The growth and mainstreaming of esports has helped shine a spotlight on an important but often overshadowed corner of gaming culture. But it’s also occasionally led some developers to focus on the high-end competitive side of their games while the casual audience at home languishes. Street Fighter 6 feels in some ways like a rebalancing of that equation. While the fighting game community picks apart the new possibilities for top-level play it will open up, the thing I loved most about my recent time with the game was how a new control scheme made it so quick and easy to unlock the game’s fun.
“There’s almost a stereotype or a stigma that fighting games are more geared towards a hardcore audience that has been playing fighting games for a very long time,” producer Kazuhiro Tsuchiya told GamesRadar. “For us, one of the challenges is obviously to continue catering to that existing audience, but also to try to make Street Fighter 6 into something that even newcomers and people who’ve never even touched a fighting game can really enjoy.”
To that end, Street Fighter 6 sports two default button layouts. The first is called Classic, and it’s what players would expect, utilizing specific input chains to unleash powerful moves and combos. The second is called Modern, and it makes firing off a Hadouken as simple as holding triangle on a PS5 DualSense and pushing the thumbstick to the side. Want to deliver a combination of light, medium, and heavy attacks instead? Hold the right trigger, attack, and the game will work one out for you.
It’s sort of like a mashup of Dragon Ball FighterZ’s auto-combos and Super Smash Bros.’ direction-pad led special movesets, and it makes it a cinch to navigate one of the more storied fighting game franchises out there as a novice. Sometimes it’s fun to slowly master a new fighting style, character, or entire game. Other times I just want to do really cool shit. That’s why I lovingly refer to the Modern Control Type as the game’s “cheat mode.” Not because it’s a sign of laziness or makes you a fraud, but because it’s such an elegant shortcut.
Veterans can of course opt to keep using the Classic Control Type, and they’ll be at a possible advantage if they do, able to initiate more custom combos and timings that opponents on Modern won’t have access to. With both players having access to their preferred mode, however, it lets more of the drama stay focused around strategy and tactics than execution and prior knowledge.
While the Modern Control Type made it easier for me to jump right in immediately, Capcom is clear that it’s not meant to give anyone a long-term advantage. “By no means are we saying this is easy mode,” game director Takayuki Nakayama told Digital Trends. “This is just a new way to play Street Fighter that addresses some common frustrations that a lot of people have. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad player if you choose to use modern mode; it’s just another way to play the game. So if people want to enter tournaments with Modern Control Type, then there’s nothing wrong with that. We want to have a world where players have a choice in how they play Street Fighter 6.”
I’ve at least dabbled in almost every Street Fighter since II, but playing an early build of 6 at Summer Game Fest last week featuring Ryu, Chun-Li, Jaime, and Luke felt immediately fun in a way I haven’t felt since the Sega Genesis days. It’s heavy, but snappy. Moves feel weighty, like tension building up in the coils of a spring, satisfyingly letting loose once the backstop is removed. The presentation is gorgeous and playful. In keeping with the game’s street art motif, silhouettes of vibrant paints explode behind fighters when they get knocked silly. I’ve seen some people pick apart the graphics in still-frame shots, but in motion the animations and backgrounds are detailed and crisp.
Street Fighter 6 is the first to be made inside the Resident Evil game engine, and Capcom is touting hyper-realistic graphics, including beads of sweat rolling down fighters’ outsized muscles. To me it just looked like goofy old Street Fighter juiced up with extra layers of fidelity, by which I mean it looked great. The new Drive Gauge system, an additional series of metered utility moves, offers an expanded arsenal but will take more than one session to unravel. The game’s development team is also promising cross-play (it’s cross-gen and coming to both PS5 and Xbox Series X/S as well as PC), as well as overhauled rollback netcode. Lauded in fighting games for limiting latency, the implication is that it will be noticeably better than the version Street Fighter V relied on.
For me personally, however, demoing Street Fighter 6 rekindled the dream of playing live with other people. Even before covid-19, full-time adulting and two small kids made in-person game nights a monumental scheduling endeavor. My brief time with the new game made me want to make the effort and start planning ahead, even if it’s still not out for another year. I would mock any one else for writing these words, and you should mock me in turn, but there is a palpable swagger about Street Fighter 6 that’s infectious and has me anticipating a fighting game for the first time in years.
Of course, I was also excited for Street Fighter V, only to be instantly underwhelmed by the initial barebones release, early online problems, and petty in-game unlock economy. This time around, Capcom is promising an “immersive” open world story mode and redesigned online battle hub. I’ll be skeptical of the company delivering on either unless and until it actually does. But if Street Fighter 6’s launch roster is as good as the leaks are making it seem, I’m hopeful the arcade mode will be solid enough on its own.
Update: 6/16/22, 12:39 p.m. ET: A previous version of this headline referred to Street Fighter 6's new ‘Modern’ control scheme as a ‘cheat mode’ and was interpreted as denigrating the effort to open up the game to new players, and accessibility efforts in gaming in general. That was not my intention and the headline has been updated, along with additional comments from the development team.