Reviewer: Philip Smith
Overall: 8 = Excellent
Street Fighter X Tekken (pronounced “Street Fighter Cross Tekken”) is Capcom’s latest license match-up, with Namco Bandai’s Tekken series joining such luminaries as Marvel’s X-Men and SNK’s King of Fighters and Samurai Shodown. This latest spin-off sees some of the panache and features of the Versus series mixing with some of the modes and design tweaks of the Alpha series for a feature-rich Street Fighter that manages to be more welcoming than its predecessors, and yet in glaring need of some post-launch support. Fortunately, the game’s rough spots are far outweighed by its accessibility, move set, and dynamic team combinations.
Contriving a scenario that would cause Capcom’s and Namco Bandai’s finest to meet couldn’t have been easy, but the developers tried. While I don’t mind stories in fighters, I’ve never found them absolutely necessary, either. As long as I get to make my guy send another guy flying into the air courtesy of a vicious uppercut, I’m good. But if a developer wants to give some context to the pummeling, then all the better. When two of the genre’s most venerable franchises finally meet in face-to-face combat, the encounter demands a suitably over-the-top maguffin, and Pandora’s Box seems appropriately ridiculous enough to facilitate the legendary matchup. After the mythological object crashes to Earth, fighters from around the world are compelled to search for the powerful energy-giving device in order to prove once and for all who is truly the strongest. Each fighter sets out on their own towards the Antarctic—where else?—to commandeer the box, but along the way, they will need to face off against 37 other fighters in order to gain the power for themselves. Actually, make that 36, since each fighter will be accompanied by a tag partner whom they can call upon and swap places with during combat. From here, seven stages and a boss battle await in some of the best tag-team action to date.
The story can actually play out in one of two ways. By selecting any two fighters, a standard narrative is followed in which the duo simply make the circuit en route to the box. A second, more involved narrative is also available and plays out when one of the official tag teams is chosen (e.g., Ibuki and Rolento), offering additional cutscenes and back-and-forth dialog. Aside from the extra character interaction, there is also a Rivals bout where the team squares off against another pair in a grudge match. Rival fights don’t have an impact on the storyline, but they are nice bonuses for those wanting a little extra during an otherwise standard progression path.
Making it through the tournament will require some quick reflexes and bloody knuckles. To help get everyone up to speed and ensure that it’s only players’ knuckles that are bloodied and not their faces, Capcom has emphasized accessibility. To that end, there are now additional learning tools as well as more basic combos and multiple ways to pull off special moves. The Tutorial mode returns, and is augmented by Challenge’s Trials, Missions, and Training. Each mode offers more information than the last, from Dan hysterically encouraging newcomers as he teaches them the basics, to 20 character trials focusing on combos and special moves, to roster-wide missions that offer more exotic challenges, such as defeating opponents using only normal moves. User friendliness goes beyond modes, however, and is ingrained in the fighting engine itself.
New to the universe are preset and simplified combos. Quick Combos are attack chains that require only a two-button combination to be engaged, while Boost Combos require that players follow up a blow with a harder attack. There are two Quick Combos that can be set, chosen from a prepared list of two move sets; these are mainly in place to help beginners, though more will be available as downloadable content in the future. Boost Combos are initiated as attacks land from weakest to strongest, and can range from two to four hits. Going up the attack range from light to medium to heavy also allows for a variant combo when followed by a fourth heavy, which serves as a Launcher, a move that sends an opponent flying into the air as the aggressor swaps places with their partner. In keeping with the theme of simplification, Launcher attacks can also be engaged with a two-button combination. Taking the point even further, Capcom has altered the classic double-motion EX Special Move template to make special moves easier to pull off: now, instead of repeating motions, players can double tap the attack button, or hold the button down for a Super Charge, with duration determining attack type. That does have some strategic implications, with the latter method being cancellable and the former faster. There are sacrifices to make, however, and these come at the expense of the Cross Gauge.
Comprised of three connected blocks, the Cross Gauge is the end-all, be-all meter that regulates what kind and when many of the special moves and combos can be performed. The new cinematic Special Arts moves require two bars, while EX Special Moves, Cross Cancels, and Switch Cancels each require one. Cross Cancels shift fighters out of block in order to attack with a Launcher, though no tag takes place, while Switch Cancels allow for a tag to take place in the middle of a combo. As the system now implements a form of Tekken‘s juggle system, this can be a lethal combination for experienced players. Gauge management is crucial, as is minding the interplay between the gauge and the move types, as there are times when the rules are tweaked; for instance, Super Charged Special Arts attacks do not consume any gauge bars.
There are three biggies, though: Cross Arts, Cross Assault, and Pandora. Cross Arts tag a partner in while the AI takes control over the tagger, allowing two fighters to work on an enemy at the same time, while Cross Assaults cause the fighter to perform a shorter Special Arts move before tagging out so that their partner can perform a full Special Arts move. Both moves require a full gauge. Initiating Pandora is done as a last-ditch attempt to salvage a tough match, and it can only be invoked by a fighter with less than a quarter-full life bar. Once called upon, Pandora will send that fighter to the ground and energize their partner, who will now be suped up with a refilling Cross Gauge and better stats for 10 seconds. After those charged seconds are up, the remaining fighter will collapse in defeat if the opponent is still standing. Pandora allows for some spectacular, nail-biting wins, but it’s also very dangerous to count on. It becomes even more potent when considering that, unlike the Versus titles, only the on-screen fighter needs to be knocked out for a win.
