ethos: It wants to be for everyone, and so far makes some great strides in hitting that mark.
Take training, for instance. One of the beta’s available modes and the place where you’ll probably spend a lotta time practicing, training in fighting games—particularly something like Tekken 7—hasn’t always been the best place to learn the game’s mechanics or even the intricacies of the genre. Street Fighter 6 is different. Being that this was a beta, the whole UI wasn’t available. Things like replays and tutorials were grayed out, but what you’d expect (move lists, dummy settings, etc.) was there. Most interesting, however, were the training settings, these applicable presets designed to not just explain mechanics to you but also to get you to practice them.
Wanna learn frame data? There’s a preset dedicated to familiarizing you with the units of time (frames) used in the game so you can better understand how long a move’s start-up is, what the recovery rate is between characters, and whether your next attack has enough frames to trap your opponent. Maybe you wanna practice some anti-air maneuvers. Similarly, there’s a preset that lets you hone your approach to jumping attacks. There are presets for all sorts of situations, from combos strings and throw escapes to fine-tuning your offensive pressure and maximizing the punishment on whiffed moves. This is what I mean by approachability. Street Fighter 6 wants you to learn its systems by encouraging you to practice them in curated combat scenarios. You no longer have to just play against people online, getting bodied over and over again in the hopes that maybe the mechanics will start making sense. The training mode gives you the time, space, and most importantly, the tools to actually get better.
On top of the intuitive training settings, the new Drive mechanic is also another approachability blessing. A meter just below your fighter’s health bar that refills over time, the Drive gauge mixes up your attacks, lets you parry moves, and gives you more offensive potential. It’s a double-edged sword, though, with you entering a staggered, stunnable “burnout” state if you expend the meter too quickly. But manage your Drive effectively and you’ll notice just how powerful of a decision-maker it is in battle. You don’t even have to be a high-level player to make ample use of the Drive system. Just spamming the Drive Impact, a combo-breaking move similar to Street Fighter IV’s Focus Attack, and landing it will immediately open your opponent up for a good thrashing, making anyone—myself included—feel like a pro with enough practice.
That’s what I loved most about my time with Street Fighter 6's closed beta. It not only nudged me to gain a deeper understanding of and appreciation for fighting games by showing me the nuances of the mechanics but also inspired me to take what I learned online, to apply those lessons in digital-world situations to lay the beatdown on some fools, casuals and veterans alike. I also got my ass whopped. People love button-mashing and throwing out the Drive Impact whenever possible. But in between the exhilarating wins and frustrating losses was enjoyment because Street Fighter 6 wanted me to be part of it.
Everything is subject to change, especially since this was the first closed beta. However, if this accessibility is even more thoroughly baked into the full game, I can see myself—and casuals like me intimidated by fighters—gravitating towards it. There’s no release date, other than the vague “2023" window. When Street Fighter 6 does launch, it’ll land on all the major platforms except Switch.