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No pulling punches — The sweet science behind Street Fighter V’s new modes and characters

The big daddy of fighting games is back, and for the first time in almost a decade, we’re getting a completely new Street Fighter in Street Fighter V. This is no Arcade Edition or patch update; SFV revamps the system from the ground up, changing up the way you play and tackle common match-ups, in a way that feels fresh without discarding the series’ history.

Combinations feel fluid and responsive, and it was never difficult to chain simple combos out of openings.

Combinations feel fluid and responsive, and it was never difficult to chain simple combos out of openings.

The new feature to watch is the V-System, a meter that builds up when you take damage. Standing for “Variable System,” each character has a unique V-Skill and V-Trigger, and all of them have access to a V-Reversal. The EX Gauge is still around as well and acts pretty much the same, allowing you to burn meter for powered-up specials or save them up for one big bar-burning attack, dubbed Critical Arts.

V-Skills are moves unique to each character that give them a tool to combat the opponent in their own manner. Ryu, a highly positional fighter, gets a Parry ability that can block any oncoming attack. Cammy’s V-Skill was a spin move that did no damage, but allowed her to pass through enemies and even projectiles if timed correctly, letting you get in behind the enemy. Most V-Skills seemed to be centered around combating projectiles, giving players more options when in fireball range.

Fireball gameplay is still prevalent, but V-Skills have alleviated some of the pressure the QCF brings to the match.

Fireball gameplay is still prevalent, but V-Skills have alleviated some of the pressure the QCF brings to the match.

V-Triggers are upgrades that boost a character’s abilities and gives them a unique tool for a short period of time. Chun-Li’s V-Trigger, Renkiko, boosts the damage she does and adds extra hits to her medium and heavy attacks. M. Bison’s Psycho Power lets him teleport with his dash and special attacks, moving through projectiles and making him hard to follow during moves like his somersault.

V-Reversals are fairly straightforward, as they act similar to Alpha counters, but they also add effects to the block. You can trip up your opponent, knock them back or stun them, giving you a window to punish them.

Cammy's V-Trigger enhances her abilities, making them lightning fast and damaging.

Cammy’s V-Trigger enhances her abilities, making them lightning fast and damaging.

The roster only rounds out at six right now: the already-announced Ryu, Chun-Li, M. Bison and Nash, alongside show floor reveals Cammy and Birdie. As a Cammy main, I was really excited to see how the changes made to the game, but also nervous about how difficult adjusting to these changes would be.

The good news is, Street Fighter V will feel right at home for anyone who’s played Street Fighter before; in fact, it even feels good for newcomers with minimal fighter experience. The removal of most of the odd mechanics that had cropped up throughout many iterations of a single title lets SFV do what it wants to do, and leave the rest in the dust.

Birdie plays similar to his Alpha iteration, complete with Bull attacks.

Birdie plays similar to his Alpha iteration, complete with Bull attacks.

Matches are slower than some fighters, but the careful dance of attack and defense and the clash of characters’ playstyles is as compelling as ever. Chun-Li still wants to get in close and combo infinitely, Ryu keeps the mid-range distance with the ever-present fear of fireball punishment, and M. Bison uses effect punishes and overheads to dominate his opponents. My main, Cammy, felt refined and focused – I was able to get around the enemy and keep them guessing, using my Hooligan Combinations and Cannon Spikes in tandem with my new V-Skill to mix-up and confuse my opponent on where to block next.

A new iteration for Street Fighter is a dangerous proposition, because there’s so much history that’s been built up throughout the many entries of the series. Yet the most excited I’ve been about the series in years is the entry that cuts down the fighters and keeps it focused on the smooth interplay between two players. It’s a sweet science, and this concentrated early look at it has me excited for what’s to come. Street Fighter V is rewriting the recipe, and right now, the sauce tastes pretty good.

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