Friday, September 16, 2022
When playing Street Fighter 6 for the first time, it becomes abundantly clear why Capcom's iconic fighting franchise has been kicking ass and taking names for so long. Now, in its 35th year, Street Fighter shows no signs of slowing down, and, based upon the hour we've played of Street Fighter 6, Capcom still has plenty of new tricks up its blue-and-yellow sleeve. It might also represent the most significant shift for the series in some time, with a slew of fresh mechanics to get to grips with.
In its current state, Street Fighter 6 feels every bit as fast and immediate as any of the post-Street Fighter III mainline entries, but stirs in a generous helping of new systems and gameplay elements, lending a welcome dose of tactics to the series' own brand of face-kicking. Where SF IV had its Focus Attacks, SF 6 welcomes the new Drive System, a complete game-changer when it comes to strategising during a fight. By deploying a Drive Guard, you can block incoming attacks and take not a pixel of damage; instead, they chip away at a dedicated meter, called the Drive Gauge. When that’s depleted, your character enters 'burnout'. This mechanic alters the way you play Street Fighter 6, giving defence an added element of risk and strategy.
Once your Drive Gauge empties, and your fighter becomes burned out, you'll need to go on the offensive to recharge the meter, otherwise you risk losing a considerable tool in your defensive arsenal, leaving you wide open to a guard-crushing Drive Impact or Drive Reversal move, which fills the screen with a spectacular, eye-popping flourish of painterly colour. Both of these abilities can get you out of a tight spot in a pinch, so it's crucial you don't leave yourself unable to summon one of these skills in the heat of battle. Managing your Drive Gauge provides an additional layer of strategy, and, with the correct timing, a Drive Parry can also help turn the tide in battle, breaking an opponent's combo or giving you a little breathing space to unleash your own punishing counter attack. And, when you manage to successfully land a parry, it feels fantastic.
EX Special Moves from previous games also return as Overdrive Arts, modifying a special move in exchange for two cells of your Drive Gauge, while the EX Focus Cancel from Street Fighter IV has an equivalent in SF 6's Drive Rush, allowing you to dash out of a Drive Parry and hit back for one chunk of your Drive Gauge, or cancel out of a normal attack to string together a combo, albeit at the cost of three Drive Gauge blocks. With the total Drive Gauge maxing out at a total of six stocks, losing half of it in one fell swoop can be something of a gamble, but, when it pays off, it can mean the difference between glorious victory or a devastating loss.
Presented with the classic arcade-style Fighting Grounds mode, we're given the first opportunity to go hands-on with Juri, Guile, and Ken, as well as newcomer Kimberly – who currently share the character select screen with Ryu, Chun-Li, Luke, and Jamie – and we can confidently report that Street Fighter 6 is shaping up to be an exceptional fighting experience. For purists, the Classic control scheme preserves the quarter rolls on an arcade stick or d-pad, but for newbies or casual players, the accessible Modern control system welcomes one and all with hadokens unleashed at the touch of a button. Other moves can be executed with a single button and a direction, requiring no complicated directional inputs – Modern controls are a neat addition, designed to help ease new players in, while real-time commentary provides a blow-by-blow rundown of what's unfolding, serving as a helpful reminder of the various systems and mechanics at work.
Ken and Ryu will prove instantly familiar to seasoned Street Fighter fans, of course, as will Guile and Chun-Li, though all four have more than a few new abilities, or twists on old favourites. Chun-Li's Hyakuretsukyaku Lightning Kick, for instance, is no longer a button-mash ability, instead available as a fast attack with quarter roll forward and a tap of a kick button, enabling her to close distance with a short hop before unleashing a flurry of kicks. Across the board, there's a good blend of the old and new, classic moves like sonic booms, kikoshos, hurricane kicks, and shoryukens supplemented by the unique skills of Guy's protege Kimberly (exploding spraypaint cans, anyone?), Jamie's spiralling leaps and flips, and Luke's swift, brutal boxing style.
Even with only eight characters currently on the roster, there's a good breadth of variety already present in Street Fighter 6. Juri's uncompromising speed and power still proves formidable in the right hands, as Guile serves Street Fighter stalwart status with his traditional abilities, evolved for a new generation. Ken, meanwhile, as the latest addition to SF 6, is every bit as reliably strong as he's always been, his dragon punch remaining superior to Ryu's with a fiery upswing, while his combos remaining comfortingly intuitive. In fact, if you've ever played a Street Fighter game, you'll feel right at home here.
But perhaps the best thing about Street Fighter 6 is its Drive System – simple to unleash with a simultaneous push of two buttons, it unlocks all sorts of parrying and guard-breaking potential. Couple that with the seemingly effortless verve with which SF6 presents its match-ups, and you have the makings of something potentially very special indeed. And that's before you even consider the scope promised by Street Fighter 6's World Tour and Battle Hub modes – we've only scratched the surface.