meIf there is a name synonymous with fighting games, it is Street Fighter. Dominating arcades in the late ’80s and ’90s and spawning the living room-conquering 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 gotten more specific. 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 award-winning fighter for a new generation. Visually, Street Fighter 6 is forging a new identity for the franchise, sporting a striking 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 of its controls, Street Fighter 6 is a more accessible spin on the fireball-throwing, spinning-kick fighting spectacle. A novice-friendly control option ditches the classic six-button setup of high and low punches and kicks in favor of a simpler three-button structure, allowing novices to perform a Shoryuken without spending months developing muscle memory.
Wisely though, this new control method is entirely optional – veterans can still get their KOs the old way. “That is our concept for Street Fighter 6: we need to not only meet the needs of fighting game fans, casual fighting gamers, and those who love the world and characters of Street Fighter, but also gamers who are thinking to start with this new game,” says Matsumoto.
The fiction and characters of Street Fighter, explored mostly in manga and anime spin-offs so far, rather than in the games themselves, actually take center stage in an intriguing new adventure mode guided by a story, 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 battling a lineup of opponents in a tournament, World Tour has players guide a custom fighter through, say, the graffiti-covered streets of Metro City.
“I felt like most Street Fighter games in the past could only offer one versus mode and one training mode,” adds Nakayama. “So, I wanted to approach SF6 as if the versus mode was endgame content, and before you get into that, you would have an introduction to the world of Street Fighter… a way to get familiar with the game.”
This contrasts favorably with the basic offline experience offered by Street Fighter V, which launched without even a single-player arcade mode. It wasn’t until years later that V packed 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 satisfying,” Nakayama replies when asked what lessons have been learned.
“One of the lessons from SFV was that communication with the fan base is key,” adds Matsumoto. “For SF6 we definitely want to make sure that 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 truly competitive video games, Street Fighter should also be one of the most watched esports in the world. Thanks to massive health bars, fascinating attacks, and its simple 1v1 format, fighting games are contests that casual viewers can immediately understand. But despite this, the viewing figures for beat ’em ups are far below those of 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 make them ideal for esports. But I don’t think the fighting genre necessarily has to be the most watched in the world to have a significant impact,” says Matsumoto. “I am happy that we have a great fan base and fighting game community that have been playing for years and will continue to do so as long as we release them. I appreciate the support of the 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 brawl remains a mystery, leaving the internet to come up with its own amusing theories. Thanks to bits of dialogue from the trailers, and a particularly gaunt redesign of the iconic character, Ken, fans have concluded that his old rival, Ryu, has stolen his wife. While the developers sadly declined to comment on the “Hot Ryu v Divorcee Ken” meme, talk like this is creating a stir 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 is once again unpredictable.