In addition to the Cross Gauge, Capcom has also added another major element to the universe: Gems. These helpful items come in two forms, the always-active Assist Gems and the triggered Boost Gems. Assist Gems offer some nice bonuses, such as auto blocking, but come at a cost—decreased damage, Cross Gauge bars, etc. However, even though these are primarily meant for newer players, many long-time fans will find, much to their chagrin, that auto blocking is a popular favorite. The boosters come in five categories: Attack, Defense, Speed, Vitality, and Cross Gauge. These remain active for anywhere from 10 to 30 seconds, and they are engaged whenever certain criteria are met, such as having so many attacks blocked or landing a set amount of special moves; they modify anything from received damage to speed. They also come in different levels, with the bigger paybacks requiring greater sacrifices or skill, whether that’s being hit by attacks or landing more.
Gems are a bit odd in that they add a layer of micro strategy to a design that seems intent on shedding and streamlining. The interface is decent enough, and their use is covered in the Tutorial, but there is little in the way of detail about why or how the Gems should be min-maxed to greater effect. While they certainly add to the level of customization, alongside a handful of color options for skin, hair, and the fighters’ various clothing items, they also seem like something from one of the more opaque releases, however intended they may be to ease in newcomers and give the hardcore more to chew on.
All of this is a lot to consider, there’s no doubt about it. But Capcom has done an admirable job in keeping most of the game’s many facets easy to understand and utilize, primarily by tying so much to the Cross Gauge and taking advantage of broad movement templates (a half circle forward or back plus a two-button combination does wonders). Gems take some time to properly utilize, but practice helps to reveal some of their mysteries, and they offer a few loadout options so that players can be prepared for most situations. And as long as players are fighting locally, there are plenty of opportunities to train with dummies, learn combos, and practice the various tagging maneuvers. Tekken fighters even sport the series’ traditional four-button layout, while Ryu and company continue using six, allowing for an easy transition between franchises. Taking the game online, however, makes for a different experience altogether.
Multiplayer is a battlefield. Despite the option to choose players of similar rank, I was routinely matched up in Ranked matches with those who—by their heaps of Battle Points and higher-graded level—were obviously far better than me. The problem wasn’t that I had to face off against superior players during the odd bout, but rather that I was constantly matched against them. Actually, “against” isn’t even the proper word; it was more like “placed in front of,” as I offered them little more than a somewhat animated practice dummy. Playing against those of a similar skill level is an exciting, educational experience, filled with many near misses and sweaty palms, which is exactly how the game should be. Too often, though, it’s a series of humbling matches that discourage and deflate.
For less strenuous fights, there are several modes for unranked matches. Endless Battle returns, affecting an arcade-style approach where the winner stays on to face new challengers while the rest of the virtual room spectates. A new entry is Scramble Battles, a mode similar to Street Fighter Alpha 3‘s simultaneous multiplayer mode, where four players square off at the same time in teams of two. The occasional lag spikes make Scramble a bit of a gamble, which isn’t entirely surprising, given all of the active connections at play, but it’s well worth seeking out a stable lobby. Fight Request also returns, an optional mode that allows for online players to challenge those already battling in other modes, such as Arcade. The Replay Channel continues to be an invaluable resource, with channels for player replays, top-tier players, and character-specific replays, plus the option to save up to 300 replays.
There is one particular nasty technical glitch, though, and that’s with sound dropping in and out and desyncing and syncing during online play. The sudden shift in volume is so jarring that I have to mute my TV because it’s incredibly difficult to focus otherwise. Capcom has mentioned that they are working on a solution, and hopefully it’s available soon, though it’s strange how such a glaring problem made it into the final product. There is also a strange omission, which is the ability to take a local Pair Play team online, despite the manual stating that it’s possible. Pair Play is used to link players together as a duo so that they can transfer between modes without issue, such as when an online Pair Play team is practicing in the Briefing Room and wishes to seamlessly switch to an online bout after accepting a challenge from other players. As great as it would be to play locally with a friend off- and online, it currently isn’t possible.
Street Fighter X Tekken is an absolute blast, but there are some rough spots that need to be addressed. The robust single-player experience, with its many trainers and challenges, offers a great many ways for newcomers and veterans to acclimate themselves with the new control scheme, Gems, and Cross Gauge-centric maneuvers. Multiplayer, however, while good, suffers from latency hiccups, iffy matchmaking, a lack of local-to-online Pair Play team play, and a rather nasty audio bug that is incredibly distracting. While only two of the issues are troubling, the rest remain nuisances. However, get a good game going with a solid connection and equal challengers and the game truly shines as a bright, exhilarating, and robust fighter. Unfortunately, a handful of problems mar an otherwise phenomenal title.
(This review is based on a retail copy provided by the publisher.)