Just like phone booths and record stores, arcades are places that have disappeared from the landscape. They’ve fallen out of favor as video game consoles grew more powerful and online play became the norm. Arcades became obsolete because of technology, and interestingly enough, technology could be bringing them back.
Well, at least the spirit of arcades could live on. That’s the impression I got from playing the closed beta for “Street Fighter 6.” The next major entry to the fighting game series will introduce changes such as revamped and streamlined combat system and a more adventurous single-player experience.
None of those was available for the closed beta. Instead, players had a chance to check out the Battle Hub. Players made an avatar and jumped into an arcade space. Viewlix-style arcade cabinets ringed a central area. A main stage showed the top players for the day. It’s a place that reminded me of the Circus Circus arcade but impeccably cleaner.
I wandered through the virtual space and felt a little lost. It’s a lot to take in, but the arcade and how it works were familiar. Players can go up to an empty cabinet and practice their moves solo. The reason is that they’ll have to wait for a challenger’s avatar to walk over to the same cabinet and sit down on the other side.
The Battle Hub is supposed to mimic what it’s like in an actual arcade. Players could be playing alone when a challenger slips a quarter into the machine. They don’t know anything about their opponent and there’s a bit of casualness to the whole experience. Players can stay for a few matches and then leave for another cabinet.
Battling a few times fulfills a daily quest and that gives players credits that they can spend at the in-game shop to customize their characters’ look. Gamers can dress their avatar in crop tops or an oni mask. They can plop a television on their head or wear gloves with chains on them. Hopefully, all of this lets them stand out in the crowd. At the least, this gameplay loop incentivizes players to return to the game.
Those who don’t want to deal with that can hit a button and join a casual or ranked match automatically, but the arcade experience where you move an avatar and explore the space is surprisingly more compelling.
Exploring the Battle Hub more, I found more fascinating elements to the experience. The space actually has additional arcade titles. One day I ran into “Magic Sword” and another day Capcom threw up “Super Street Fighter II Turbo.” It was a nice discovery moment and what’s even better is that these arcade titles synergized with the fact that I played “Street Fighter 6” using a Victrix Pro FS fight stick. It upped the nostalgia factor so much that I took a breather from the competition to check out this hack-and-slash classic.
Another day, I wandered the Battle Hub and ran across another oddball section for Extreme Battles. Despite the intimidating name, the arcade units here actually cater to the casual audience or players just looking for something different in “Street Fighter 6.” This mode features a different Rule Set and a Gimmick.
In my case, I was handed a Back & Forth rule where the health bar acted almost like a rope in a tug-of-war. Do enough damage and the bar swings in one direction, and if it fills up completely, an opponent is knocked out. The Extreme Battle combined that rule with the Bull Run Gimmick in which the beasts randomly ran back and forth through the stage.
Again, this is more of a casual mode, and without the intensity of a ranked match, it was probably the most fun I’ve had in the game. The bull charging across the stage sparks randomness and unpredictability to the matches, but skilled players can still do well as long as they watch the sides of the stage for the red warning glow. The bull creates just the right amount of chaos to make the matches feel more leveled. I also liked the more pulled-out perspective in the fights.
It adds just the right spice to make the experience more accessible while creating more turbulent matches. It will give players yet another reason to check in with “Street Fighter 6” even after the initial hype of launch.
The only problem I had with the Battle Hub is the heavy customization players will have to do to tweak every character to their liking. The game automatically sets up so that players get the modern controls, which are simple and easier to learn. For newcomers, that’s great, but for veterans, it’s a pain switching the buttons and the control scheme for every character.
Other than that, the way that Capcom has set up the Battle Hub is brilliant. It’s essentially the publisher’s foray into a metaverse-type atmosphere, but in this case, the virtual location has more meaning to gamers. With arcades an endangered species, players don’t get that experience of wandering down aisles of cabinets and picking a game to play. They don’t get a sense of discovery when finding an offbeat title or the serendipitous encounters when playing side by side another player, who could one day become a friend.
The Battle Hub does a good job at recreating this experience. It’s not the real arcade but the spirit is there, and in some ways, this brings “Street Fighter 6” closer to its roots.
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