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Street Fighter 6's battle hub is a brilliant attempt to digitize the arcade experience

Street Fighter 6's updated, upgraded lobby experience is a bold step forward – that takes cues from the past.

When Capcom revealed that Street Fighter 6 was going to be split into three distinct menu options that each lead to relatively separate experiences, I was curious – but I thought it was just a gimmick. Experiencing the Battle Hub in the beta has shown me that it's more than that; it's a way to honor the past.

Connor had a great time in the Battle Hub too.

In real terms, the Battle Hub is simply a lobby system. Whereas in Street Fighter 4 or Street Fighter 5 matches were found through matchmaking systems that ran through regular menus, SF6 recontextualizes the wrapper around finding matches into a bizarre sort of Second Life-style, semi-MMO experience where you join a server and literally noodle around a 3D space.

There's a bit of cross-over with other modes, too. The character you run around with is created for the single-player World Tour mode, which we're yet to see much of – though now we at least know that you can create some wonderfully frightening-looking protagonists for it with a surprisingly open-ended character. The Street Fighter battles you'll participate in, meanwhile, are straight out of the versus 'Fighting Ground' mode I've previewed before – just online, instead of off.

These assets give something of the mood of the Battle Hub being cobbled together as a halfway-house between the modes, but in truth it's anything but. It's a really smart way to make the menus interesting, and place importance on your customized character that'll surely lend well to player expression and, yes, monetization - as you buy gear to stand out and look unique.

More than anything, though, I'm thrilled because the mode feels like it channels something Street Fighter is moving away from: arcade-based adventures.

What is this, Mortal Kombat?

Unless you're of a certain generation, were extremely lucky to live near an active arcade, or live in or have visited Japan, it's hard to really explain how special this mood is. But as fighting games moved increasingly online, and as the pandemic briefly closed down the tournament scene, it felt like something of the genre’s unique culture was lost. Battle Hub aims to restore at least a little bit of it.

Now, sure, Battle Hub is undoubtedly less visceral. You can't smell the stench of old tobacco. You can't slot a coin into the corner of the machine to denote that you've got next, or bang the machine as you win, or lose, or spectate. You can't quite chant "somebody's getting fucked" with a wonderful musicality as someone you want to see lose desperately struggles against a superior opponent. But... some of it is there.

I really enjoyed finding casual matches in the Battle Hub lobby. Rather than simply paging through a menu and choosing who to fight based on their connection strength and name (shout out to 'Hadouken My Anus', a PC Street Fighter 4 player from back in the day whose iconic name I still remember from this exact process), I'd pad around the Battle Hub's virtual arcade and inspect people at arcade cabinets. I'd look at their custom character, their gear. You can imagine how, in the future, how blinged out someone is will be as large an indicator of how experienced a fighter they are as their rank. I'd also look at the banners above machines to see who people were playing. Maybe I'd spectate a match or two... and then I'd hop in.

Just like being there.

In the text-based chat in the corner of the screen, people goof around and are genuine in equal measure; looking for training partners to learn match-ups, shouting out their GGs, and joking about the game's meta. Ongoing announcements give the hub the feel of an airport full of fighters – except instead of the tannoy announcing flight departures, it's telling you who's on a win streak so you can seek them out and have a go, if you think you're up to it.

You could theoretically do a lot of this in SF5 and other fighting games, but it is through stuffy menus. The Battle Hub feels alive, helped along by a few unnecessary but great-to-have side activities like doing special moves with your avatar as emotes, or playing classic Capcom arcade games in the retro section. It does have an uncanny, Second Life-ish air – but it also does feel sufficiently alive. It helps, too, that it all leads into fights that feel absolutely amazing.

As somebody who sort of deifies what old-school arcade culture was and has a couple of cabinets of my own – one of which I played the SF6 beta on – it just feels right, and smart, and a great addition. It just fits, and is just the latest in a line of really shrewd decisions around SF6 that correctly see it learn from the past, show a bit of reverence, but also look to the future. It shapes up as more of a game of the year contender every day.

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