Street Fighter X Tekken review — Not quite a gem

Street Fighter X Tekken Screen

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Let me start by saying that I am not a hardcore fighting game fan, nor am I a conscientious objector to the genre. I would place myself squarely in the center of the demilitarized zone on the spectrum of the fighting game community. I have never endeavored to learn the exact time frames during which one attack cancels into another, or exploit an infinite stun loop, or even pay attention to the tiered systems of which characters are supposedly the best. I play fighting games more for the flash and the fun you can have with a group of friends passing a controller around. But at the same time I appreciate and respect the more serious fighting game crowd.

Street Fighter X Tekken is a 2D fighter with a tag-team battle system, utilizing an engine that feels a lot like Street Fighter IV, but with touches of Tekken here and there. For example, characters from both sides have flashy Street Fighter-style super combos (called Super Arts here), but they also have Launcher attacks that will let you juggle your opponents with a flurry of quick strikes in typical Tekken fashion. It also incorporates a Tekken Tag Tournament-like system of swapping, allowing you to switch characters out mid-combo and keep attacking. The Street Fighter characters are the only ones who can throw projectiles, which makes for a strange lack of balance. The Tekken characters have some special and super moves added to their repertoire to even the odds a bit, but it’s not enough.

With characters drawn from years of Tekken and Street fighter lore, this mash-up seems designed with long-term, experienced fighting game fans in mind. Yet the game goes far out of its way to ensure that new players can get into the groove, as evidenced by its tutorial mode that begins by teaching you how to throw a punch. This disparate and seemingly schizophrenic approach ends up being more effective at alienating both sides. The game never seems to be able to make up its mind which group it wants to appeal to.

The fighting systems are intricate and complex, and will appeal to veterans of the genre. Super Arts combine into Cross Arts. Special moves can be charged into EX special moves. Cross Assaults call both fighters at once. Boost Combos activate Cross Rushes. Precise timing can initiate Cross Cancels or Fall Recoveries. Throws can be escaped. Launchers, counters, and reversals can be performed. You activate Pandora Mode by sacrificing one character. The list goes on and on, and is overwhelming to a newbie. However, amidst all of these complex systems, Capcom included Quick Combos for the inexperienced. Instead of learning the precisely timed series of inputs to perform these multi-hit attacks, you only have to press two buttons at once. It really takes away some of the accomplishment of learning the combo normally.

Street Fighter X Tekken Screen

And then there are the Gems. Oh, the Gems.

The Gem system allows players to equip power bonuses that activate when certain requirements are met. For example, land five hits and your attack power will go up, or get hit by three special moves and your defense will increase. These are designed to help fledgling players cover their weak spots. However, the system the game has set up for equipping them is about as awkward as possible. Rather than set up a few gems sets to use universally, each of the game’s almost 40 characters has to be configured individually with a Gem load-out before they’ll be performing at their full potential. Not only is the micromanagement of the game’s roster not friendly to neophytes, equipping Gems requires you to enter the game’s Gem editor in a separate mode. More casual fighting gamers, like my friends, aren’t going to take the time to carefully configure their Gem lists before trying a new character. They’re just going to jump in.

Gems would also seem to unbalance higher-level play. Since Gems are something that can be bought from the in-game store using real money (which is a whole other issue I’ll save for another day), players who invest more money are going to get a leg up on others. Some Gems will let you auto-escape from throws, for example. Official tournaments have already begun banning Gems, opting to stick to the basics. You really have to wonder who Gems are meant to appeal to.

The game also flounders with its online play, which is definitely meant to appeal to the hardcore. Lag plagues matches unlike any other fighting game in recent memory, and sometimes the sound drops out on one end, making for an unnerving experience. Compounding the brokenness are some interminable load times, with long pauses in between matches. Installing the game on the Xbox 360 helps a little, but the character portraits still stare at each other for far too long in between matches. Online fights are dominated by fighting game adherents, naturally, but they must be pretty disappointed when you consider how broken the online component is.

Street Fighter X Tekken Screen

A huge list of characters is available right from the start, but it is worth noting that fans have already discovered content on the disc for a whopping 12 bonus fighters, which seem to be unlockable only as paid DLC offered at a later date. Regardless of where you stand on the debate of game companies charging extra for content already on the game disc, if you simply wait until this fall, you’ll be able to get the full roster, and likely for less then the game’s current cost.

The story mode is bare bones, to say the least. Talking heads after fights give a bit of personality to the proceedings, but the game doesn’t really even give a reason why the two separate universes have melded. While the character roster is impressive, the default tag teams for arcade mode don’t actually “cross” sides, as the title would suggest. Ryu and Ken make sense as tag partners, sure, but why not have a team of wrestlers from opposing sides, like Zangief and Marduk, or have Bob and Rufus combine to make Team Fat Guys? It seems like a missed opportunity.

And missed opportunity is really the best way to describe the game, because the fighting part of it, is a deep, intricate brawler with a lot to offer those looking to explore it. Unfortunately that brilliance is buried under a mountain of flaws in the presentation. Hostile design interfaces make this hard to recommend to the uninitiated, and the hardcore will be put off by the poorly implemented online options. Unfortunately, only the biggest of fighting game fans need apply here. Everyone else, don’t cross that line.

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