Have a quick browse through a few online rankings of the best Street Fighter games and you’ll find that Street Fighter V - yep, the one that never made it to Xbox consoles - usually lingers somewhere behind Street Fighter IV in the minds of many a fan of the franchise. Whilst it was still a top-notch effort when it came to actual fisticuffs, it launched in a pretty sorry state overall, with barely anything in the way of single player diversions, a roughshod multiplayer experience and a roster of pugilists that has taken far too long to grow into what it’s since become.
For all the improvements that V made with regards to the series' core combat - and we actually reckon it's a better fighter mechanically than IV - it’s a game that, in the long run, left a bit of a bad taste in the mouth, and one that's had the series sat in a bit of a strange funk ever since. For us folk who just wanted a flashy new Street Fighter experience to dig into, it left us wondering what this most storied of franchises was going to do in order to course correct.
Booting up Street Fighter 6, it’s immediately clear that Capcom has been more than aware of the disquiet and has made meaningful moves to address it. This is a big and brash new entry that loudly responds to complaints over a lack of content, launching with three meaty modes for players of all ability levels to get blasted into and enjoy. As long-term fans of this series, fans who’ve played every entry since the first launched way back in the late 80s, this latest effort feels like a huge treat and a definitive return to happier times in almost every way.
Let’s kick off with the game's World Tour Mode, a single player offering that turns Street Fighter into a ridiculous Yakuza-styled RPG. Here you get to build a fighter in the game’s impressively flexible character creation suite, give them a suitably silly name and then take to the streets of a wonderfully madcap Metro City to rise up the rankings, whilst also getting to the bottom of a very cheesy mystery involving the Mad Gear Gang and some other shadowy bad guys that we won't mention here.
Right off the bat, this isn't an open world effort that's going to be giving the likes of The Witcher or Yakuza any sleepless nights, it’s thoroughly old-fashioned, fairly basic, segmented into small areas and properly clunky in many ways. However! It compensates for all of these failings through the sheer absurdity of its world and characters. This is not something to be taken remotely seriously, and it’s packed to the rafters full of little nods and winks to the wider history of Capcom’s fighting game stable.
Blasting around Metro City, you’ll bump into all manner of punks you’ll recognise from the likes of Final Fight, slap the life out of them for XP and rewards and then jump into various skill trees to make yourself a little stronger. NPCs stroll around town with TVs and cardboard boxes on their heads, there's a guy with a bao bun for a head, gangs of thugs with names like Indignant Intern, Angry Accountant and even a little dude called Kenny who just really wants to be Ken Masters. Everyone in Metro City is either fighting or limbering up for a fight, and smashing each other with a knee to the head is just how folk say hello around here.
As you progress through World Tour you’ll slowly begin to discover and befriend Street Fighter legends who can then become your teacher, giving your avatar the opportunity to adopt their fighting style and learn their signature special moves. This is where an initially throwaway mode really starts to get interesting, allowing you to mix and match styles and move-sets, to build a fighter that suits your style. It’s impressively flexible stuff, giving you the chance to mix Spinning Bird Kicks with Hadoukens and Sumo Headbutts, and it’s backed up by a seemingly endless supply of wild gear; masks, hats, outfits and all manner of accessories that really let you go to town with customisation as well as providing boons and boosts to boot.
Yes, just as you’re beginning to wonder if World Tour is all about running around and slapping things as a temporary diversion from the "proper" game, it reveals itself to be quite a bit more. You get your first amateur scrap at Mike Haggar Stadium, things start to feel a little more serious and the tour fights are even given real-time commentary from some famous FCG announcers. This adds a real sense of occasion, tension and fun to your competitive encounters, with some excellent on-the-fly reading and recognition of the moves and strategies you’re adopting. The whole thing also doubles as a very clever tutorial and in-depth means of onboarding new players. Stick with World Tour, rise through the ranks here and you will absolutely learn the skills you need to successfully jump into the traditional arcade and multiplayer suite of modes. It’s cracking stuff, really, and a brilliant way to give solo/new players plenty to do whilst actually teaching them the basics they’ll need to stick at the game.
This accommodation of newcomers seeps into other areas of the experience through a retooled tutorial mode that teaches you all of the moves and combos you'll need, as well as detailing each fighter's style and how you should approach using them. This then sits alongside a new modern control option that streamlines things to a four button setup with light, medium, heavy and a special attack. Modern controls do still take a little getting used to, but inexperienced players should find themselves pulling off sweet combos and flashy finishers fairly quickly this way, giving them a foothold in the action before they perhaps graduate to the more flexible classic control setup. All of this makes for a Street Fighter you can heartily recommend to friends who've never touched this sort of fighting game before, which is excellent news!
In terms of the game’s traditional arcade mode, Street Fighter 6 gives you a robust roster of 18 pugilists to get to grips with from the off, each with the usual throwaway story told in anime cutscenes at the beginning and end of a run. There are some notable omissions in the line-up, with no Bison or Sagat hurting us the most, but this is still a very impressive starting point overall. It’s a solid mixture of stone cold classics, Ryu, Ken, Chun Li, Honda, Blanka, Guile and the like, with Cammy, Dee-Jay and Juri also returning to the mix. However, it’s actually been the newbies we’ve been most impressed with so far.
