TheIf there’s one name synonymous with fighting games, it’s Street Fighter. Dominating arcades in the late 80s and 90s and spawning the living room take over Super Nintendo classic Street Fighter II, Capcom’s beat ’em up became a cultural phenomenon. But since the death of the arcade, fighting games have become more special. While 2016’s Street Fighter V slowly became a competitive esports sensation, it lacked the universal appeal of previous 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, featuring an eye-catching aesthetic that combines impossibly bulging biceps with attacks that explode in an explosion of color.
“I really want to make Street Fighter a game that everyone can play, like it used to be,” producer and series veteran Shuhei Matsumoto tells the Guardian. Offering a radical overhaul in its controls, Street Fighter 6 is a more accessible twist on the spinning kick and fireball fighting spectacle. A beginner-friendly control option ditches the classic six-button setup of punches and high and low kicks in favor of a simpler three-button structure, allowing first-timers to pull off a Shoryuken without spending months on it develop muscle memory.
Wisely, though, this new control method is completely optional: veterans can still get their KOs the old-fashioned way. “This is our concept for Street Fighter 6: we must not only meet the needs of fighting 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 fiction and characters – mostly explored in manga and anime spin-offs, until now, rather than the games themselves – actually take center stage in a new story-driven adventure mode inspired by the Dreamcast classic Shenmue . “The game is expanding beyond battles to include a World Tour mode, where you can explore the game world,” says Takayuki Nakayama, director of Street Fighter 6. Instead of fighting a group of opponents in a tournament, World Tour has players lead a custom fighter through, for example, the graffiti-covered streets of Metro City.
“I felt that most Street Fighter games in the past have only been able to offer a fighting mode and a training mode,” adds Nakayama. “So I wanted to approach SF6 as if the vs. mode was end-game content, and before you got into it, you’d have an introduction to the world of Street Fighter … a way to engage with the game .”
This contrasts favorably with the stripped-down offline experience offered by Street Fighter V, which launched without even a single-player arcade mode. It wasn’t until years later that the V had enough content to justify its hefty £49.99 price tag. “I know we have to make sure the volume of content in the game is satisfactory,” Nakayama answers, when asked what lessons have been learned.
“One of the lessons of SFV was that communication with the fan base is essential,” adds Matsumoto. “For SF6 we definitely want to make sure players get a very clear message from the director and the development team about what we’re doing and what we want to achieve.”
As one of the first competition video games, Street Fighter must also be one of the most watched sports in the world. Thanks to their massive health bars, mesmerizing attacks, and their simple 1v1 format, fighting games are contests that casual viewers can instantly pick up on. But despite this, the viewing figures for beat’em ups lag far behind shooters like Call of Duty and Fortnite. Is this something the creators of Street Fighter 6 want to pursue?
“I think the directness and readability of fighting games makes them a good fit for esports. But I don’t think the fighting genre necessarily needs to be the most watched in the world to have a significant impact,” says Matsumoto. “I’m happy that we have a huge fan base and fighting game community who have been playing the games for years and will continue to do so as long as 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 much of Capcom’s colorful brawler remains a mystery – leaving the internet to come up with its own amusing theories. Thanks to snippets of dialogue from the trailers – and a particularly desperate redesign of the iconic character, Ken – fans have come to the conclusion that his old rival Ryu has stolen his wife. While the developers sadly refused to comment on the “Hot Ryu v Divorcee Ken” meme, such a pattern is creating a buzz in the gaming world.
“I really think we’re making a new kind of Street Fighter in SF6,” Matsumoto says. For the first time in decades, Street Fighter feels unpredictable again.