IIf there’s one name synonymous with fighting games, it’s Street Fighter. Capcom’s Beat ‘Em Up became a cultural phenomenon, creating the Super Nintendo classic Street Fighter II that dominated arcades in the late ’80s and ’90s and won in living rooms. But since the demise of the arcade, fighting games have become more niche. While 2016’s Street Fighter V slowly became a competitive esports sensation, it lacked the universal appeal of earlier games. Now, 31 years after Street Fighter II, Capcom is reinventing its prize fighter for a new generation. Visually, Street Fighter 6 is creating a new identity for the franchise, sporting a striking aesthetic that combines unobtrusively bulging biceps with attacks that explode in bursts of color.
“I really want to make Street Fighter a game that everyone can play, like before,” creator and series veteran Shuhei Matsumoto told the Guardian. Offering a radical overhaul to its controls, Street Fighter 6 is a more accessible twist on the spin-kicking, fireball-throwing fighting scene. A new custom control option ditches the classic six-button setup of high and low punches and kicks in favor of a simpler three-button structure, allowing first-time players to pull off Shoryuken without spending months developing muscle memory.
Wisely, however, this new control method is completely optional: veterans can still get their KOs the old way. “This is our concept for Street Fighter 6: we need to satisfy not only the needs of hardcore fighter game fans, casual fighting players and those who love the world and characters of Street Fighter, but also players who are thinking of starting with this new game,” says Matsumoto. .
Street Fighter’s story and characters – mostly explored in manga and anime spin-offs, rather than games – are actually focused on in an interesting new story-driven adventure mode, inspired by the Dreamcast classic Shenmue. Street Fighter 6 director Takayuki Nakayama says, “The game is expanding beyond fighting to include a World Tour mode, where you can explore the game’s world. For example, guiding a custom fighter through the graffiti-coated streets of Metro City.
“I felt that most Street Fighter games in the past were able to offer a versus mode and a training mode,” adds Nakayama. “So, I wanted to approach SF6 like Versus Mode is the ultimate game content, and before you get into that, you get an introduction to the world of Street Fighter… a way to get to grips with the game.”
This contrasts favorably with the barebones offline experience offered by Street Fighter V, which launched without a single-player arcade mode. It wasn’t until years later that the V packed enough content to justify its hefty £49.99 price tag. “I know we need to make sure the amount of content in the game is satisfactory,” Nakayama replies when asked what lessons have been learned.
“One of the lessons from SFV was that communication with the fanbase is key,” adds Matsumoto. “For SF6 we definitely want to make sure that players get a very clear message from the director and the dev team about what we’re doing, and what we want to achieve.”
As one of the first properly competitive video games, Street Fighter must also be one of the most watched esports in the world. Thanks to large health bars, mesmerizing attacks and their simple 1v1 format, fighting games are contests that casual viewers can quickly grasp. But despite this, viewing figures for beat ’em ups lag far behind shooters like Call of Duty and Fortnite. Is this something that the creators of Street Fighter 6 want to pursue?
“I think the immediacy and readability of fighting games makes them great for esports. But I don’t think the fighting genre needs to be the most watched in the world to make a meaningful impact,” says Matsumoto. The games have been playing, and will continue to do so until we release them. I am grateful for the support of FGC [fighting game community] … That’s all I need!”
Street Fighter 6 is still a year away from release, so Capcom’s many colorful scrimmages remain a mystery – leaving the internet to spread its own fun theories. Thanks to snippets of dialogue from the trailers – and a particularly eye-catching redesign of the iconic character, Kane – fans have deduced that his old rival Ryu stole his wife. While the developers sadly declined to comment on the “Hot Ryu vs. Divorce Kane” meme, this type of patter is building buzz in the gaming world.
“I really think we’re creating a new kind of Street Fighter in SF6,” says Matsumoto. For the first time in decades, Street Fighter feels unpredictable again.