While steadily waiting for June so I can mangle folks with Marisa in Street Fighter VI, I needed something to fill the hole in my life. Street Fighter: Duel has been an interesting trip into the Street Fighter universe in the meantime, although my opinion of the game keeps shifting back and forth as I play it. As an RPG, it brings a (not unexpectedly) different feel to the franchise that rubbed me wrong at first. Even so, I found myself continually returning to the game to play a little bit here and there. It’s not something for all Street Fighter fans, but if you’re interested in something a bit more managerial, it will keep pulling you back in.
Starting with Ryu or Ken (your choice), you’ll assemble a roster of fighters from all over the globe to beat up a nigh-endless supply of other world warriors and thugs. You’ll do this in three-on-three matches (with one fighter in reserve). The group will auto-attack with basic blows as your special bar builds up. Once you have a single bar, you can use a Super move that will slam foes or cause one of several different effects depending on the character. Once you use one of these moves, you can get your other characters to do a free special follow-up (combo) with several different levels of attacks or abilities. These attacks have different levels (1, 2, or 3), so you’ll have to pick the moves you want in numerical order.
This encourages you to think about the interplay between your characters to an extent in Street Fighter: Duel. Poison has a solid level 2 attack early in the game that smashes multiple targets. Mad Ryu has a level 2 attack that just slams a single foe, though. So, after you’ve done your special and your level 1 follow-up, you’ll need to choose whether you want the big single hit or the party-wide strike from Poison. Having both in your party gives you some good options on what you CAN do, though. This isn’t just about attacks, either, as Elena has a level 1 ability that heals, so there are lots of options you will want to weigh while making your team.
That interplay between characters gets deeper in several ways. Your backup fourth character brings their powers into a fight even when they’re not active in combat and can use their leveled specials in your combos. I keep Elena as my backup so I can call for her healing whenever it’s needed while keeping my attack-based characters in the front. Characters also have passive abilities, like Elena’s ability to buff the character with the highest Attack power at the start of the fight. Again, she can do this from the backup slot, giving further boosts and powers to think about.
Street Fighter: Duel also lets you set up assist fighters that connect to your main party characters. These folks won’t join you in a fight, but their connection to the main party character can give them huge damage and HP bonuses (especially if you’ve spent some of your currencies to level these extra characters). You’re also able to connect the EX Moves of other characters to your party so that you can use them in a fight even if that character isn’t there. Cody is a million miles away from the fights I’m doing, but I can still call on his Chains of Guilt move to smack a foe around and make them move slower.
What I like about these systems is that it gets you to think a great deal about who you bring and how your characters’ moves will play off of one another. It also makes you think about which characters you should grow so that they can boost your main party even if they won’t be joining it. It also encouraged me to unlock abilities and strengthen them even if I had no intention of using the character, as their abilities could be brought into combat in all kinds of interesting ways.
All that said, you may not feel like you have to think about these things for a good few hours while playing Street Fighter: Duel. The early fights are all pushovers for a good while. I didn’t feel challenged at all until I was nearing the end of the fourth chapter in Challenge Mode, which took a decent amount of time to reach. You can involve yourself in the combat by hitting the buttons for the special moves yourself, or you can tell the game to auto attack and it will make fairly decent decisions on what special moves to use. I just told the game to play itself for a long time and didn’t feel much involvement in whether I won or lost.
These first few hours were when I felt a bit lost playing the game, as I didn’t feel much connection to fight outcomes. I just watched the little interpretations of the characters beat on one another while I played or worked on something else. I didn’t really care because I seemed to win all of the matches without trying. I just had to stop to Promote (level up) a character here and there using fighter experience and cash (and sometimes Breakstones) that I unlocked for winning matches and for literally doing nothing (you idly build up currency and items whether you’re playing or not). I felt utterly detached from the game at this point.
As the challenge level increases, though, the systems start to matter more and Street Fighter: Duel becomes more compelling. As you start losing more frequently, you pay more attention to the systems mentioned above so you can keep winning. You also start focusing more on the other glittering, shiny activities and unlocks you can take part in.
Most important of these is the character unlock system where you can get new fighters graded C, B, A, and S (naturally, there is also C+, B+, etc.). You do this by spending one of several types of currencies to pull characters one at a time or ten at a time (ten at a time gives you a guaranteed decent character). Getting a fistful of low grade fighters for your hard-earned Gems (which take a fair amount longer to get, but you can accrue in many, many ways) can be irritating, but the game lets you combine these low-tier fighters to make better ones. You do this with the Awaken feature, which lets you combine 3 of the same fighter and letter grade character into one letter grade better. Take 3 B Dans and you’ll make a B+ Dan. It doesn’t always have to be three of the exact same, but usually you need a few similar ones. In this way, you can slowly make a better fighter out of the clutter you unlock, and can possibly get something really useful even if you get a bad pull.
