Yesterday at the Tokyo Games Show, Capcom formally announced the addition of Ken, Blanka, E.Honda and Dhalsim to the Street Fighter 6 roster. Technically, none of this should come as a surprise. Not only are they all Street Fighter faithfuls, but pretty much the entire cast list got leaked back in June thanks to some rogue character art. One thing that has been pleasantly surprising, however, is learning that Ken, pictured in that leaked document as looking rather dishevelled and rocking a bit of a 'sad, middle-aged dad' look, is anything but.
Indeed, when I went to play the latest build of Street Fighter 6 at Capcom's UK offices earlier in the week, Ken was absolutely killing it. Rather than suffering from a mid-life crisis, Ken was hauling it across the screen like an absolute battering ram, clearly full of the same mad protein shakes his mate Ryu's been hawking down since their last SF outing, as both of them have gone full-on Redfield Beefcake this time.
In truth, there's still a bit of sad dad-ness to Ken's official backstory. He's being framed, you see, and has been forced to abandon his family and go into hiding while he clears his name. So I understand the floppy haircut and intense training regime, I really do (and let's face it, it's a damned sight better than the half-up-do he was attempting to pull off in SF5). But you certainly wouldn't know about any of his lingering tragedy from my TGS preview build, as these free matches were all just about knocking the stuffing out of some of the other new characters that have been announced since E3, including Guile, Jamie, newcomer Kimberly, and Juri. Alas, no Blanka, Dhalsim or E.Honda just yet, but Ken… Ken sure can crack some skulls, I'll tell you that.
Now I'll be upfront. I have never been much of a Street Fighter liker. I had a good time mashing buttons as a young'un in Street Fighter II Turbo on our family SNES, and I tried to get back into the series around Street Fighter IV time when it came out as a launch title for the 3DS. But let's face it. I do not have the time or mental energy to memorise the myriad of different movesets required to play Street Fighter properly. Super Smash Bros is about as complicated as I can manage these days, and that's because every character has exactly the same button prompts.
And yet, as Smash Bros has proven time and time again, there's still plenty of room for depth and nuance when everyone has the same basic moveset - and it's something Street Fighter 6 has finally cottoned onto . As Ed reported from the halls of Geoff Fest back in June, SF6's 'Modern Controls' really is a bit of a gamechanger for casuals like me. By enabling these in the pre-match build-up screen, you're effectively crushing down each character's moveset to a Smash Bros-like direction + face button prompt, allowing noobs like myself the chance to finally get to grips with these flashy movesets, and look good doing it, too. Yes, it probably will lead to an inevitable amount of spamming certain attacks when you're playing against folks online, but in a local setting where you've just got two pals (or fellow games journalists) duking it out for a bit of fun, Modern Controls feel like an excellent halfway house for opening up the playerbase.
When playing as Ken, for example, I was finally able to let rip with his uppercuts, knee jabs and famous hadoukens (I do at least know the actual button prompt for that one, it being engrained into everyone's gaming psyche as deeply as the Konami code). But the Modern Controls also opened the door to playing as other, completely new characters like Kimberly, who I'd never encountered before. She's a real firecracker, Kimberly, disappearing in puffs of spray can smoke as she dashes past her opponents and blindsides them with her powerful kicks. I also particularly enjoyed how she uses opponent's bellies to sort of wall-run up their torso while giving them a swift boot in the face at the same time. Even better was her gentle prance animation as she walks away from other players onscreen. There's something so smug, so mocking in that knowing saunter that I couldn't help but admire the audacity of it all. It's a good feeling, though, being able to instantly crack these characters open and see what they're about, and it feels like the most accessible Street Fighter game there's ever been.
That's not to say Street Fighter 6 is easy to master all of a sudden. Far from it, in fact. You see, there are still a lot of commands attached to your game pad's extremities in SF6, and chief among them is your Drive Parry, the lynchpin that sits at the heart of the game's Drive System. Your Drive Gauge, for example, is located just beneath your health bar, and chunks of it will drain over time as you perform certain specials. Drive Impact strikes, responsible for those bright bursts of colour streaking across the screen, can absorb incoming attacks, while Drive Rushes can launch you forward out of a parry or other cancellable attack, allowing you to close the gap between you and your opponent in double quick time. Drive Reversals, meanwhile, aren't massively powerful, but they can counter and block incoming attacks when you're in tight spot.
The way you replenish your Drive Gauge, however, is by whipping out your glowing blue Drive Parry at opportune moments, soaking up (and smugly repelling) all incoming attacks. You can't just hold down your parry button like an uber troll, though, as this too depletes your Drive Gauge. And if your Drive Gauge completely taps out, you enter Burnout, leaving you vulnerable and unable to parry until it fills all the way back up again. Provided you keep an eye on your Drive Gauge, though, fights feel livelier and more strategic than ever before. Indeed, squeezing the parry bumper at just the right moment to completely negate an Overdrive Art (the new name for SF5's EX Special Move attacks) is intensely thrilling, and is yet another way Street Fighter 6 helps to create more moments for fellow casuals to turn the tide of battle on a dime.
Chuck in your throw over on L2, meanwhile, and there's still a lot of commands and buttons to remember and slowly internalise - but my main takeaway from my time with Street Fighter 6 is that it all just feels a bit more manageable and more approachable than any other game in the series. And while I didn't get to see it in action during my preview session, I'm intrigued to see how its open world World Tour mode plays out (here's hoping it's not another Subspace Emissary-style disaster on that front), as well as exactly what your customisable avatar will be spinning bird kicking and hadouken-ing to in its colourful streets and train stations (which you can get a glimpse of in the new trailer up at the top of this article).
And the good news is, there's a closed beta test taking place on PC (and consoles via crossplay) between October 7th-10th, which will include ranked, casual and battle hub matches, as well as its training, open tournament and extreme battle modes. Eight characters will be available - Ryu, Chun-Li, Ken, Juri, Kimberly, Guile, Jamie and Luke - and you can sign up to give it a go for yourself over on Capcom's website.