In Street Fighter 6, hobo Ken might be his best self yet

Ken is not the only character with a new look and moveset in Street Fighter 6, and this may be his best form in Capcom's legendary fighting game series to date.

Street Fighter 6 Ken stares at the camera, one eye popping as he throws an uppercut trailing a blaze of fire

Street Fighter 6 Ken continues a trend. It’s normal for characters in any fighting game series to get a bit of polish for each new instalment, and Ken is one of the most frequently revised in the Street Fighter series’ roster. In recent games, he’s gone from an overconfident Ryu clone with his signature red gi to adopt a sportier look. His specials change between games, too: he’s had fire added to his Shoryuken and has forgotten techniques that didn’t work too well, such as the heavy Tatsumaki from Street Fighter 5, making room for him to learn new, powerful moves in their place.

Perhaps the most apparent change to Street Fighter 6 Ken is his grubby threads. He’s sporting Timberland-style boots, red tracksuit bottoms, and a black vest, with a crusty brown jacket completing a style I like to call ‘Hobo Chic’. I asked Capcom’s PR if there’s a story behind the new look, but got no clear answer. It’s the same old upbeat – if somewhat cocky – Ken underneath, however, despite what his appearance and certain internet theories might suggest. And as unkempt as it is, this is the best Ken has ever looked in a 3D Street Fighter game; his hair is a marked improvement from the bunch of bananas glued to his head in Street Fighter 5.

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It’s not just the look that Capcom has changed, so with that in mind, how does Street Fighter 6 Ken play? He still has his signature fireball, dragon punch, and hurricane kick moves, but it’s the rest of his normals and specials that now shed some light on his reworked fighting style.

The closest comparison to Street Fighter 6 Ken I can give you is Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike, in which Ken shone as one of the best rush-down characters in the game. Techniques such as the Shippu-Jinraikyaku – a multi-kicking Critical Art move that inflicts decent damage – defined his play style. In Street Fighter 6, Ken is even more of a combo-focused rush-down character, complete with a non-super version of the Jinraikyaku that gives him multiple options for follow-up attacks depending on your input after the first blow hits. He also gets new target combos you can use to strike your opponent repeatedly, making him far less predictable than ever before.

I got the chance to play as Hobo Ken and the remaining currently revealed Street Fighter 6 characters, and had fun experimenting with linking combos after learning how to use the new Drive Gauge effectively. This new gauge appears as a green segmented bar below the health bar of each fighter. Some of the techniques that use the Drive Gauge are familiar, such as Overdrives, which are just a new name for EX moves from previous games.

Street Fighter 6 Ken makes a martial arts pose, thrusting one palm towards the camera, wearing fingerless black gloves and a brown overcoat, with a mop of blond hair over his eyes

It’s the wholly new Drive Gauge techniques that excite me most as I mash the buttons on the arcade stick. While all characters can easily parry an attack, a perfectly timed parry input slows the action for a short spell and opens your opponent to a counter combo. You also have the Drive Impact, which absorbs incoming punches and kicks as your character charges a solid blow to knock the opponent back a fair distance. It’s a particularly effective option if you’re currently blocking a string of attacks, or want to splat an opponent against the wall in the corner to set up a juggle combo.

Then there’s the new Drive Rush, which lets characters interrupt a normal attack with a short dash. You can begin a brand new combo from this dash without technically dropping the previous combo to deal a massive chunk of damage. With Ken’s target combos in mind, using Drive Rush to extend them into a new combo followed by one of his three Critical Art attacks – which use a separate gauge at the bottom of the screen – is devastatingly powerful.

To counterbalance all these options, using the Drive Gauge recklessly is risky. Different moves have their own costs, so while parrying is relatively cheap, committing to a Drive Rush costs half of the full bar. Furthermore, should the Drive Gauge run out of chunks, it takes a long time to recharge, and until it does so you have no access to any of these techniques. Trying to fend off an opponent in this weakened state is terrifying, particularly if they have a full Drive Gauge to use as they see fit. Ken is at his most vulnerable here as he relies heavily on having access to parries to turn the tide, or Overdrives to augment his specials.

Street Fighter 6 Ken is in the middle of a fight with Ryu, his foot trailing fire as he lands a spinning kick in Ryu's calf, causing him to wince in pain

With every new character I try – and keep an eye out for some preliminary guides on PCGamesN soon – I see new ways in which Street Fighter 6 could shine brightly. But it’s good old Ken who highlights the potential of the Drive Gauge most clearly. It’s immediately apparent why deflecting attacks with parries is handy, but playing as Ken shows me how versatile the other techniques are and how they can help me win.

Of course, it also helps that he now has perhaps his most versatile move set ever in his 35 years as a Street Fighter mainstay. So even though he looks like he’s fallen on hard times, this is now officially my favourite version of Ken.

The Street Fighter 6 release date isn’t nailed down yet, but it’s due some time next year – check out our Street Fighter 6 roster guide for a full rundown of every confirmed, rumoured, and leaked character so far.