Before I started playing fighting games, I considered buying the latest incarnation of Street Fighter IV as a starting point. Street Fighter seemed like a good fighting game to jump into because it will teach you the fundamentals that carry across all the genres. Street Fighter has been cited by people better than me to contain “everything you need to know about fighting games”.
However, the announcement of Ultra Street Fighter IV put a damper on those plans. I decided against picking up Street Fighter IV until the newest iteration and went for something that might scratch the same itch.
I played this game after putting a good amount of time into Tekken Tag Tournament 2, which ended up being a pretty good idea. It turns out that this game shares a couple gameplay mechanics and the general strategy to doing well is quite similar to that game.
So, to start off I jumped into the Tutorial mode to check out the game's systems.
It's a very good tutorial. There's a lot of mechanics in here, but since I have a basic understanding of how Street Fighter works through watching too many streams, it didn't take long for me to pick up concepts like meter management and EX Special Moves. Some of the names for techniques are confusing (I consistently mix up Cross Rush and Cross Assault), but it turns out that some of the mechanics in this game are unnecessary so it doesn't make matter if you remember them or not. Let's go into the pointless mechanics.
Pandora: Pandora is Street Fighter x Tekken's comeback mechanic. When one of your characters is at 25% health, you can sacrifice them, transfer their remaining HP to your other character and put them in a super powered state. They gain regenerating meter and their attacks get more powerful, but they are also on a time limit. If you can't KO your opponent before your time runs out, you lose.
I have rarely found a practical use for Pandora. If your opponent has over 50% health, you will probably not be able to KO them before your timer runs out. It's really easy to run away from attacks in this game, so that will also work against the person who activated Pandora. I've gotten a few lucky victories against mashers by activating Pandora and immediately using a Super Art, but it's not a sustainable strategy. Overall, Pandora is almost never worth it.
Quick Combo: If you have 1 bar of meter, you can use a Quick Combo. This is a combo that you have to program yourself in a buried menu. I suppose it could be useful for beginners, but I always found it more practical to use the meter I gained for a solid combo with an EX Special Move.
Cross Cancel: I fully admit that I only find this mechanic underwhelming because I suck. I see it used somewhat often in high level play, but I just don't use it. It's a guard cancel. If you find yourself forced to block for a long time, you can hit Forward + Medium Punch + Medium Kick to immediately reversal with an EX Special Move. Like I said, I'm sure it's useful but I've rarely been put into a situation where it's a good idea to burn some meter and use it. And the input is a bit difficult so I just end up walking forward (and getting hit) when attempting to Cross Cancel.
Most of the Gems: Gems are one of the most widely disliked aspects in Street Fighter x Tekken. I haven't seen any that were gamebreaking, but I did have to deal with this.
The process of customizing a Gem Unit is dreadful. The menus load slowly, and many of the gems have unrealistic activation parameters and aren't worth looking at. Some of them are as simple as “break a throw” or “have your attack blocked five times”. But then you get into Gems that require your opponent to activate Pandora, gems that give you a boost to power but cut your speed, gems that are downloadable content and it just gets silly.
Like I said, none of the gems I've encountered are game breaking. But the poor interface and lack of diversity in gem effects makes me wonder why the customization aspect was even included. I would have preferred if every character just had default gem sets. Maybe 1 for Power, Defense, and Meter gain and that's it. The system is a bit too complicated right now, and since only default gem units are allowed in major tournaments what's the point of letting people customize them?
After finishing the Tutorial, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that each character has Trials, which teach you all of their special moves, and a few basic, practical combos. It reminds me of the Challenges in Persona 4 Arena which I love and wish were in every fighting game. Trials in Street Fighter X Tekken really helped ease me into the Street Fighter style of 2D fighting that I'm mostly unfamiliar with.
So after doing trials for several characters that I liked, I picked Lili and Nina. Lili because I was familiar with her, being my main character in Tekken Tag Tournament 2, and Nina because her moves looked cool and were easy enough for me to pull off.
Online Mode in Street Fighter x Tekken is barebones, but gets the job done. I mostly played Ranked battles, choosing “Any” area and opponent skill for “Same” so I didn't get beaten too badly. There's a neat system where you gain points for each match you win, and lose them if you lose. You get a larger amount of points if someone is ranked higher than you, and less points if they're equal or lower ranked than you.
The thing I noticed very quickly is that the netcode in this game is not good. You can see your opponent's connection before accepting a match and it's on a ranking of 1-4 bars. 4 bars is preferable, and anything below that is borderline unplayable. The game hitches up online often, shows things that maybe didn't happen (for example: I've connected with a throw, the game rewound in the middle of a throw animation and decided that my opponent actually broke the throw), and is generally unstable. I played several matches in a row against a friend who lives one state away from me. We always had 4 bar connections but there would be lag spikes at unpredictable times.
