In many ways, fighting games have had a rough history. They once thrived in the age of arcades, but as hardware became more compact and convenient, they failed to keep pace. Numerous issues plagued fighting game developers during the 360’s golden age and had, until very recently, been unresolved in their entirety. But now, there is an honest attempt to lift the genre out of its decade-long malaise.
Street Fighter 6 has boldly stepped onto the stage of the FGC, boasting features that, before its release, had only been achieved in parts by other fighting games. For example: Guilty Gear: Strive had a very good online net code. Most matches, no matter the quality of each player’s internet service and connectivity, ran smoothly. But Guilty Gear: Strive had plenty of other issues that held it back from wider popularity. So, even though the game had good net code, it was not ultimately seen as one of the best additions to the genre.
The main two that I can think of with my limited experience with the game are that how it’s played is too streamlined, restricting player expression and skill. In other words, someone who is only OK at the game will not look much different from somebody who is very good at the game, minus the advantage of experience that most high-level players have. The other issue had to do with literally connecting to each other’s matches; it was confusing and, in some cases, non-functional.
There are many other examples of strong suits accompanied by crippling drawbacks in fighting games, too many to list here. The one I listed above is just so that there is a reference point for highlighting where Street Fighter 6 succeeds in conquering these flaws. Starting with the first and most direct comparison:
Street Fighter 6 has Impressive Net Code
The first and most important flaw that needed fixing in fighting games was reliable online play. You see since fighting games were first played in arcades, fighting game fans all knew each other in person, generally. This led to, even with the advent of game consoles and more widespread online play in other genres, a stubborn adherence to the local experience of playing a fighting game.
So, while Halo 3 and its competitors enjoyed exponential growth in popularity due to connectivity over the internet, fighting games experienced a small, far less impressive number increase. This was due mostly to Street Fighter 4 revitalizing the genre and in some ways, probably saving the genre from death. The reasons for that could be explained in an article all on their own. This loyalty to local play made fighting games a notorious slog to play online. That is, until the invention of rollback net code.
So, there have been a few other examples of fighting games with rollback net code, and as a consequence, play smoothly online. The two notable examples that I can think of are Killer Instinct (2013), and Guilty Gear: Strive. Killer Instinct has really good online play to this day and remains, in my opinion, one of the most criminally underrated game franchises. GG: Strive had good online play, but not exceptional, and was part of a franchise that has always struggled to reach mainstream attention. Street Fighter 6 crosses this tightrope by having some of the best-designed rollback net code the genre has to offer and is part of a franchise that remains popular, even when on a downturn.
I asked Justin Wong, arguably one of the best fighting game players in the world, for input, and he mentioned that “With Street Fighter 5, near the end of its lifespan it still had pretty good matchmaking, even at lower levels.” So the legacy didn’t necessarily begin with SF6.
Essentially what’s important about this is that the game’s net code is so good that most of the time you don’t even notice it, which is the absolute gold standard for online connectivity. If you don’t notice it while playing, then the rollback is doing its job well. Side note: I have used the words “Rollback”, and “Net Code” a lot so far. It’s sort of a complex topic, so if you are interested in learning about how it works, I will direct you to this video.
Street Fighter 6 Tries to Help New Players
So, what is the other glaring issue that has plagued fighting games? Getting new players to enjoy them.
The other big longstanding issue with fighting games is that they are notorious for being brutally unfriendly to new players. This could be for a few reasons, such as having to learn new muscle memory for the controls, not being taught what the fundamentals of playing a fighting game are, as well as ineffective learning tools. There is no catch-all answer to this problem as there was with online play either. You can’t just make the game easier because not only would this make the game less fun for experienced players, but it would ruin how the game is balanced to keep it fair.
For example: a common argument to use for how to get new players interested in fighting games is to remove motion inputs. This would make it a lot less difficult to learn muscle memory, but would also make it so some characters that were designed with the motions in mind would break down.
Instead, Street Fighter 6 takes a new approach. The developers added the Modern control scheme in addition to the traditional Classic scheme. Ironically, as I mentioned above, Modern controls remove most of the motion inputs from the characters, making it instead a directional input and a button press. If you have ever played any of the Smash Bros games, using abilities is similar. Modern controls also have a simpler button layout and even a dedicated assisted combo button. The disadvantage is fewer button options and less damage, two things that will only matter at higher levels of play. Based on reception from new players, Modern controls seems to have been a huge success in drawing in new players by eliminating the frustration with learning inputs and focusing more on how to actually play and do well in the game.
