Review: Street Fighter X Tekken
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.).
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.