Maybe the internet connection suffers due to the large amount of detail in the backgrounds? Maybe it's an issue with Capcom games in general? I remember playing Marvel vs. Capcom 3 online and having similar problems, but encountered very little lag in other non-Capcom games that I've been playing. Either way, I began to decline every match that wasn't a 4 bar connection because below 4 bars quickly became unacceptable.
So, what is the basic game plan for Street Fighter x Tekken? I found it to be similar to Tekken Tag Tournament 2.
1. Hit a combo with your point character.
2. Launcher/Cross Rush to tag in your second character mid combo
3. Continue the combo with your second character.
That seemed to be the best idea to get high amounts of damage. I didn't discover until several matches in that there are more nuances that weren't explained in the Tutorial.
This game has a juggle system that is somewhat similar to Tekken Tag Tournament 2. Certain moves will cause a “bound” state, where you slam your opponent hard into the ground and they make a big yellow shockwave. You can use an OTG to pick them up from this state and continue the combo. It's a bit complicated because you need to learn which of your character's moves will cause a bound if they hit a jumping opponent or if they are a counter hit.
The damage scaling is very harsh. I found out on several occasions that my fancy, long combo did exactly eight points LESS damage than an easier combo. From what I can tell, you want to do your heavy attacks early in the combo to get the maximum damage, because the damage scaling kicks in very quickly. It's interesting to see how damaging a 2 bar or 3 bar Super Art is if you hit it raw as opposed to in the middle of a combo, because they scale REALLY harshly when used mid combo.
From what I can tell, the Tekken characters are better than the Street Fighter ones. Tekken Strings are more versatile than the “Target Combos” available to Street Fighter characters. In my team, Nina has a go-to Tekken String that is a mid, low, and launcher. Lili has a very fast mid to low string that's basically a built-in mixup. I saw many more Tekken characters online than Street Fighter ones. They seem to have several ambiguous animations where it's tough to tell if an attack hits high or low, and most of them have quick, reliable overhead attacks.
So, Street Fighter x Tekken isn't the easiest game for newcomer to get into. The tag mechanics in particular took me a while to get used to, especially when doing a tag combo. The tag input is a bit awkward (Medium Kick + Medium Punch) and I'm trying to teach myself how to hit it to Cross Rush in the middle of a string. I also had to do a bit of research outside of the game to maximize my potential. By asking some good players on Twitter, I learned that team synergy is pretty important. Nina doesn't need much meter to do high damage, but Lili really depends it. So I learned after several days of playing that I should put Nina in front and Lili in the back, which ended up improving my game quite a bit. The game doesn't really give you any tips on team synergy like that, and never truly explains how the juggle system or OTG attacks work. That's the type of thing you'd have to look up online.
-Huge cast of characters with very unique mechanics. They look cool and are mostly fun to use.
-Tutorial Mode is quite in depth and entertaining. Trial Mode is very good at teaching basic but useful combos for each character.
-Really nice presentation in the story mode. Win quotes and titles are full of silly jokes: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sJj4BVBOSJ0&list=PL008CD580C4107249&index=29
-Matches are mostly quick and fun due to high damage potential. You rarely get stuck in long combos, so there is always an opportunity to come back and win.
-Excellent training mode with most options that you'd need in a training mode. (Needs a display to show which moves hit High, Low, and Mid though!).
-Cluttered with unnecessary mechanics like Pandora, Cross Assault, and Quick Combos.
-The timer runs too quickly and leads to many timeout decisions
-Online netcode is poor
-Poorly designed menus for Gem Customization. Too many Gems overall that are pointless/do the same thing as other Gems. I don't care for the Downloadable Content Gems that are better than the ones in the game. The Gem system as a whole should be simplified.
-Tutorial Mode doesn't explain a few key aspects like OTG combos and team synergy.
It's hard to believe it considering the mess that this game was at launch, but I think Street Fighter x Tekken is a really fun game. It's the type of game that I randomly get ideas for new combos and boot up Training mode to try out. Of course there are optimal routes to do maximum damage, but I found it enjoyable to explore how the damage scaling worked to find alternate, easier routes to do maximum damage.
There isn't much here for single player content, aside from the well-produced and often hilarious Arcade mode. But the game thrives in competitive play and it's compelling to try to keep your win streak going so you don't rank down.
The biggest problem is that the online netcode is discouraging me from playing it. It's the type of game I'd enjoy to play locally where I can be sure to consistently hit combos without random frame drops, but the online netcode is really poor compared to recent fighting games.
Will I keep playing Street Fighter x Tekken after Ultra Street Fighter IV comes out? I don't think it's likely that I'll keep playing it online if Ultra has better netcode. Still, I enjoy playing the game even though it's a bit of an odd introduction into the Street Fighter series. If you're willing to put in the effort, it's worth checking out for new players. It eases you in enough, has a lot of cool characters, and invites a surprising amount of experimentation when putting together combos. I don't know if I'll be any good at the next Street Fighter game when it comes out, but now I feel like I understand why that series is so popular. It's addictive to go from learning fundamentals to putting together combos, and learning to read your opponent on the fly.
And if that doesn't sell you on the game, check out the dancing bear.