In addition, Street Fighter 6 also has much better learning tools than basically any previous fighting game. It has character guides that explain why each of the character’s abilities are useful, not just how to do them. And in the single-player World Tour mode, there are plenty of little encounters that will inform new players of the game’s multiplayer functions.
It’s quite interesting to see a single-player mode that encourages the player to eventually try multiplayer, as if to emphasize that fighting against other players is the core of the experience and should in theory, be the most fun part of the game. Mr. Wong mentioned in regard to this “This is the first time that a Street Fighter game has had a story mode. So, it’s basically two games in one.” The game’s world tour mode seemed to be among the highlights of the game’s features for him.
Street Fighter 6 is Stylish
The last, and perhaps most important part for some, is the style of Street Fighter 6. I know it was an important factor for me. Since both Street Fighter 4 and 5 were the franchise’s first attempts at translating the game into 3d graphics (though technically not a 3D fighting game), much of the style of the games was lost. This annoyed me, especially in Street Fighter 5, crossing into not just bland but into just plain bad from a graphics standpoint. Some people will argue with me on that one. The point is that I can now leave that graphical grudge behind me.
Even at a glance, even if you have never played a fighting game before, the style should at least catch your eye. Street Fighter 6 accomplishes this, but also does more.
The game’s style comes through in all these little touches, which add up fast. It is very clear that the developers wanted the personality of their characters to shine through this time around and really resonate with their players. For example: Jamie, one of the new additions to the franchise, is a break dancer. The developers’ motion captured a break dancer and then touched it up painstakingly, and has since gotten praise from real-life break dancers.
A few other examples:
- Zangief has a ton of references to WWE wrestling moves, such as Goldberg’s signature move: Jackhammer.
- JP has a bunch of small, villainous mannerisms, which enhance the prim and proper motifs of his character.
- Ryu is more stoic, focused, and lethal than ever.
- Manon (despite what her bio says) fights like a tall Judo fighter. All that means is that instead of lifting her opponent over her shoulder, she trips them with her feet. An obvious detail, perhaps, but still appreciated.
- Ken (and this doesn’t go for just Ken) has references to a bunch of different moves that he had in previous iterations of his character, such as the horizontal lightning flash on his level 2 super, a reference to SF3: Third Strike. Though, what I care about the most is that they got rid of his abhorrent banana hair.
This is a sparse pool of examples, and to be honest, I could never really do the visual style justice by describing it. Watch the video below at 0.5x speed, and hopefully, you will come to appreciate the details that have gone into the art and animation, as I do.
Has the Golden Age Returned?
Back at the release of Street Fighter 2, decades before I was born, fighting games were said to be in a golden age. Evidence of this fact lingers, as SF2 is still Capcom’s bestselling fighting game. It made fighting games a massive, beautiful phenomenon, and the cascade of that game’s popularity probably helped preserve the genre as it went through its subsequent dark age.
Wong seems to think that the industry is already in an upswing, stating, “We are kinda in a new golden age of fighting games.” The argument might hold some weight, given how remarkably similar his word choice was to my own. (Not that I’m an expert.)
There are other signs as well. Such as recently, on July 6th, when Capcom celebrated the selling of 2 million units of Street Fighter 6. For comparison, Guilty Gear: Strive sold 1 million units on August 7th, 2022, a little more than a year after the game’s release. SF6 has sold twice as many units in only a month.
Of course, initial sales are not always a good indicator of the game’s long-term popularity, but the stars seem to be aligning, and many long-time fans agree. Maybe this will end up being the turning point for fighting games, and they can finally start finding their mainstream success on similar levels to FPS and other E-sports (Or at least catch up to Smash Bros). With the staggering prize pool announced for Capcom Cup, there will certainly be plenty of new entrants.
With all this, there also seems to be indications that competing developers are feeling the need to step up their game, seeking to offer the same or better features in their upcoming titles. Mortal Kombat 1 releases on September 18th of this year, so it won’t be long until we see how competition begins to measure up. For now, though, we’re all stuck playing one of the best games released in a long time.
If any of this sounds interesting at all to you, I encourage buying the game. So much care has been put into it, and it deserves the success that it’s garnered. Even if you consider yourself an absolute noob to the genre, I can say confidently for the first time that you still might enjoy yourself.