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'Street Fighter 6' takes bold swings that (mostly) pay off

Zangief gets all steamed up before a bout.
Capcom
Zangief gets all steamed up before a bout.

I've been playing fighting games since middle school, and, like any fan, I can tell you that the Street Fighter series has always been at the top of the pack.

For eight long years, I've eagerly awaited Street Fighter 6. As I dug in, I was impressed by how the game's art direction married urban style and martial arts substance — a mix that Capcom has cultivated in every entry since the late 80s. The game brims with hip hop flavor, but its intricate battle system is one of the most intense I've ever encountered in a 2D fighting game.

Now watch this drive

Capcom may have taken their time with this sequel, but they came through with a new core mechanic called the Drive Gauge. It enables souped-up special attacks, defense-enhancing parries, and the "Drive Impact," a move that fills the screen with flowing colors that can break through most of an opponent's attacks.

The Drive Impact is devastating, especially when countering an opponent's own Drive Impact.
/ Capcom
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Capcom
The Drive Impact is devastating, especially when countering an opponent's own Drive Impact.

Even if it's blocked, it pushes your adversary far across the screen or knocks them into a wall, leaving them open for a combo. To defend against it, you have to parry, dodge, or counter with your own Drive Impact, which can be truly devastating. This new feature requires quick reactions, and precise risk-reward calculations.

Each character uses it slightly differently – some may have Drive Impacts that are slightly faster or have further range, for instance. But no matter who you pick, mastering the Drive System is essential. If you use too much of your Drive Gauge, your character will go into Burnout — a vulnerable, weakened state. As I kept playing matches, I got better at strategically conserving and deploying my Drive Gauge. I went from avoiding Burnout like the plague, to cashing out my entire Drive Gauge at the perfect moment to win a round.

The Critical Arts in Street Fighter 6 are truly cinematic.
/ Capcom
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Capcom
The Critical Arts in Street Fighter 6 are truly cinematic.

Sharpening Street Fighter 6 skills aren't just about complicated button combinations, they're also about leading your opponent where you want them and exploiting their weaknesses. In more than one match, I got stuck in a corner, which makes getting hit with a Drive Impact especially deadly.

But on a few occasions, I managed to bait my opponent into using theirs first, so I could counter with mine, then finish the round by following up with a Super Art — a cinematic move that's a joy to behold and makes quick work of an opponent's life bar. Securing victory in this manner feels truly rewarding, as it shows mastery of both tactics and execution.

Around the world

Street Fighter 6 features many game varieties, including the classic Arcade Mode — fight random opponents until you beat the boss and complete your chosen character's story arc — and the more off-the-wall Extreme Battle - which add crazy gimmicks that seem perfect for parties, like Fight While Knocking A Bomb Back and Forth Like A Volleyball and Fight While A Bull Randomly Runs On and Offscreen.

But World Tour Mode stands out as the game's boldest experiment. It blends the 2D combat with a 3D role-playing game and begins with you creating your own custom character. Don't expect a particularly deep story, though — you'll spend most of your time punching out street gangs that hide their identities under cardboard boxes on their heads (which is weirdly adorable). If you want a captivating narrative that involves Street Fighter characters, your best bet is to watch Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie (avoid the live action Street Fighter movie at all costs).

As you travel throughout Metro City and make brief trips to locations around the world, you'll meet the game's 18 main playable fighters and learn their martial arts styles. After enrolling under these "Masters," you can add their specials to your repertoire and mix-and-match moves. I enjoyed overwhelming enemies with Manon's powerful judo throw and Marisa's aggressive straight punch. As I kept playing through the story and met more and more Masters, the feeling of fighting with a tailored moveset got more and more satisfying.

The World Tour Mode has your custom character travelling throughout vibrant locales.
/ Capcom
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Capcom
The World Tour Mode has your custom character travelling throughout vibrant locales.

Street Fighter 6 is not only the title to beat for fighting game of the year, it may take the crown for best in the franchise. It shows why the series has succeeded for so long, and why it can afford to take risks like adding a dash of RPG to the fighting game formula.

Capcom will support the game for years with additional downloadable content, though fans might be annoyed that certain popular characters, like series staple Akuma, will cost extra. Either way, more content is coming. So whether you just want to play through the story, or go online and get humbled, there's no lack of challenges to take on.

Street Fighter 6 releases June 2nd on PC, PlayStation, and Xbox.

James Perkins Mastromarino contributed to this story. contributed to this story

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