Street Fighter X Tekken is the most interesting fighting game I’ve played in a while, from a conceptual standpoint. This isn’t to say that it’s a radical departure from either the Street Fighter or Tekken franchises – you won’t find gimmicky new inclusions like weapon combat or beach volleyball. Nor do I mean that crossovers are exactly a new idea either; that tradition has been running strong for years with titles like Marvel vs. Capcom and Super Smash Bros. The thing that makes SFXT such an interesting concept is its fusion of two well-established fighting systems into one.
This particular iteration of the game uses the Street Fighter mechanics as its core, but Tekken loyalists need not despair: SFXT is really only half of a larger collaborative project between Capcom and Namco-Bandai. Tekken X Street Fighter is in the works, and will use Tekken’s 3D inclusive fighting mechanic as its basis.
As it is, SFXT does a pretty good job integrating elements of both systems. It makes use of Tekken Tag Tournament’s team mechanic, which feels extremely clean and tidy compared to most team based fighters I’ve spent time with. The game sets up teams of two for the arcade mode, each character paired with another from his or her own series. Most of these pairings are obvious for narrative reasons, like Ryu and Ken, while other teams share little back story but balance each other’s fighting styles, like Hwoarang and Steve.
Every character can, of course, be mixed and matched with any other at a player’s discretion; the set pairings only affect the story in arcade mode and personalized post-fight trash talking. The arcade’s story mode is fine – you won’t be getting a lot of long cutscenes or anything, but if you’ve played previous entries in either series, it’s always fun to catch up with old characters and see what they’re up to. It’s a little disappointing that they didn’t include a few alternate stories for cross-series teams (I would love to have seen what they came up with for Zangief and Kuma), but it doesn’t ruin the game or anything.
The basics of the battle system will be familiar to anybody who has played a Capcom fighter before, and relatively easy to pick up for those who haven’t. The most significant departure is the addition of the tag element, but with a little practice it becomes almost second nature to switch back and forth, even in the middle of combos. Most combos and move inputs for the Street Fighter characters remain unchanged – though a few, like Chun Li’s staple lightning legs, have been altered slightly. It’s now a forward semicircle followed by rapidly pressing kick, rather than just mashing the kick button.
At first this was a little difficult to swallow after 20 years of the ostensibly simpler command, but once I got used to it I actually preferred it. It’s easy to roll into the attack, and it can fake out an opponent who is expecting one of her charge moves. It also prevents you from leaving her vulnerable by accidentally slipping into lightning legs during the middle of a combo or something. For the most part, all of the changes are equally sensible.
These variable move inputs are far more common for the Tekken characters. Most have at least a move changed, though a few, like King, have changed to the point where they almost seem like different characters. This wasn’t a tremendous problem for me, as I’ve played a lot less Tekken than I have Street Fighter, but some of my Tekken enthusiast friends found it vexing. In any case, the re-learning curve isn’t terribly steep.
While the battle system is as tight as ever, little details like that make it seem initially like the balance of power is shifted in favor of the Capcom characters. A few other things seem to tip the scales; one of which is that the shift from 3D to 2D affects some of the Tekken character’s fundamental play designs, removing a few fathoms of Tekken’s trademark depth. Some fare pretty well under the circumstances; Steve Fox is still able to dodge damn near anything in the hands of a competent player, but some of the bigger, slower fighters like Kuma will have a difficult time closing the distance on their foes without the ability to sidestep certain attacks.
Which brings me to the second big balancing factor; namely, the simple fact that Street Fighter characters have many more ranged attacks than their Tekken counterparts. There are ways to bypass such an advantage, of course, as many characters on both sides have EX
dashing attacks which allow them to pass through projectiles – but most of these chew up a segment of your Cross Gauge, which will make it more difficult to perform some of the games strongest (and coolest) attacks.
The Cross Gauge takes the place of Street Fighter’s Super Gauge, though it is used in many more snazzy maneuvers than just EX Moves and Super Combos. For example, for one block of your trisected gauge, you can perform a Cross Cancel which will interrupt your opponent’s attack and launch them into the air, allowing you to immediately go on the offensive. This move is somewhat reminiscent of Street Fighter 3’s parries, but with a more offensive slant. The timing is a little tricky, as you must perform it while blocking and at the exact moment your opponent’s attack lands, but if you can pull it off your coolness factor will ascend to heights of B.A. Baracusdom.
Another unique usage of your Cross Gauge is the Switch Cancel. For one bar of Cross Gauge, you can switch your tag partner into the fight during the middle of your own combo, opening up a world of massively damaging combo possibilities. There is also a Quick Combo mechanic, which launches an instant combo with the press of a single dedicated button at the expense of one block of Cross Gauge. It may seem a little unbalanced at first, but it isn’t hugely damaging and, of course, you can always just block it. For the cost, it’s pretty fair.
Though these maneuvers are certainly useful in the hands of a skilled player, the flashiest new moves are Cross Arts and Cross Assaults. Both are initiated in a similar fashion, which is the same for every character in the game – a backward quarter circle followed by simultaneous input of medium punch and kick activates your Cross Assault, while the Cross Art is the same but with a forward semicircle.
Cross Assault allows you to bring your tag partner into the fray while you remain onscreen, allowing two players (or a player and the computer, if you’re flying solo) to gang up on a single fighter for some nasty damage. My personal favorite is the Cross Art, which launches a brutal combo by the character in play, knocking your hapless opponent right into the path of your tag partner’s super move.
It’s a sight to behold, let me tell you.
You’ll want to be careful with both of these, however, as they chew up your entire Cross Gauge. EX and Super moves use one and two blocks, respectively, but the game introduces yet another new mechanic which opens up fun and interesting new ways to punish your opponent.
Every character has one move, usually whichever is most iconic for that character (Ryu’s hadouken, for example), which can be charged by holding the attack button down. After a bit, a regular move becomes an EX version, and a few seconds later an EX becomes a Super – all without using any of your precious Cross Gauge at all. At first I was worried about the Kamehameha-like timing, thinking it was a sure opening for a few free enemy attacks, but you’d be surprised how often you can actually make this work for you.
The final new combat mechanics are the Gem system and Pandora mode, both of which caused a stir among the fighting community upon their announcement, as players worried they would unbalance the game. I can tell you in no uncertain terms that they do not.
The Gem system is sort of a simplified version of Soul Calibur’s equipment mechanic; every character has three gem slots to which they can equip either boost or assist gems. Boost gems give your character a boost to one of five stats: attack, defense, vitality, speed, or cross gauge acquisition. Most of these confer only slight bonuses (10% being the most common, or +60 to vitality), though a few give higher bonuses at the expense of another stat (+20 attack, – 10 defense, etc.).