If you suddenly get a really neat character you want to try, Street Fighter: Duel lets you reset your previously-leveled characters so you can use their upgrade items to improve your new fighter. It doesn’t have any special cost and you can do it as much as you like, allowing you to frequently shuffle your party to try out new characters. It’s slightly annoying that you have to take a few minutes to level up your new character instead of having them just instantly switch to the level of the character they’re swapping with, but it’s not terrible.
Then again, you can also just use the game’s Limit Break feature to have a handful of backup characters reach the same level as your best fighters for free. This feature unlocks later on, but it lets you take a handful of fighters and instantly (but temporarily) slot them into this feature to get them to the same level as your top-shelf fighters. This is great for getting big boosts out of your Assist Fighters and also so you can play with your roster a bit easier. You can only swap someone in those Limit Break slots once every day or so (unless you want to pay out some gems), but I found I could easily get a lot of experimentation out of the basic slots.
That was good, because once the game got hard, it got HARD. You will eventually reach a point where you just get slammed in Challenge Mode and no amount of fiddling with let you move on. You can wait to pick up enough items while idling, but the game has a bunch of other modes to play with instead of puttering around doing nothing. There is the VS Arena that lets you fight against other teams online, the Supreme Fist mode where you fight floors worth of enemy groups, Bounties where you can slot characters to do little side quests for items, Global Operations that have you exploring and solving puzzles as you fight, and more. There’s lots of folks for you to beat up most of the time.
Street Fighter: Duel has all kinds of fiddly little unlocks to keep you loaded with items as well. You get login gifts, missions with daily and weekly rewards, events that give you stuff, a 7-day growth chart that gives items and characters, a little roulette that lets you win items for play time, and a minigame where you tap items as they parachute down. Most of these unlock or give you items for stuff you’d do anyway, so they’re a nice bonus when you’re running out of upgrade items. Plus, you’re always accruing something from the idle items as well.
Sometimes it can be hard to figure out what’s an unlock on the screen, though. Lots of pictures of treasure chests and piles of cash feel like they’re just background elements or decorations, but they’re actually how you unlock items in the game. I kept wondering where my stuff was, only to find that I had to tap on a header that just looked like some nice art to show my progress. Be sure to tap around, as you may have tons of free stuff just waiting for you to take. The game does try to indicate that there’s something for you to grab with little exclamation points, so just be sure to tap on everything.
All of that said, I still had a hard time getting into the game until I realized it was more of a management game than an RPG. Inputting the attacks felt like I was just doing the same rote actions over and over again, only with different button orders depending on my party. I didn’t feel very invested in the combat because I wasn’t thinking much about it during the actual fight. This feels so counter to fighting games where the moment-to-moment play demands every ounce of your focus. It didn’t feel right for Street Fighter, and I started to drift away. It didn’t help that I came to this game due to my Street Fighter 6 itch, but this title seems to exclusively draw from Street Fighter 4.
When I thought of it as a management game, Street Fighter: Duel began to click with me. I liked checking in on my unlocked items and possible upgrades, dabbling in the various modes to see if my character adjustments were enough to push forward a bit farther, and then logging off for a while. Treating it like this and working within the items the game gave me (I haven’t spent any money in the first fifteen-some hours) has been interesting and just the right amount of fun diversion while goofing off on my phone on a break.
That said, you do start to feel the diminishing returns after a couple of days. The items and experience you gain while idling don’t get you very far. You start pulling worse characters. It all comes with the territory in this genre, but it’s still a bit of a drag to want to play more, but know that the game is limiting you to encourage you to spend money on it. Gems seem far too expensive to purchase alone (enough Gems for a 10-character pull is $65.99 CAN), although the shop does offer many bonuses and cheaper packs to pick up several different items. I want to play this game more, but I feel the diminishing returns and high cost are deterring me from enjoying the game as much as I could.
That’s a shame, as I’m genuinely enjoying mucking around with this game. Street Fighter: Duel may not give you that hit of Street Fighter 6 while you wait for that main release, and it might not click with you if you come in with the wrong mindset, but it’s a well-crafted idle managerial experience in making Ryu beat people down. The systems are tightly interwoven in ways that make all of its items and unlocks feel relevant even if they’re not exactly what you want, and it can feel quite satisfying as a playful diversion to pick at here and there. Once you know what it is and what to expect from the game, it’s a genuinely compelling experience (that I’ve honestly booted up about four times while trying to write this review).
Street Fighter: Duel is available now on iOS and Android devices.