I participated in the closed beta test for Street Fighter 6 over the weekend, and I might well be one of the least-qualified people to write about the game at this point in time. After all, I haven’t played a fighting game with any degree of seriousness since 2002’s Guilty Gear XX (if that). And yet, after a few dozen matches of getting absolutely demolished by all comers, I’m more excited than ever to maybe, just maybe, give the genre another chance.
The first thing that stands out about Street Fighter 6 is how welcoming it seems. Joining the closed beta for the first time puts you in the Battle Hub, a virtual lobby where you can get into pickup games with other players using one of the eight characters available in the beta roster (the full roster was confirmed during TGS 2022). The other two modes, Fighting Grounds and World Tour, an RPG-style progression mode, were locked during my time with the test. Only the Battle Hub was available for the test, but that was already plenty, all things considered.
Joining the Battle Hub at first kicks off an intro video of sorts featuring Eternity, a new host character. Though Eternity manages a pitch-perfect homage to Ruby Rhod from The Fifth Element, the schtick feels important for giving players the impression that absolutely anyone’s welcome to mix it up in the Battle Hub, and by extension, Street Fighter 6 proper. It’s so friendly, in fact, that in any other context – like, say, a corporate training video instead of a video game – that welcoming vibe would come across as corny. But I believe it, because everything about Street Fighter 6 exudes that friendly vibe.
Of course, “friendly” is not synonymous with “easy”. Even playing on the game’s “Modern” control scheme, which simplifies the number of inputs to a method that’s somewhat similar to that used by the Smash Bros. series, I was readily trounced 90% of the time. In fact, over at least fifty matches, I maybe won two rounds. Not matches. Rounds.
And it felt great! I learned a little more every time someone planted my butt in the ground, and while those learnings didn’t translate to victories right away, my understanding grew with each exchange. I also learned about the different tools Street Fighter 6 had ready to help a scrub like me on their journey toward getting good.
One of these tools is the Drive system, SF6‘s new signature mechanic. Keeping in mind that I’m a complete scrub, my understanding of the Drive System is that it’s a one-button system that gives players a tool to get out of many jams with the right timing. Managed by the Drive meter, which refills at a steady rate, players can throw out a Drive Impact, a powerful attack that stuns an opponent and knocks them away. Importantly, the Drive Impact is “armored”, absorbing a couple of hits without being interrupted. This can prevent you from being trapped in the corner or give you some much-needed space.
There’s also the Drive Parry, which blocks almost anything bar a throw, and the Drive Rush, a quick way to close a gap. However, using Drive moves too often puts you in “burnout”, which leaves you a sitting duck, so there’s a price to pay for leaning on it like a crutch. All the same, it was nice to have something to be able to whip out when I could see that someone was just using me to “lab” their infinites.
Beyond being steamrolled by everyone in my region, there was a lot to do in the Battle Hub itself. I could spectate matches by walking up to an occupied arcade cabinet, take a break by watching fights on the big screen, spend some of the “Drive Ticket” currency I earned on cosmetics for my avatar, or just emote the pain away in the social space. There was even a “classic arcade” in the back area, where players could play archived versions of old games like Final Fight and Super Street Fighter II Turbo.
There’s also a lot of personality to be found in the matches themselves. During the matchup screens, you can change your character’s facial expression to get your “game face” on (or just do some gurning). Many of the avatar emotes correspond to in-game moves like the Shoryuken and spinning bird kick. The character creator also feels completely off-the-wall, with some truly inhuman avatars visible in any given Battle Hub instance (the Monster Factory folks will be delighted, I think).
The Street Fighter 6 closed beta might be one of the most polished tests I’ve yet seen for a major release, but it still was a test. Never once did the game tell me I have a stable connection to any server, for one. The fights seemed playable enough, though, and no one thought to take advantage of the new feature that allows players to agree to declare a “no contest” draw if the connection is bad. I also encountered a few crashes and drops in connection, as well as a lockup that forced me to hard-reboot my PS5. There’s still some work to be done, and the final game’s most content-rich and potentially bug-prone mode, World Tour, wasn’t on offer yet.
Still, though, playing this taster for Street Fighter 6 left me more excited to play a fighting game than I’ve been in years, and I’m looking forward to seeing how it turns out on full release.
Street Fighter 6 will launch in 2023 on PC, PS4, PS5, and Xbox Series X|S.