All of these boost effects are temporary, and are activated by a specific event in the battle such as landing four normal attacks, or having four hit you. The gem activates automatically, which is represented by your character taking on a glow the color of the gem’s effect. None of these will dramatically affect the battle in any way; they basically give you a little help in shoring up either a specific character’s weak spot, or a player’s general style of play.
Assist gems confer passive effects which are always active, but exact a comparatively heavy toll for their benefit. An assist gem that makes the inputs for special moves simpler also gives you a permanent ten percent penalty to damage, and one which automatically blocks attacks does so at the expense of a full bar of Cross Gauge. All it takes for a skilled player to regain equilibrium over such a benefit is a maximum of three quick jabs, then everything is back to normal.
Not a single one of these ever made an appreciable difference in the outcome of a battle I fought. It may seem like this is a crutch for a weak player – but if so, then it is also a hammer for a strong fighter, so balance is easily maintained.
I found Pandora mode to be pretty useless, all around. When either one of your team members drops to a quarter of their maximum life bar, you can double tap down and press both medium attacks to sacrifice the weakened fighter and grant a boost to your partner. This grants a fairly significant attack bonus and gives you infinite Cross Gauge to work with – but it also only lasts ten seconds, at the end of which you lose the match if you haven’t finished off your opponent. If your enemy turtles up and go on the defensive, you’re usually boned. In all my hours of play, I managed to win by activating Pandora maybe three times.
On the one hand, that is kind of disappointing. On the other, a lot of people worried Pandora would be too powerful, and it’s nice to see that it doesn’t wreck the game. Basically, if it looks like you’re going to die anyway, Pandora gives you a way to go out with a little style. Think of it as purple glowing seppuku.
The one player modes of this game are nothing new; you’ve got arcade, training, and challenge modes as usual. The two challenge modes really put you through your paces. In the trial mode, you’ll learn the ins and outs of a given character, from the simplest attacks to the most technically demanding combos. Some of these might seem daunting at first, but it’s just like learning to play a musical instrument – in the end, it’s nothing more than muscle memory. Practice, practice, practice, and you’ll make that baby sing.
Missions are the biggest single player challenge. These matches all force you to win under unusual circumstances. Some force you to win using only normal kicks and punches, some only let you use counterattacks and the like. The hardest are the last of them, in which you have to defeat four opponents in a row without regaining any health.
This type of survival challenge may not seem like a huge deal, but I cannot tell you how many times my attempts ended with me screaming at Zangief, biting my own controller (which now has several deep tooth marks), and having to turn off the Playstation to go for a long walk and think about the life decisions I’d made to bring me to such an inglorious impasse.
Though a few of of the single player missions (17, man, 17…) wrestled me into an existential funk, the multiplayer is some of the most fun I’ve had in quite a while. The online element of this game works fine. You’ve got the expected ranking system, the huge list of achievements, all that fun stuff. It has all the same battle modes as local multiplayer – which I’ll get to in a second – plus a briefing room, in which you can train online with a friend, and an endless battle mode à la Super Street Fighter IV. Endless battle was my personal favorite online component; with tournament style play and no affect on your rank, it’s competition just for fun.
Not to say ranked matches weren’t fun, but it lacks the sense of camaraderie that endless battle brings to the table – and as always you’ll occasionally run into someone whose skill level is vastly different from yours, in which case you’ll either trounce them or land maybe three hits before they grind your face in the dirt like a schoolyard bully. Since I don’t really care about my rank as measured against a sea of anonymous players, there wasn’t much incentive for me to grind my way through too many hours of ranked matches. Regardless of my opinion, it’s there if you’re into it.
As is the case with any multiplayer game, my favorite part of Street Fighter X Tekken was sitting around the tv with a group of friends, talking trash and passing controllers around between matches. Multiplayer includes the standard versus mode, which you can either play solo to hone your skills against the computer, or with up to three friends divided between the red and blue teams. As in Tekken Tag Tournament 2 Unlimited, you can play either one on one, two on one, or two on two. It’s a tremendous amount of fun switching back and forth, calling for switches and assists, and generally beating the crap out of each other.
It’s also a great way to even the odds if you’ve got players of varying skill levels, as you can divide the best and worst of them evenly across the board to ensure that everyone is still having fun. In fact, even if you’ve just got one friend over and you want to show them the ropes, you can bring them along as a co-op tag partner in arcade mode, so you’re still playing together but not completely demoralizing them (not that this happened during my time with SFXT, but I’ve had a lot of friends get turned off of a lot of games over a disparity between skill levels, so it’s a nice option.)
In general, I liked the clean switching element of this game more than the hectic team jumble of games like Marvel vs. Capcom or Super Smash Bros., but I have to say that scramble mode, which puts both members of both teams onscreen at the same time for the duration of the battle, was quite a lot of fun as well. Totally crazy, of course, but at a certain point in the night that’s just what you want.
While it may run the risk of alienating die hard Tekken elitists, I would highly recommend this game to pretty much every other type of fighting game fan. With a thoroughly respectable roster of characters, various modes to accommodate players of any skill level, and a pooled online fanbase of two of the most respected fighting systems on the market, this one promises to keep you busy until the next big fighter hits the shelves.
Here’s lookin’ at you, Tekken X Street Fighter.