Street Fighter 6 and the History of “Modern Controls”

Street Fighter 6 has succeeded in its goal of bringing in new players through a simplified control scheme labeled “Modern.” The signature special inputs that Street Fighter pioneered are basically replaced by one-button inputs and cardinal directions, with the caveat that damage dealt is reduced by 1/5. The Modern control scheme has also spiced up discussion in the community as competitive players try to figure out if having your most powerful moves be instantaneous is a worthwhile tradeoff for having fewer options overall. But this is not the first time fighting games  have included easier inputs, and I think it’s interesting to see how past games have tried to incorporate more accessible control schemes.

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In the GameCube Capcom vs. SNK EO and the 3DS Street Fighter IV, the advantages their shortcuts provide is tremendous. The only thing that kept them at bay is that they were not the “main” tournament versions; if they were, high-level play would be fundamentally worse because the characters were simply not balanced with instant specials and such in mind.

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Another approach comes from Granblue Fantasy Versus. In that game, players have simultaneous access to both traditional specials and simplified ones (on a cooldown timer), with the expectation that stronger players will use the former and newbies the latter. In actuality, competitive players use both, recognizing that faster inputs are more reliable in certain situations.

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Then there’s Super Smash Bros., a game franchise built around more simplified controls. When traditional 2D fighter characters became playable, the big question was how they would be incorporated into the Smash system. The answer, it turns out, was to allow everything—you can use Smash-style special inputs and classic fighting game motions, the latter rewarding the player with greater damage and KO power. However, no Ryu, Ken, or Terry Bogard players worth their salt play a primarily “Modern”-esque style. And unlike Granblue, the simplified versions are only ever used when recovering offstage.

This is because the aforementioned distinction between damage and KO power is an important part of Smash. In SF6, your Shoryuken taking a bit less off might just mean you need to land one additional hit. In Smash Ultimate, it might mean not being able to finish off the opponent at all. The fighting-game characters are balanced around their ability to take stocks relatively early through their “true” specials, as they’re called by the community.

The saving grace of SF6’s Modern controls is probably the fact that they’re part of the game from the very beginning, and they make players feel powerful without going overboard. Unlike some games, you cannot have your cake and eat it too with respect to accessing both modes, and Modern comes with drawbacks that feel neither ineffectual nor overly harsh. Efficacy seems to vary from character to character, and players have to be cognizant of what they give up to obtain instant specials and supers—advantages the opponent can know about and play around. I expect them to be a staple of Street Fighter going forward, and are one big step in helping to chase the elusive specter of accessibility all while maintaining competitive integrity.

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