Pushing Buttons: Street Fighter 6 is a perfect KO for both newbies and longtime fans – trending


When I got my first job on a games magazine, there were a few games on constant rotation at my grubby office, and at after-pub gatherings in the even grubbier flats my colleagues and I lived in: Pro Evo, Bomberman, and Street Fighter. Unfortunately, I sucked at all of them. Street Fighter was especially embarrassing for me, as an eager-to-prove-myself 16-year-old, because I could just never get my hands around the movesets and controls for all the different characters. I was a perennial button-masher, and I was humiliated so regularly that it put me off fighting games for life.

That said, I have always greatly admired Street Fighter, and its players. It is a stunningly energetic game full of stylish caricatures whose movement and swagger are fascinating to look at, especially in the hands of skilled competitors. I have watched fighting game tournaments in awe, and seen winners demolish opponents with deft combinations of reaction speed, on-the-fly strategising and seemingly unnatural powers of foresight. It is the perfect esport: matches are easy to follow, over in just a few minutes, and thrilling to behold. The stylistic flourishes that Capcom is so good at – flamboyant animation, moving backdrops, the outfits – only add to the spectacle.

I understand that fighting games are like ultra-high-speed chess, in which each kick and punch and spinning takedown has an equal and opposite move that can cancel it out or turn it around. I appreciate the skill and mastery that they allow for. Attaining even the merest imitation of that mastery, however, has always remained beyond me. I’m about as far from being able to compete in Street Fighter as I am from being able to hold my own in actual kung fu.

Capcom has apparently recognised that there are plenty of people in my position, because Street Fighter 6, out next week, has two features that appeal to aspiring but terrible fighting-game players like me. The first is a simplified “modern” control system that standardises the inputs for special moves across most characters, making it easier to engage in the hyperspeed rock, paper, scissors of competitive fights without struggling to remember a given character’s combos; the second is an endearingly bonkers single-player adventure mode.

A first for the series, this adventure mode lets you create your own fighter – and you really can go wild with that concept, creating a luminescent Gollum-like abomination or tiny-headed giant – and drop them into an explorable city full of delightful nonsense. It is simultaneously so earnest and so ridiculous that I couldn’t help but love it when I played a few hours’ worth in a pre-release demo. Once you’re let loose in the city, you can start fights with pedestrians by straight-up throwing a haymaker at them, unprovoked. You can buy silly hats and costumes. You can battle a fridge. You can use spinning headstand kicks to fly across alleyways. I found a camp amateur superhero standing on a roof.

Street Fighter 6’s explorable city Photograph: Capcom

The idea is that you meet some of the actual Street Fighter characters – I found Chun-Li showing off her moves at a Chinatown market – and learn their fighting styles, letting you customise your own fighter with a unique combination of all their different moves. There are stylised skill trees that teach you Street Fighter fundamentals as your abilities unlock. I could imagine that by the end of it, I might actually have learned how to play properly.

I feel like Street Fighter 6 is the first entry that explicitly caters to fighting game newbies, without compromising on what its fanbase wants. Experienced fighters are still getting the razor-sharp competitive game that they desire, with its finely tuned roster and ranked online matches. The traditional single-player mode, where you fight a bunch of opponents in sequence while learning more about your chosen character, is still there. And by goodness does everything look swanky, from player entrances to the ribbons of spray-paint colour that unspool when a big hit lands.

I’m a fan of the modern controls, too – it feels more like Smash Bros, and I even won a couple of matches once I’d got my head around it. It doesn’t flatten out the roster: technical and simpler characters still feel very different from one another. One of them gets more dangerous the more he drinks, so you have to try to get a jab in whenever you see him going for his flask. Another is like a hench Spice Girl in a union jack cropped jacket. My old red-haired Hulk nemesis Blanka is still here, and still cheap.

This series is a year older than I am, and it takes a lot more effort to change in your late 30s. Kudos to Capcom’s developers for giving it a try, and embracing their inner lavish silliness as they do so.

What to play

Yakuza 0.
Yakuza 0. Photograph: Sega

All that punching and laughing unexpectedly reminded me of the most simultaneously hilarious and melodramatic game series to come out of Japan: Yakuza, or as it’s now known in the west, Like a Dragon. In these adventure-brawlers, you roam around recreations of Japanese cities, follow an involved story about gangster rivalries, and beat street thugs and into submission with fists, chairs and, uh, traffic cones in fights that alternate between brutal and slapstick. The fighting isn’t as refined as in something like Street Fighter, but do expect to be amused and baffled by the side-stories about annoying vloggers, panty thieves, shark punching and slot-car racing. Yakuza 0 (pictured above) is the most welcoming entry to start with, and also the funniest one of the lot.

Available on: PlayStation 3 and 4, Xbox One, PC
Approximate playtime: 20+ hours

What to read

  • More of a what to watch: there’s a PlayStation Showcase at 9pm UK time tonight, which is likely to be the closest that we get to an ostentatious E3 press conference-style hypefest from Sony. You can watch it on YouTube or Twitch.

  • WB Games announced a new Mortal Kombat game for September, called Mortal Kombat 1, with a stomach-turning new trailer. (Do not click if you are somewhere public, or have recently eaten.)

  • Tom Bissel – who wrote Extra Lives, one of the first really great books about video games, and has since spent most of his career writing movies (and games) in Hollywood – writes for the Washington Post about watching his daughter play Zelda. It is almost painfully good, and a beautiful description of how beautiful and also excruciating it can be to watch kids play video games.

  • Look at the newly announced Pac-Man Lego arcade cabinet. Look at it. These Lego video game tie-ins keep getting more elaborate (and more expensive – this one is £230).

What to click

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Question block

2016’s Skylanders: Imaginators
Skylanders: Imaginators from 2016. Photograph: Activision

Reader Adam asks:

“Tears of the Kingdom has reminded me once again of Nintendo’s heritage as a toy company and how this evident in its approach to console and games design. If there was another toy company that was to get into games dev and/or console manufacturing, not just licensing its games, which one would you choose and why?”

Remember the Skylanders/Disney Infinity/Lego Dimensions era, where the toy/game crossover reigned supreme? It’s a shame for parents (if not for their wallets) that all of that has died out, because Skylanders (pictured above) and their ilk were on to something when it comes to how kids play digitally and in real life: they love to play in both realms. I think Lego Dimensions’ turbocharged mashup of different toy universes from Batman to Sonic the Hedgehog to Doctor Who and Adventure Time was genius, even if it did perhaps delight 80s parents more than their offspring. Lego’s Super Mario collection is another good example of how digital and physical play can intersect.

A lot of toy companies presumably see video games as the enemy, but why should they? Wooden railway brand Brio actually has a super app that recreates the creative play of the real-world toy, and any company that makes imaginary-play figures – Playmobil, Schleich, even Mattel with Barbie – could learn from that. As long as digital play experiences aren’t just ways to try to extract more money from children through purchasable in-game items, there’s potential there.

If you’ve got a question for Question Block – or anything else to say about the newsletter – hit reply or email us on pushingbuttons@theguardian.com.

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