Fantasy video game crossover fights started becoming reality in 2000, when rival companies Capcom and SNK put aside their differences to create games pitting Capcom and SNK characters against each other. It was great until SNK filed for bankruptcy and the fighting game market cooled. After Street Fighter IV, fighting games have come back, and Capcom had the idea once again of pitting two different fighting franchises against each other. This time, its partner is Namco, and the chosen franchise couldn't be any more different.
Since Street Fighter X Tekken is a Capcom-developed title, the fighting is more of a Street Fighter IV style than a Tekken style. There's an emphasis on flashy special moves, complete with super meters that can execute Super Arts (special combos) and the six-button layout with light, medium and strong attacks for both punches and kicks. Combos can easily enter high single digits and low double digits, and the fighting takes place on a 2-D plane instead of a full 3-D environment. At its core, it is the classic Street Fighter formula, but there are Tekken elements at play. The game has a tag mechanic, but it falls more in line with Tekken Tag Tournament, where players can be swapped in and out, but the round ends once a player from either side is defeated.
Since Tekken has always been a 3-D fighter, one wonders how well the characters and moves translate into the 2-D space. While Tekken is by no means a slow game, the fighters have been sped up a bit, and their moves have been tweaked. Some moves have an extra bit of flash while other fighters have suddenly gained projectiles, like Raven's throwing blade and Jin's distanced energy pulse. In a way, the enhancements make the Tekken fighters feel like they belong. Even though the fighters retain their basic moves via the light- and medium-strength attacks, executing them is much different, and basic combos, such as King's multi-punch combo, can't be executed at all. Some of the more devastating Tekken combos have been transformed into special super moves, so while most of the Tekken soul is there, it is a Street Fighter world.
As in Capcom's other recent fighting titles, there's plenty of fan service. The interactions and post-fight dialogue fit with the characters' personalities, but the real treat comes from the various environments. The skate park has dynamic billboards that reference everything from the drive-in in Street Fighter IV to the female soldiers of the Shadaloo to the franchise producers and even Alex from Street Fighter III during a stage transition. You'll see Servbot heads, a tank fighting the four-legged mech from Tekken 6, the Mad Gear gang dancing in traditional Japanese kimonos, Mishima Corporation soldiers swarming environments, Cyber Zangief being shot into space, and even Kunimitsu chasing some of Ibuki's clan mates. Fans will certainly dig this.
Per Capcom tradition, the core fighting engine comes with plenty of new mechanics for use with the 38-character roster. There's a move that can hit a person hard enough to launch him/her into the air, causing you to tag out to your partner to start a combo. The move is great defense against low attacks, but the hit does nothing to drain the foe's replenishment meter.
Speaking of combos, you can execute some quick combos with a combination of the light and heavy attack buttons. While this may feel like a cheap way for newcomers to pull off some attack strings, it comes with plenty of limitations. First, the combos are of the simple three- to four-hit variety, and none involve the execution of super moves or tags via launchers. Second, part of the super meter is drained when using these quick combos, so they don't replace learning how to properly execute one.
Special moves also get tweaked in two different ways. The EX Special move has increased power, replacing the double motion of the stick from the old Street Fighter games with a single motion and the use of two attack buttons, but it costs a part of your super meter. The Super Charge move is similar to the stun attack in Street Fighter IV, and it's executed by holding down the final button in the attack until the move executes. The disadvantage is that you're stuck in an unblockable state during that time.
As for the more powerful maneuvers that drain the entire super meter, there are two types. Cross Arts amplifies your Super Art into a two-fighter combo that drains roughly one-third of the opponent's energy meter. Cross Assault is similar to the special attacks in Capcom's vs. series, letting you and your partner attack relentlessly for a short amount of time.
Pandora acts as a last-ditch effort where, with only one-fourth of your health remaining, you're given a limited amount of time to defeat your opponent before you automatically lose the match. You're given an infinite super meter, but your current fighter tags out and your partner comes in with his/her remaining health. A meter indicates the remaining time to execute the damage, but it depletes so quickly that you'll lose unless your opponent only has a sliver of health and forgets to tag out to a stronger fighter.
On the defensive side, you have the Cross Cancel, which spends part of your super meter to unleash a powered special move right after a successful block. The timing window is so narrow that you won't pull this off regularly if you don't practice.
Veteran players felt that the gem system would ruin the balance in Street Fighter X Tekken. At the beginning of a bout, you can equip your fighters with special gems to increase defense, offensive abilities or speed for a limited time. Gems can even block throws and make it easier to execute some special moves. The activation requirements vary wildly, and the short-lived effects don't activate more than twice per round. The bonuses are slight enough that there doesn't seem to be a magic combination that guarantees a win, though a player can still discover it. There's no way to turn off gems during a fight, but that would have been a good option to quell any complaints.
If there's one thing you'll notice right away, it's the emphasis on juggling in the fights. The different launching methods emphasize juggling, and these moves are easy to execute and incur no penalty beyond the reduction of your replenishment meter, so you can expect people to use juggle. It makes for some frantic fighting with the constant character changes, but it also serves as a nod to the Tekken franchise, where juggle combos are a mainstay. It fits well with the established Street Fighter fighting method and almost feels like Marvel vs. Capcom, minus the higher jumps.
