On Friday morning, players crowded around a “Street Fighter 6” machine to watch fighting game influencer Maximillian Dood play his favorite character, Ken. An announcer highlighted someone else’s winning streak, as a guy with monstrously huge shoulders lumbered past me. In another corner, some folks played the beat ‘em up, “Final Fight.” And everyone was wearing yellow track pants, as if we were in some sort of squid game facility.
No, this isn’t a convention or a live event. It’s all the stuff happening in the player hub of “Street Fighter 6,” which is hosting a closed beta session this weekend. The hub is meant to mimic the whimsical, communal atmosphere of your local arcade, and it kind of works. Seeing virtual avatars standing rapt as a famous player holds court at a cabinet feels like palming your quarters while waiting your turn at the sticks at the local pool bar or pizza place.
These impressions come from just a few hours of play. I’ll be filling this piece out with more thoughts as I continue playing through matches.
You start by customizing your virtual avatar — an early indication of what a robust package “Street Fighter 6” is shaping up to be. The customization options rival those of the Saints Row series; you can mold your body into practically any shape and skin shade you desire, tweaking your look all the way down to how much arm or back hair you want. This is one of those character customization systems you could spend hours in before ever touching the actual game.
Once you’re done setting your “world warrior” look, you’re introduced to the player hub, donning the yellow track pants I mentioned earlier — every character’s default look. The hub includes a clothing store where cosmetic items like pants, tops and masks are sold at two different types of currency, a sneak peek into the in-game and real-world microtransaction systems that await.
The player hub is a first for the legendary Street Fighter series, taking a page out of live service games that offer similar features, like “Destiny 2″ or Nintendo’s Splatoon series. It’s a community area where we can show off our wins, our fashion, and — just like in we used to in the ’90s — look for an unoccupied seat at an arcade machine to play.
For now, only the multiplayer is available. There are aspects of the player hub, including the city area, that beta players aren’t seeing. Anything related to the classic arcade or story modes is locked.
Series veterans have praised how the sixth game plays, and they’re right to do so. “Street Fighter 6” feels like a fusion of the parry system from the celebrated third game, the chunkiness of the fourth and the mechanics of the fifth. That it feels like the most rewarding fighting system since “Street Fighter 3: Third Strike” is already among the highest compliments it could receive. The new “punish counter” mechanic opens up new opportunities for great timing, while the drive gauge can shift the dynamics of a fight, including a dangerous “burnout” state that could change a character’s move set.
I’ve already been dealt some losing streaks, mostly because it’s tough to train in the closed beta. The only way to do so, it seems, is to find an open cabinet with no one at the chair, and hope no one challenges you while you pick an option to train.
Fortunately, there’s a “modern” button setting that lets players pull off special moves with a single button press. I tested it out, and it feels a bit like the assist button configurations available in mobile ports of Street Fighter titles. Using this setup locks away some moves for characters, so it’s a bit of a compromise to help casual players ease into the game. Still, it’s a nice way for Capcom to not necessarily make the game casual, but give casual audiences an on-ramp to enjoy the game.
To me, the closed beta is just this strangely accurate digital encapsulation of a bygone era of video games, one where bonds are formed, and casual onlookers become arcade warriors on the hunt for the next win.