Surely, the Tekken characters are at a disadvantage here. Not only are they making the transition across dimensional planes, but are also being put in the hands of rival developer, Capcom. How can the side stepping champions of the Iron Fist Tournament adapt to the unmerciful and paper thin territory of fireballs and uppercuts? Is Jin Mishima just going to start throwing fireballs of his own so he can compete with Ryu? Well, actually, that’s exactly what he ends up doing. And oddly enough, that solution isn’t as boring as it sounds – nothing ever is in the world of Street Fighter X Tekken.
Because Jin’s new projectile attack is actually much cooler than a mere excuse to have an answer to the Street Fighter game. It doesn’t travel on a trajectory; it just sort of manifests itself on the field creating an immediate threat of space to the opponent. Ryu’s fireball is different too, though; he can charge and cancel it at will, making for some nasty opportunities to feint. But the Tekken characters and subtle changes to character move sets are hardly the only foreign additions to Capcom’s Street Fighter’s 2D domain. What they’ve created is an utterly hilarious mixture of haphazard charm — a game that’s outrageous, physics defying, and infatuated with its own stupidity.
It’s the kind of stupidity seen when iconic Chinese Interpol cop, Chun-Li, approaches a rival tag team in the game’s Arcade Mode, informing them that the area is off limits to civilians when kids are literally hanging out in a skate park as the stage’s backdrop. You tell ‘em, Chun! And so the fight will begin in a wash of beautifully saturated colors alongside a funky track of trip hop music — a more modest environment in Street Fighter X Tekken. It’s nothing compared to giant mammoths chasing a hover craft in Antartica, a trailer park of pimped out mobile homes raging to some happy hardcore techno, or the “Jurassic Era Research facility.” Best not to ask questions here.
The complete lack of coherence plainly shows how much fun the development team had in their freedoms with the mashup, but a great amount of respect is conversely apparent within game’s roster. With richly detailed models across the board, the difference between the casts is made clear in their very animations. Street Fighter characters keep the twirly choreography and cartoony arm and leg extensions; while the Tekken side of things is more rooted in the realism of martial arts, and carries a noticeable level of weight behind each blow. Their move sets are cringing displays of power, like Kazuya’s kidney shot ender to his surgical chain combos, or how the cheetah faced King walks up the chest of an opponent to prepare them for a concrete facial. It’s got that umph, that get some attitude the Tekken games have always rewarded players with.
It’s an attitude that lends itself to the entire game, too, with throw animations getting their own profound camera angles, and the hurricane kicks of Ryu and Ken creating skin slapping sounds at the rate of machine gun fire. In fact, the sound effects are so gratifying — from the beat downs to the adorable way the characters call out each other’s names for a tag in — that it makes the lack of sound in online multiplayer that much more unbearable. It’s out of sync, from the stage’s music to the very sound effects. And it’s not even a sacrifice for the greater good, either, since finding smooth matches is as much as a chore as it’s always been with Capcom fighters. Far from unplayable, but make sure to keep the sound off and to grab a good playlist (dubstep, anyone?) while toughing it out in ranked matches.
Instead, throwing down locally produces a more enjoyable tag based fighter. A very tame one in comparison to most, namely for its lack of an assist option (brief attack commands from off screen partners), but this makes it a bit more approachable. The entire cast shares a universal chain combo, meaning a simple a run of the fingers and any player can perform a string of blows into a launch. This launch will send the opponent airborne and simultaneously have the second fighter run in to follow up with the juggle. More creative tags can be implemented with the use of EX meter, like Ryu tagging in Tekken’s Xiaoyu after he lands an uppercut. This allows for interesting set ups and potentially dirty mind tricks, especially tagging characters in while in the midst of an already executed special – picture Ken’s hurricane kick as Zangief runs out for the suplex.
It’s a rewarding system, accessible, and one of the most enjoyable fighting experiences seen in a while that utilizes a human partner option. In fact, the 2v2 mode with a friend as a tag-in may be the definitive way to play Street Fighter X Tekken. Character synergy in the game is subtle at best, so the actual battles play more like two 1- on-1s instead of a conversation over proper team composition. This makes it a process of relieving pressure of each other, and creates a fun social dynamic between two players. There’s also a mode called Scramble, where all 4 characters appear on screen at once for a battle royale. But it’s about as functional as it sounds, and so probably best played over a few beers.
With the traditional 99 second timer and two teams of two, Street Fighter X Tekken becomes very concerned with the management of time, health, and EX meter. Losing one character means the end of the round, so finding ways to keep the healthy one on point while the other regains health is often the key to winning. This philosophy makes for an intense game that can vary greatly match to match, and depends on the types of characters present. Faithful to their origins, Tekken characters are great at applying pressure with lengthy chain combos that can end in tricky high or low finishers. Street Fighter characters usually play a cleaner game by comparison, more specialized in creating space with simple pokes and sometimes projectiles.
Problems begin to arise when players realize the clock is running out on them, and often. With longer combos taking some time to learn, beginners may have trouble enjoying the game to its full extent, since dealing less than optimal damage can lead to time outs, and time outs are pretty lame. On the other end, when more advanced players tap into the huge damage outputs the juggle system allows for, the game suddenly seems at odds with itself. Spend 2 or 3 meters to dish out a cinematic super move – one of the highlights of the game’s presentation — or deal nearly the exact same amount of damage with a raw combo. These flashy finishers — the staple of nearly every Capcom fighter — are consequently a much less exciting implementation. Instead of an incredibly damaging super move, it’s a lengthy cutscene that might itch out a few more points of damage. This is a welcome addition for those tired of powerful comeback mechanics, but then a 5 second cinematic interruption seems pointless, other than to run a very tight clock.
Now, there is a last ditch effort mechanic, but it’s almost entirely useless. It’s called Pandora, and upon activation the character out in play is immediately K.O’ed while the second fighter then enjoys increased damage, having 8 seconds to edge out a victory before being K.O’ed as well. So, that’s 8 seconds to both close the distance and connect a winning combo. Suffice to say, it’s literally suicide, and hard to believe Capcom ever found use for it in actual testing.
Several aspects of the game, like Pandora mode, clearly went into the game with little thought on how they would play out. Most prominent is the gem system, where characters are set up with a layout of 3 gems at the select screen that add temporary boost to speed, power, or defense during the match. These gems activate upon meeting unique circumstances, and last a short duration. They don’t amount to much more than some minor health regeneration or gaining +10% damage for a few seconds, so at most it adds a potentially interesting layer of customization that may be noticed in deeper competitive play – but it’s an undeniably boring feature to construct a game around.
With these mechanics either being too subtle to care about or too nonsensical to use, Street Fighter X Tekken ultimately boils down to a brutal back and forth volley of full length combos until the timer panics the person with less health. Successfully confirm a landed hit and stretch it into as much impact as the game’s diminishing returns on damage allows for. It’s an intense affair of discipline, and the roster is one of Capcom’s largest and most varied, so there’s much to learn. And truly, it’s the amount of affection on the character level that keeps Street Fighter X Tekken above water. But these personalities and their beautifully rendered move sets deserved a better package, and maybe next time Capcom cuts corners, fans won’t be so keen on figuring out their problems for them.
Love it or Hate it: Caution