Street Fighter 6 Has Perfected the Fighting Game Formula

Street Fighter 6 is everything you could want in a fighting game.

Ken in Street Fighter 6
Photo: Capcom

When Street Fighter II: The World Warrior hit the scene in 1991 and changed everything, it proved that the fighting game genre was the perfect fixture for the arcade. Between the endless player vs. player challenges and the multiple endings for those going solo, fighters had the perfect amount of replay value for hanging out at the arcade. Then these games hit consoles. You could play against a friend for hours, but if you were alone, you were left playing through arcade mode with everyone, beating the final boss again and again just to watch ending cutscenes of differing quality.

Eventually, developers realized that there needed to be more than an arcade mode and a versus mode to keep players coming back, but what could you do with a fighting game engine? Maybe add a team mode, survival mode, even a time attack, but those added little to the experience.

It’s no secret that Capcom, the godfather of fighting games, has struggled in past years to bring more to its single-player console experience beyond arcade mode. Ports for Street Fighter Alpha 3 at least tried with World Tour Mode, which offered additional challenges such as the gimmicky ability to fight two M. Bisons at the same time. Then Street Fighter 5 arrived with no arcade mode at all, opting instead for a “story mode” made up of prologue cutscenes that occasionally led to matches that were insultingly easy. Capcom eventually fleshed out the game with an arcade mode and a cinematic story mode, but neither really lit the world on fire.

But with Street Fighter 6, Capcom has finally checked all the boxes on what makes a fighting game a day-one must-buy:

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1) An excellent fighting engine,

2) A worthwhile PvP experience, especially when it comes to online play,

3) A captivating single-player campaign that keeps you invested.

Street Fighter 6 Masters All the Basics

The mechanics of Street Fighter 6 should feel familiar to franchise veterans. Default best two out of three, special moves, up to three stocks in super moves, and so on. But this time, they trade out Street Fighter 5’s V-Trigger system for the Drive Gauge: a meter that allows you access to various abilities taken from old Street Fighter games. You can use it to parry your opponent’s attacks. You can use it to do a focus attack where you advance forward with armor (i.e. absorbing up to two hits from your opponent without stopping) before smashing your enemy in such a way that will either stun them or knock them into the wall. You can reverse attacks, and you can even pull off EX versions of your special moves. The problem is that if you overuse this meter, your fighter becomes burned out, which affects their defensive stats.

It all comes together perfectly and controls like a dream. Speaking of which, there are actually three different kinds of control settings available in Street Fighter 6. You can opt for classic controls with three punches, three kicks, and having to pull off certain motions for special moves. You can also choose a more modern control scheme, which streamlines the attacks and gives specials their own button. Then there’s dynamic style, which is like a more extreme version of modern style to the point that you’re borderline spamming special moves.

As always, there’s a versus mode, but they went full throttle with this version. In the Battle Hub, your created avatars go around challenging other players and playing classic Capcom video games emulated on virtual arcade cabinets. It’s completely over-the-top in the best way.

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With versus matches, you can also add commentary. It’s just a bell and/or whistle, but it’s such a clever addition that really enhances each fight. There’s a list of play-by-play and color analysts who you can mix and match, making each match feel like its own esports showcase.

Street Fighter 6 Roster Brings Quite a Bit of History to the Game But Little Actual Story

At release, there are 18 characters to choose from, up two from Street Fighter 5’s base roster of 16. It’s not the best starting lineup, but we all know Capcom will introduce many more characters to the experience in due time. Of the 18, we have the original eight playable fighters from Street Fighter II (Ryu, Ken, Chun-Li, Guile, Blanka, Dhalsim, E. Honda, and Zangief), as well as later SF2 characters Cammy and Dee Jay. Juri, the breakout star of Street Fighter IV, is back, as is Luke, the final DLC entry for Street Fighter 5.

Four of the new characters are linked to heroes and villains from past Street Fighter games. Jamie is an underage drunken fighter who looks up to his cousins Yun and Yang. Kimberly is a stylish ninja who studies under Guy. Lily is a tiny Native American warrior who follows in the footsteps of the massive Thunder Hawk. Then there’s JP, a mysterious and corrupt businessman who wields Psycho Power, just like M. Bison. The last two characters are Manon, a model who mixes judo with ballet to wonderful results, and Marisa, a colossus of a woman who acts as a modern-day gladiator. They’re two of the highlights of this new blood.

There is an arcade mode, with nice impressive cutscenes, including intros, pre-boss battle scenes, and endings. Unfortunately, there’s little to enjoy when it comes to lore here. In fact, there is very little actual story in Street Fighter 6. There’s something about a fictional country called Nayshall where Ken was framed for a terrorist attack. Characters deal with Ken’s shattered reputation, the mysterious threat of JP, and the emptiness of a world where M. Bison is absolutely dead.

At first, I figured that this was going to lead to another attempt at a cinematic story mode down the line. Then I realized how…overall friendly the roster really is. Other than JP being a villain and Juri being a psychotic antihero, there really are no bad guys to mold a story around in Street Fighter 6. Instead, the game gives off the distinct feeling that the Street Fighter II cast are old friends meeting up at the high school reunion.

Street Fighter 6’s World Tour Mode Is a Franchise Highlight

But that all leads us to World Tour Mode. Capcom really figured themselves out with this addition. This single-player campaign feels like a modernized version of Mortal Kombat Deception’s Konquest mode, where the gullible Shujinko wandered various dimensions to learn to fight under different kombatants while playing out his own story.

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World Tour Mode takes that ambitious Konquest concept and turns it into an open-world RPG based around the Street Fighter engine. In it, you create your own character who gets their start as a student of Luke’s. You immediately meet with Bosch, a hot-headed rival who briefly becomes your traveling companion, but he appears to be learning to fight for very personal reasons and is too impatient to stick around. He breaks away from the training to find his own path, but your character’s fate will intertwine with his soon enough.

That’s the setup for your character wandering the streets of Metro City and eventually the world. You start meeting up with other Street Fighter 6 characters and learn from them. Next thing you know, you’re getting text messages from E. Honda and other fighters. You can obtain gifts during your adventures and give them to your various masters to increase your bond with them. With that comes the change to learn new moves and watch bonus cutscenes.

Battle appears to be a universal language and you can just challenge randos on the street to sparring matches for the sake of earning experience points or winning special items for completing the right tasks mid-fight. Gang members aren’t as friendly about it, unfortunately, and you will find yourself being chased and ambushed by shady people wearing boxes over their heads.

There’s a lot to play with in World Tour Mode and completing it will take you a long time. It’s kind of perfect for Street Fighter because the lore is rooted in the characters themselves. Mortal Kombat is about how the characters play off the apocalyptic threat of the week, but that’s a rare occurrence in Street Fighter’s mythos. It’s more about how the characters relate to each other. Yes, this is a mode that involves good guys punching bad guys, but it feels truer to the series than the superhero team-up against M. Bison from the last game.

It’s the final piece of the puzzle that makes Street Fighter 6 a fantastic new addition to the franchise. It looks like a million bucks, has so many brilliant extras, and feels like the total package. Play against a friend, play against someone online, or play against the computer. You’ll have a blast regardless.