I’ll cut to the chase: Street Fighter 6’s closed beta was the best fighting game beta I’ve ever played. And I’m not even talking about the quality of the game – even though that too is really good. I’m talking about everything from the presentation, to the stellar netcode, to the gorgeous battle hub, to the ease of finding matches, to the sheer number of options and modes accessible, most important among those being a training mode, which really should be standard at this point in fighting game betas. Street Fighter 6’s closed beta checked all of the boxes, then added new boxes, and checked those too.
Let’s talk about the actual game first. I’ve gotten to play Street Fighter 6 at a number of gaming events over the last few months, and the strong first impression it left has more than held up now that I’ve played many hours of the beta. Street Fighter 6 feels fantastic. It’s hard hitting, fast paced, and it’s powered by the excellent Drive system that opens up a whole world of new tools and options for every character.
One of my big takeaways from my time with the beta was how much I loved the Drive Rush mechanic. Basically, at the cost of one bar of the Drive meter, you’re able to execute a quick green glowing dash and perform any move out of it. This was a vital technique when it came to facing off against Guile players especially, who were keen to spend the whole match a full screen away, pelting me with Sonic Booms all day. Drive Rush offered me a surprisingly quick way to close the distance, land either a throw or a sneaky low attack to catch them off guard, and put myself in a more advantageous position.
And that’s just one use of the technique. For three bars of your Drive meter, you can use a Drive Rush to cancel out of certain attacks to continue a combo. For example, if I were to hit an opponent at midrange with a poke that normally wouldn’t combo into anything, I could use a Drive Rush cancel to dash in and convert a combo off of something that I normally would have just gotten a single hit off of. The whole system lends a ton of flexibility to Street Fighter 6’s combo system, and I can’t wait to experiment more with it once I get my hands on the full game.
Then there’s the Drive Impact. This maneuver will be the make-it-or-break-it point for people when it comes to how much they enjoy Street Fighter 6’s fighting system in comparison to other entries. Drive Impact is an extremely powerful strike that can muscle through up to three normal hits in order to deal a devastating blow of its own that will crumple an enemy and leave them open for a full combo. More than that, it can also be used against a foe in the corner, and even if its blocked it will bounce them against the wall and still give you a combo opportunity. It’s a move that you will love when it works in your favor, and absolutely despise when used against you. I’ve gone back and forth on how I’ve felt about Drive Impact all throughout the beta, and ultimately, I ended up in a place where I appreciated what it brings to the table.
It’s an extraordinarily powerful technique to be sure, but there is still counterplay to it. Its slow start up feels just long enough to be reactable, and if you are able to respond to it, you can use your own Drive Impact to absorb their strike, and punish them with a full combo of your own. It can also be jumped over and punished, parried and punished, or if you’re able to jab it three times quick enough, you can break its armor and punish. There’s also an inherent mind game at play when you get put in the corner: because it is so strong, people are more likely to try and use it to get that wall splat, so you can be even more ready to try and react to it. Of course, if you’re too focused on trying to react to the Drive Impact, you’re vulnerable to everything else. Basically, being in the corner is very dangerous in every fighting game, but Drive Impact makes it especially harmful.
There were eight characters available to play in the beta: Ryu, Chun-Li, Jamie, Luke, Kimberly, Juri, Ken, and Guile, and while I put in a little bit of time with all of them, the two characters that I gravitated towards ended up being Ken and Juri. Ken is wildly different from his Street Fighter 5 incarnation, complete with two brand new moves, a new command run that alters the properties of several of his special moves, and seemingly less reward for being absolutely reckless, as many Ken’s tended to be in Street Fighter 6. Most of his big combos now involve doing special moves out of his command run, which adds a little more complexity to his combo routes compared to other characters, but makes up for it by the fact that they look sick as hell and deal a ton of damage.
As for Juri she also has had some pretty substantial changes to how she plays: She no longer has to build charges in order to use certain special moves – instead, she builds charges to enhance them. Her low projectile goes much further when charged and shes able to directly cancel from move to move when she’s got charges loaded. Her throw also has absurdly good range, and while I didn’t get to mess too much with it during the beta, her level 2 super seems to give her crazy combo flexibility and damage while it’s active.
The beta was also our first time getting a look at Street Fighter 6’s ambitious Battle Hub: An online hub where players can create their own avatar and wander around a virtual arcade, pull up on an arcade cabinet, challenge another player, or just claim a cabinet of your own and wait for someone to challenge you. This alone is not a new idea – Arc System Works games have been doing avatar-driven online lobbies for years – but it’s never been done a scale quite like this. For one, the avatar creator is absolutely ridiculous, with players being given the power to go as wild as they want with the proportions of their characters, making it fun to simply walk around the hub and laugh at the utter monstrosities people have come up with.
Street Fighter 6: Kimberly and Juri Reveal Trailer Screenshots
Beyond that, there are all kinds of fun emotes that let you mimic special moves from the game, there’s a photo booth, a shop for you to purchase new gear using currency earned from playing, a section where you can play classic Capcom games like Final Fight, and another section where you can play the special Extreme Mode. Best of all, if you don’t want to engage with any of the arcade cabinets and just want to get automatically pulled into a match, you can turn on ranked or casual matchmaking.
Based on this beta, I feel extremely confident that Street Fighter 6’s full launch will truly be a monumental moment for the FGC. But not only that, this beta sets the standard for future fighting game betas to follow by including literally everything a fighting game fan could reasonably want from an early look at a highly anticipated game: a decent selection of characters, superb netcode, a separation of both ranked and casual play, a tease of what kind of progression to expect when the full game releases, and even a training mode to actually learn how to play. The only downside is that now it’s over and we’re all without Street Fighter 6 until either the next beta, or until it releases at a still yet unknown date in 2023. I cannot wait.
Mitchell Saltzman is an editorial producer at IGN. You can find him on twitter @JurassicRabbit