There are some genuinely great new characters to get to grips with here. Jamie, the breakdancing drunken master, feels like he’s taken some cues from Tekken’s Lei Wulong (one of our all-time favourites), Manon is a flexible tour-de-force with a massively damaging array of kicks, whilst Lily, Kimberly and JP feel like the sort of tricksy fighters that will have players stuck in the training mode for a good long while. Oh, and let's not forget Marisa, who in our early dealings feels like a strong stand-in for Balrog's explosive boxing style of play. It’s an interesting mix with more than enough to keep fans busy until the DLC characters inevitably start to drop and, most importantly, it never feels stingy. There’s a whole lot to get involved with here, tons to learn, and plenty to master.
It helps too that the whole thing looks and sounds so damn good. Yes, we know some folk have been wary of the new character designs in the build up to release but, in motion, when you've got your hands on it, the fighters and stages are hugely impressive, dripping in small details and reactive expressions. This is easily one of the very best looking fighters we’ve ever clapped eyes on, it revels in bright colours, screen-shaking attacks and pumping beats, from the outfits to the locations and those great big blasts of paint splatter that accompany the all-new Drive Impact moves, it’s the kind of thing that's very hard to put down once you're in the zone.
With regards to those Drive Impacts, they’re all part of Street Fighter 6's retooled and refined core mechanics, giving you a Drive Gauge at the top of the screen that builds and recovers as you fight, allowing you access to fancy overdrive versions of special moves alongside easy to master reversals, blocks and parries that feel hugely satisfying and coherent to pull off. You don’t need to sweat learning this stuff in Street Fighter 6, it feels fluid, logical and natural, easy to pick up and run with. Mix this Drive Gauge system with returning Super Arts and the already wide variety of base moves available to each and every fighter, and you’ve got one of the most pure fun, engaging and spectacular efforts we’ve played in a long time. There's tons for the competitive crowd to master here, but Capcom has remembered us casuals this time around, you can pick this one up and have a total blast in its arcade, World Tour and Versus modes without having to spend a ton of time learning and committing endless combos and special moves to memory.
The Battle Hub makes up the final portion of the trio of modes on offer and, once again, you can see the effort that’s very obviously been made to both welcome newcomers and give solo street fighting fans plenty to keep them busy this time around. We’ve only had a handful of scraps online so far, each of which ran flawlessly, but it’ll naturally take time to see just how the “meta” pans out in online battles. What’s immediately impressive, though, is how the multiplayer aspects have been placed into a great big welcoming hub that gives you more to do, feels like more of a proper hangout space. You can spectate and learn from other fighters, pull up to an arcade cabinet for a blast of full versions of Final Fight, Street Fighter 2 and Super Puzzle Fighter, or hit some shops to spend your Zenny. Multiplayer is the one part of Street Fighter 6 we know the least about so far as we only had limited access during our review period, but it’s already in a much more intriguing place than its predecessor was at launch.
Is it all good news for us Street Fighter fans, then? Well, no, there are some issues here and there. Arcade Mode is locked at 60fps and online battles ran super smooth for us at all times but, in World Tour mode, there’s currently some notable framerate issues that need addressing on Series X, with fights involving multiple NPCs stuttering quite heavily at times. We’ve also been playing on a build that’s yet to get its high-resolution texture pack, a pack which launches on day one and should (we hope!) take care of the low-res billboards, textures and clothing that are so rife in the version of Metro City we’ve explored.
However, away from these minor gripes, we really couldn’t be happier with what Capcom has delivered. We’d reached a sort of bad place with Street Fighter, personally. It felt like it had drifted away from us, more concerned with competitive pro tournaments, endless DLC packs and live service shenanigans. Street Fighter 6 feels like the return of an old friend, without wanting to get too sentimental. The magic is back, the fun has once again taken centre stage.
Yes, there’s still gonna be plenty of ways to spend all of your real world cash here, there’s no doubt about that, with Capcom already confirming there's both paid and free variants of the battle pass in the mix, and we’ll be watching to see how the addition of fighters pans out over the next few years, but for now this is a big meaty package, a definite improvement over the series' last outing and a Street Fighter experience that makes for an explosive return to Xbox consoles for the world warriors.
Street Fighter 6 feels like a direct and hugely effective response to criticisms over the anaemic state of its predecessor at launch. Capcom has fully loaded three huge modes here, giving wannabe world warriors a veritable feast of fisticuffs to get engaged with. World Tour is a great big cheesefest that revels in its madcap style whilst providing a fun story, engaging RPG elements and a great way to learn the ropes all rolled into one. Arcade Mode offers up a solid roster of 18 excellent fighters to choose from at launch, and the all new Battle Hub already looks and feels as though it's gonna be a great place to hang out and challenge other players once multiplayer kicks off properly. It's been a minute since we've had a new Street Fighter on Xbox, and this one's been more than worth the wait.