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Street Fighter X Tekken is the latest game in Capcom’s 21st-century fighter renaissance, and it looks set to continue the winning streak started by Street Fighter IV. Ever since SFxT’s first announcement we’ve had one burning question: How can Capcom integrate Tekken’s cast of 3D brawlers into the gameplay mechanics of a 2D fighting game? Jamming Tekken’s alien 3D concepts into a 2D Street Fighter game seemed akin to sanding off the corners of a square peg for a round hole.
So, how did Capcom fare? Reasonably well. There’s a definite gameplay divide between the two companies’ characters, but that’s not really a bad thing. The Street Fighter characters play similarly to their SF4 counterparts - no surprise there. But in addition to their relative lack of projectiles, the Tekken fighters tend to feature a surplus of short canned attack strings, often a dozen or more. (Those goofy 10-hit strings didn’t make the cut, thankfully.) Oftentimes these strings translate Tekken’s left/right punch/kick inputs directly into Street Fighter’s physically analogous weak and medium punch/kick buttons, but the commands frequently vary from their Tekken originals, so even Tekken pros will have to relearn the ropes, somewhat.
Long story shorter, whereas the Street Fighter characters tend to have smaller, more easily understandable move sets, the Tekken fighters have larger arsenals that often blur the line between special moves and normals. As a result, they’re often tougher to pick up and understand at a glance, particularly for those of us without recent Tekken experience. Figuring out how to combine all of these often similar-looking attacks into a cohesive offense is definitely a learning process that will benefit from practice, shared community knowledge, and FAQs.
Once past the initial hump, SFxT plays like some frenzied midpoint between SF4 and Marvel vs. Capcom. Expect lots of chain combos into launchers, moves that bounce opponents off walls, and improbably long juggles involving multiple character switches. It’s a mistake to play SFxT like SF4, which even the briefest, likely painful online dalliance will quickly make clear. Instead, you’ll need to become extremely comfortable with the tag dynamic, and consider how your character choices impact tag combo possibilities. We definitely experienced an adjustment period - we weren’t able to do particularly well with our long-planned wrasslin’ team of Zangief and Hugo despite knowing how to play them each individually. SFxT is a team game, and wise leverage of tagging is a must.
The character selection offers an excellent cross-section from both Street Fighter and Tekken, weighing in at 38 faces on 360 and 43 on PS3, with forthcoming DLC to add another 12. (That will bring the PS3 version just one shy of 56-character-strong record-holder MvC2, which has held that crown for over a decade). Amusingly (or not) hacker types recently discovered that the 12 future DLC characters are already on the disc. Oh, Capcom.
Before the DLC brouhaha popped up, the single most controversial aspect of SFxT was the new gem system, which lets you equip your characters with stat- or ability-boosting gems that activate under certain circumstances. For example, one gem gives you 20 seconds of +20% extra defense (and -10% attack power) after being hit by three special moves; the effect can only fire once per round. While extra gems are available via preorders and in-game purchases - which is where many people start having a problem with it - the default gems don’t seem to have an untowardly large effect on balance. While forthcoming gem releases may change this, as of now gems just add a little more flavor. We doubt Capcom will do much to upset this careful balance.
SFxT has the usual selection of modes, most right out of SF4. Each character has 20 trials to conquer, ranging from “do this special move” to “perform this intricate series of eight super-tight links you would never consider using in a real match.” If nothing else these’ll give you some ideas on how to play new characters. There’s also the new mission mode, which gives you 20 sadistically hard tasks to accomplish versus max-difficulty CPU opponents. Let’s just say Zangief and his magical AI-confounding lariats will get another workout here.
There’s not much to unlock other than SF4-style player titles; all the default characters are available from the start, hallelujah. This feels strange - past fighters have us conditioned to expect hours of drudgery before we can get down to “real” play. Less strange: the mediocrity of story mode. Capcom’s preordained tag teams enjoy such exciting stories as “Paul and Law are bums” and “Lili and Asuka detest each other,” while randomly matched character teams get a one-size-fits-all non-narrative. Just in case this needs to be said, you shouldn’t buy SFxT for its single-player action.
Luckily, SFxT delivers a strong slate of multiplayer modes, right down to two-player online training - neat. All matches support up to four players, so if you have a friend around they can play as your tag character. Then there’s scramble battle, which throws all four characters into the fray at once, calling to mind Guilty Gear Isuka and the “dramatic battles” of Street Fighter Alpha. Luckily these work out much better than Isuka ever did, and prove a lot of fun when you just want to kick some ass while struggling to keep track of your fighter amid pandemonium.
Unfortunately the online play is marred by lag issues that range from slightly annoying to downright horrifying. Sometimes it works fine, but at others it’s a frustrating slideshow. Sound effects commonly glitch and drop out for long stretches, adding to the unpleasantness. Maybe it’s just the limited selection of opponents available so far, but we’ve had more laggy matches than not. After Street Fighter III: Third Strike Online Edition used the highly regarded GGPO net code we hoped such lag was a thing of the past. We’re sure Capcom has good reasons for not using GGPO here, but we can’t help but wish for a smoother online experience.
Multiplatform games are generally very similar these days, but SFxT is one case where 360 players pretty much lose out. The PS3 version features Cole from Sucker Punch’s Infamous, Japanese Sony mascots Toro and Kuro cosplaying as Ryu and Kazuya, a hilarious Mega Man inspired by Capcom’s horrid ’80s box art, and a similarly tweaked-out take on Pac-Man. (The last two are promised for day-one DLC.) Both versions suffer from bothersome load times (hdd installation helps slightly), but only the PS3 game has these five extra characters at the moment. Toss in PS3’s free online play and you’ve got a pretty good argument for going with the PS3 version. It’s not like the Sony-exclusive characters are super compelling, but hey, why not have them if you've got both platforms?
Whichever version you spring for, you can expect another fast, fun, and technical Capcom fighting experience. The online code seems problematic, but that’s hardly enough to sink what’s otherwise another top-tier Capcom fighter. It’s actually kind of amazing to see a fighter where literally half the cast is basically new. That’s a lot to take in, so you’d best be ready to learn some new strokes if you want to swim in these turbulent crossover seas.
This game was reviewed with the Xbox 360 version as lead platform. We test drove the PS3 version, the differences of which you can see noted in the text above.