A fresh take on a classic formula
Street Fighter and Tekken have both enjoyed a rivalry dating back many years. Offering the best of their individual worlds, they've accumulated fans that stuck by them through thick and thin. Street Fighter X Tekken tries to blur those lines and bring everyone together in a grand meshing of 2D and 3D fighting. While favoring the Street Fighter model of play (the upcoming sibling title Tekken X Street Fighter doing the exact reverse) it is hard to imagine the very specific Tekken playstyle working in this arrangement.
How do you take a 3D fighting game thats heavily focused on juggling your opponent helplessly in the air with lengthy combo strings into the technical 2D world of footsies and meter management? Capcom has surprisingly made the transition quite smooth. Make no mistake, this is primarily a Street Fighter title. While there is added juggling support not previously prominent in the series, the ruleset and strategy still applies heavily in Street Fighter's favor. Apart from the obvious addition of a Tekken roster of playable characters, the most notable change is the Tag Team playstyle. What in the past was a solitary fight of one on one has now become a careful balance of managing your team and setting up tactical tags to deal damage and recover health. Differing from other tag titles such as the titular Tekken or most recently Marvel VS Capcom - in SF x T when one of your characters gets taken out the other doesn't automatically tag in, rather you lose the entire round. While this may seem like an odd choice it does encourage great cooperation between your characters. Tagging in is handled with either a launcher combo that knocks your opponent into the air and automatically has your second character run in - or a manual tag which has your primary character assume invincibility while playing a quick tag-out animation but leaves your incoming teammate vulnerable to attack as they enter the screen. Knowing when to go for the launcher or when to sacrifice an incoming characters health by doing the manual tag can often be a key factor of victory or defeat. A brand new vocabulary is introduced with the new Super attacks borrowing from the games namesake. Supers, which execute unique special animation attacks that deal heavy damage work as they always have in Street Fghter games and are now called Super Arts. A new powerful version of the super is the Cross Art which has both your characters execute their unique attacks one after the other dealing massive damage and requiring a full meter gauge. There is a Cross Assault which brings out your partner and lets you attack your opponent simultaneously - in single player mode your second character will be controlled by an AI while online it would be a buddy. Lastly there is the Pandora mode which sacrifices your primary character and brings out your second with highly amped up damage. The trick is that from the moment your tag partner comes out a bar starts counting down time and if you don't finish the fight before it reaches the end you will automatically lose. This is an interesting last ditch effort that can pay off if you catch your opponent in a particularly lengthy combo, but more often than not simply back dashing to the other end of the screen and blocking can easily net you a win by just waiting out the Pandora meter.
The biggest question one might have at this point is how do the Tekken characters even work in a Street Fighter universe? A lot of fan favorites like Kazuya or King retain their unique fighting styles. Players are not at a loss when faced against a hadouken crazed Ryu or a never ending barrage of Sagat projectiles. There are unique moves that the Tekken characters posses allowing them to counter various fireballs and punish with damage dealing juggle combos. That is the main difference in playstyles. While you have the ability to choose whether you want to zone out your opponent with fireballs or go in with a Balrog and get up close and personal - there is no real ranged option for the other side of the game and you're forced to get up close in order to setup your ground bounces or counters. Now you have the unique ability to mix in a great combo string with tags and a punishing juggle very often dealing over 50% of total life. The primary difference in controls is that while the Street Fighter characters all rely on Quarter Circle varitions, the Tekken roster focuses mostly on cancels, or basically inputing a move before the previous one has finished playing out. The combination of both worlds creates an interesting dynamic requiring you to adjust accordingly when facing either side of the roster.
The other biggest addition to this title is the gem system. Each character on the roster can assign their own individual power up gems that offer unique stat boosts throughout the rounds when certain conditions are met. A defense gem for instance would get activated for 20 seconds, lowering all damage taken by 20% when the player has successfully blocked 5 attacks. A power gem which increases damage dealt would be enabled after you connect 5 hits on your opponent. The main categories can be divided into damage dealing, defense, meter building, increased movement speed, life recovery and input simplification. The last of those being quite an attractive choice for players new to fighting games simplifies all moves such as specials or supers to varying degrees of ease - from changing quarter circles to simple down forward motions to even changing supers to a simple direction and button press. All of these powerups are leveraged against lowered movement speed or slower meter gain. Although you might think this is an area where the game could get horribly broken, straight out of the box things are surprisingly well balanced. There is a certain amount of iffyness about special edition gems that have all the pro's and none of the con's of regular ones, but generally you don't notice anyone completely demolishing you online because of gems alone.
What really sets Street Fighter X Tekken apart in my eyes is the new cooperative mode of play. You can now invite a friend over Xbox Live or Playstation Network to play alongside you against other players online. At the time of writing this piece, from the Xbox side you cannot have two players join up locally to play others over Xbox Live, which is available on Playstation Network. If a friend comes over to your house you will only be able to play versus each other which is a slight bummer, but according to Capcom this is something that will get patched later down the line. Each player chooses a character, with one person assuming the lead that opens up when the round begins. Fighting 2 vs 2 online is quite exciting and gives the unique ability to finally fight alongside your friends rather than against them.
With such a great new addition to the online play it is a real shame the game suffers from constant audio glitches on the 360 version. A good 75% of all moves don't register sound cues, making it seem as if you're fighting in a vacuum devoid of sound apart from the background music. While you eventually get used to it and just deal with the absence of audio feedback, this is a major issue the Capcom should have ironed out before releasing the title as it really impacts the gameplay in a negative way.
To close things out I'll mention that there is a typical Story Mode that loosely ties things together storywise where you can either play as any choice of characters or play as story-unique teams such as Poison and Hugo or Chun Li and Cammy. The primary difference is that while playing random characters you will see a stock cutscene at the "end" of the game with a rather unimpressive paragraph detailing the ending story of your primary character pick - the unique teams get a rival team battle along the way and an FMV cutscene at the end of the ladder. As usual the story here is very barebones as the main appeal is either arcade fights against the AI or local/online matchmaking. Graphically the game looks very nice borrowing the artstyle from the latest Street Fighter IV series.
Street Fighter X Tekken is a great new addition to the fighting game market that I'd highly recommend to any Street Fighter or Tekken fans alike. While the SF crowd might feel more at home here, there is enough versatility in gameplay that everyone will find their niche. It's just too bad that the online sound issues leave a blemish on an otherwise highly enjoyable and polished game.