The game features a number of modes. The Story mode weaves a tale about a mysterious box that crash-landed in the South Pole, and both the Mishima Corporation and the Shadaloo want to control its mysterious power. The endings will always be the same if you pick a random pair to fight with, but you'll get different beginnings depending on the difficulty level. You also get custom opening and closing cinematics as well as post-fight remarks if you pick specific fighters to team up, though you'll only figure out the teams if you observe your opponents in this mode, and none of these teams mix members from both games. The multitude of cinematics is entertaining to watch, but since there's no movie viewer, you have to play through the mode again with your favorite team if you want to watch the segment again.
Challenge mode gives you plenty of things to conquer, though it seems pared down compared to other fighting games. In the Trial mode for each character, you learn about their special moves and more complicated combos through 20 lessons. Mission mode gives you 20 situations where you have to win. Some are as simple as beating a number of consecutive opponents while others get more complicated, like beating a team with only normal moves or only winning with Pandora. For those who are just getting their feet wet, Tutorial mode is available for you to learn basic and new mechanics through 20 lessons.
Online play has a few modes of its own. Fight Requests makes a return, and if you have it enabled, you can make the game behave like an arcade unit with random online fighters challenging you to matches. Ranked Matches count for your overall fight ranking and on the leaderboards. Endless plays out in the same manner as in the arcades, with the winner staying for as long as he wants or until he is defeated. Scramble extends the mechanic from specific times in the fight to the entire bout and gives four players the chance to do some chaotic fighting. You can also watch replays of plenty of ranked matches on the fight servers, and, borrowing from some social media sites, you can follow different fighters if you enjoy their videos. You can upload your own fight videos, and the game does a good job of storing up to 50 fight replays before it automatically erases the oldest ones.
Briefing mode is the most interesting, as it gives you a practice mode for you and a friend to work on fighting techniques together. It's surprisingly practical, and it makes you wonder why this hasn't been attempted before. In Training mode, you practice your moves and techniques against customizable opponents. In Customization mode, you outfit your gem layouts, assign simple combos to slots, and alter your costume colors. Versus mode includes fighting for up to four players in either a traditional tag mode or Scramble mode.
Street Fighter X Tekken has some exclusive content, but the way it's doled out will anger those who only own one system. The PS3 version has five more characters than the Xbox 360 version, though only three make sense when it comes to their exclusivity. There's Cole MacGrath from inFAMOUS. You also have Toro and Kuro, Sony's feline PlayStation mascots in Japan that act like Ryu and Kazuya, respectively. Then you have Mega Man, based on the American cover art from the first NES game, and Pac-Man riding a Mokujin. Since those characters don't belong to Sony, one has to wonder why the Xbox 360 doesn't get those two fighters. The kicker is that both the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions are trumped by the upcoming PS Vita iteration, which will not only have those five characters but also 12 more fighters from Street Fighter and Tekken, unlocked and available for play. The Street Fighter side is represented by Blanka, Cody, Dudley, Elena, Guy and Sakura while Tekken gets Alisa, Bryan, Christie, Jack, Lars and Lei. These characters will probably appear as DLC later, but those looking for a more complete experience out of the box would be best served with the Vita version.
There is one other thing that plagues this title, and it is the load times. The load times for the Xbox 360 version are similar to that of the original Street Fighter IV on the PS3. You can see your fighters on the load screen go through their opening animations twice. Performing the optional install on the Xbox 360 cuts the load times in half and makes it more tolerable. Should an optional install feature be present, it's highly recommended that you take the time to do so.
Over the years, Capcom's online code for multiplayer has improved, and the trend continues in this game, with online fights remaining solid and lag-free. You can see that the game values connection speed and integrity over anything else when you enter a match with a bad connection and the sound begins to drop out in favor of keeping smooth gameplay alive. It is a unique way of handling bad connections but favorable, considering the alternative.
Like the fight engine, the graphics lean more toward Street Fighter IV's style, but with marked differences in the art. In particular, the shading lines are heavier and more pronounced than what was seen in the debut. This refinement not only makes the Tekken characters have a harder edge, but it also makes the Street Fighter characters bolder. The change doesn't affect the frame rate, which still holds together at 60 fps with a copious amount of particle effects and the simultaneous presence of four on-screen players. The smooth animations are also attractive, but the best demonstration is the backgrounds. Like Marvel vs. Capcom 3, there's plenty of action occurring almost all of the time, and it becomes mesmerizing enough to be a distraction. This is a stylized and good-looking fighting title.
The sound has never been an area of weakness for Capcom's fighting games, and that remains true. You may experience a different music style being played per round, from instrumental action to rock to even chiptune. Sound effects hit hard and are pitch-perfect, like all other Capcom fighters. Voices are also well done, and you're immediately given the choice of deciding who gets either a Japanese or English voice actor, and you'll want to take advantage of this because the default choices are questionable. More than half of the Tekken cast gets English voices while every Street Fighter warrior speaks Japanese regardless of nationality. It's a minor oddity.
Street Fighter X Tekken is a great fighting game that feels somewhere between the more structured and serious play of Street Fighter IV and the craziness of Marvel vs. Capcom 3. The game gets juggle-heavy, and the various new fighting mechanics can feel overpowering to those who aren't familiar with recent fighting games. Despite mostly favoring Street Fighter, the Tekken characters don't feel underpowered, though Tekken players will have to abandon their habits if they want to play competitively. Coupled with the great technical feats and good online play, the game is fun one for genre fans. We'll have to see whether Namco Bandai can match this effort with its future Tekken X Street Fighter title.
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