No, this is not a convention or live event. That’s all happening in the “Street Fighter 6” player hub, which is hosting a closed beta session this weekend. The hub is meant to mimic the whimsical, communal feel of your local arcade, and it sort of works. Seeing delighted virtual avatars as a famous player holds court in a cabinet feels like touching your quarters waiting for your turn at bats at the pool bar or local pizzeria.
These impressions come from only a few hours of play. I will fill this room with more thoughts as I continue to play through the matches.
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You start by customizing your virtual avatar – an early indication of what a robust “Street Fighter 6” package is becoming. Customization options rival those of the Saints Row series; you can shape your body into virtually any shape and skin tone you desire, adjusting your look down to how much hair you want on your arms or back. It’s one of those character customization systems you could spend hours in before hitting the actual game.
Once you’ve finished defining your “world warrior” look, you’re introduced to the player hub, donning the yellow sweatpants I mentioned earlier – every character’s default look. The hub includes a clothing store where cosmetic items like pants, tops, and masks are sold in two different types of currencies, a preview of the in-game and real-world microtransaction systems that await you.
The Gamers Hub is a first for the legendary Street Fighter series, taking a page on live service games that offer similar functionality, like “Destiny 2” or Nintendo’s Splatoon series. It’s a community space where we can show off our victories, our fashion and, like we did in the 90s, find an empty seat on an arcade cabinet to play.
For now, only multiplayer is available. There are aspects of the player hub, including the urban area, that beta players don’t see. Anything in the classic arcade or story modes is locked.
Series veterans lauded how Game 6 went, and they’re right to do so. “Street Fighter 6” looks like a fusion of the parry system of the famous third game, the size of the fourth and the mechanics of the fifth. That it feels like the most rewarding combat system since “Street Fighter 3: Third Strike” is already among the highest compliments it could receive. The new “punishment meter” mechanic opens up new opportunities for good timing, while the ride gauge can alter the dynamics of a fight, including a dangerous “burnout” state that could change the move set of a character.
I’ve had losing streaks before, mostly because it’s hard to train in the closed beta. The only way to do this, it seems, is to find an open cabinet with no one in the chair, and hope no one challenges you while you choose an option to practice.
Fortunately, there is a “modern” button setting that allows players to perform special moves with the press of a single button. I tested it, and it looks a bit like the assist button layouts available in mobile ports of Street Fighter titles. Using this setup locks in some movement for the characters, so it’s a bit of a compromise to help casual gamers get to grips with the game. Still, it’s a good way for Capcom to not necessarily render the game casual, but to give the casual audience an on-ramp to enjoy the game.
To me, the closed beta is just this eerily precise digital encapsulation of a bygone era of video games, a time when bonds are formed and casual viewers become arcade warriors in search of the next victory.