Street Fighter 5 marks a change in philosophy for Capcom’s fighting flagship.
Street Fighter 4 originally released in 2008 in arcades (and 2009 on consoles), and over the next seven years, saw a steady stream of adjective’d, updated releases. It was the epitome of a playbook the developer had built over two decades making fighting games, but in an era of games as service, it felt increasingly anachronistic. Worse for Capcom, each iteration became a new stumbling block in keeping a unified community engaged.
With Street Fighter 5, Capcom appears ready to move the series into a post-esports reality. In the words of producer Yoshinori Ono, the version of Street Fighter 5 that released last week is “the only version you’ll ever need,” as all new fighters and balance updates will be added to the game over time —€” the balance updates for free, and the fighters for sale for either real money or in-game credits. The game underneath this new business model has also seen major revisions that serve to reset some of the cruft collected around six years of iterative releases from the last game, along with 25 years of Street Fighter baggage.
There’s just one problem: Street Fighter 5 isn’t finished —€” and if you’re looking for more than the ability to play against other people, there are many more promises of what will come than actual in-game content.
Street Fighter 5‘s streamlined approach is immediately apparent. There are 16 characters at launch (with a promised six additional characters this year via DLC). Thankfully for new or lapsed players, Capcom has also limited each character to just one fighting style, rather than several. The result is a game that isn’t as absurdly intimidating from the word go.
There are other welcome changes to Street Fighter’s basic philosophies. Some of these are more obvious —€” “chip damage,” or damage taken from special attacks while blocking, has been altered, and stamina-depleted opponents can no longer be KO’ed through a block by a special move. This simple tweak radically changes end-game scenarios; players either have to sacrifice their combo meter to get a chip KO or land a proper hit or throw to secure a victory, which leads to fewer anticlimactic finishes.
A more subtle addition to the game is the “buffer window” €— you might not realize it’s even there, but you’ll probably notice the ways it’s helping your ability to land combinations whether you’re a new player or a veteran street fighter. Where Street Fighter 4‘s combo system required timing so exacting it forced many high level players to adopt “double tapping” in order to ensure their combos unfolded properly, Street Fighter 5 is more forgiving. The buffer window secretly adds two extra button presses on the next two frames after an input, adding an extra bit of assist and removing the need for so much precise frame-counting.
These are subtle but important quality of life changes that make Street Fighter 5 feel more accessible without robbing it of the depth that makes the series great. V-Skills and V-Triggers serve as the foundation of each character’s play style, and beginners can build their gameplay around these techniques to get their feet wet. The buffer window will also save everyone hours of practice time in Training Mode as they perfect combos.
But all of those accessibility improvements come amidst the most bare Street Fighter home release to grace a console since the SNES version of Street Fighter 2.
Street Fighter 5 is the first release in series history to eschew a traditional arcade mode. There’s no way to select a character and fight through a traditional series of best-of-two AI matches against the game’s roster. There is a story mode, and to its credit there’s more narrative present than we can recall in any other Street Fighter, albeit in flat, hand-drawn slides with voiceover. But each character’s story currently consists of two to four single-round fights, and any player with basic competency in Street Fighter will be able to finish everything on offer here in around an hour.
Capcom has promised additional story content to launch in June, but as it stands now, if you’re looking for any solo play in Street Fighter 5, you are, to be blunt, screwed. Even the included survival mode is miserly, consisting, once again, of single-round matches, and the game’s training mode is woefully inadequate. Where fighting games like Killer Instinct have introduced whole in-game, playable syllabi to introduce new players to their systems and the most recent Mortal Kombat provided the most surprisingly engrossing story we’ve seen in a fighting game, Street Fighter 5 can’t help but seem paper thin €— if not a little bit insulting.
While Street Fighter 5‘s mechanics feel geared to let new players find their way into the series, other aspects seemed designed to do the opposite. The Street Fighter series has always featured some … particular depictions of its female characters. Street Fighter 5 seems to take that in the direction of even more aggressive fan service, with often comically oversexualized character designs for its women. It’s not surprising, but it does seem like a step away from any attempts to make the game more accessible to new fans.
As it exists currently, Street Fighter 5 can only really be recommended to those looking for a multiplayer experience exclusively, and even then, there are surprising compromises present. On the bright side, Street Fighter 5 features some of the best network code the series has ever seen, allowing for fights that feel mostly lag-free. And in competitive matches, the strength of Street Fighter 5‘s underlying mechanics and its various tweaks is most keenly felt. Capcom has built a phenomenal fighting engine.
Now it just has to build a vehicle for it. Online options are currently threadbare. Lobbies are available, but only allow two players at a time. Matchmaking, whether ranked or “Casual,” includes a bizarre conceit wherein you must choose a character from another menu before queuing, eliminating the pick process from the match. More annoyingly, Street Fighter 5‘s online stability has been questionable, and the game has been taken offline for server maintenance repeatedly in the week since its release.
Street Fighter 5‘s meager online support will ostensibly be fleshed out by an update in March, but as it stands right now, even the competitive players for whom Capcom seems to be pushing the game out in its current state are underserved by what they’re getting.
Eight years ago, this all would mark something of a death sentence for Street Fighter 5, but as it stands now, it’s an act of caution. Capcom has promised that the version of Street Fighter 5 that you buy today will always be current, regardless of whether you buy or earn new characters added over time, and regardless of whether you walk away for a time and come back. The nature of the game as a platform also suggests consistent balance updates like any other online “esport,” which at the very least serves as some encouragement that things will get better.