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Friday, March 9, 2012

Review: Street Fighter X Tekken

Posted by Earnest "Nex" Cavalli on Fri, Mar 9, 2012 at 12:21 PM

I’ll admit, I had my doubts. I mean, Street Fighter is THE classic 2D fighter, while Tekken was created to offer the polar opposite experience thanks to then-new PlayStation-era 3D technology. On paper, there’s no way these two properties should mesh, and yet producer Yoshinori Ono and his Capcom team not only made a game that combines the two properties functionally, they may have created the best fighter of this generation.

Or, at least, a title with the potential to be the best fighter of this generation. Hit the jump and I’ll explain.

Before I get to the game’s many positives and arguably few negatives, I should probably clear up a bit of misconception. That title? It’s not “Street Fighter *X* Tekken” or “Street Fighter *Versus* Tekken.” It’s correctly pronounced “Street Fighter *Cross* Tekken,” which is both a bit of Japanese stylization and an excellent indicator of what the game is all about. This is not “Tekken fighters dumped into Street Fighter IV” or “Street Fighter characters adapted to the Tekken fighting system,” it’s a surprisingly seamless blend of the two disparate games that, in the end, offers a valid, unexpected alternative to either of its forebears.

You’re familiar with Street Fighter, right? It’s the classic 2D fighter after which (almost) all others are modeled. The fights are fast and punctuated by sharp, decisive attacks ranging from light slaps to crushing dozen-plus hit combos that fill the screen with magical fireballs and inexplicably incendiary yoga positions.

By contrast, Tekken is more ponderous. Not that it’s a slow game, but the physics give everything a more floaty feel, and characters are encouraged to juggle their foes in the air for massive damage. Outside of the occasional supernatural demonic force or military robot, there are no projectiles, and fights largely consist of rapid fire punches and kicks.

As a result of this mashup, Street Fighter X Tekken (henceforth SFxT for the sake of brevity) has taken liberties with both styles to create something wholly new. The Tekken fighters have each lost a few moves from their respective repertoires, and the Street Fighter characters have been tweaked to suit their new surroundings. For instance, Chun Li’s iconic Hyakuretsukyaku (otherwise known as “tap kick as fast as you can and earn a free 5-hit combo”) is no longer a simple button-mashing maneuver, and has instead been given a fireball-esque controller motion.

As a result, even your favorite stand-by characters require a bit of a learning curve, but since every character on both sides has been subtly tweaked in this way, everyone will be hampered equally by these adjustments.

That said, you will likely have to spend a solid amount of time learning how to properly use the game’s team-based attacks. It’s pretty easy to throw out flashy attacks that combine both fighters, but correctly utilizing the game’s Cross Assault attacks (this is where you gain control of both of your fighters and attack simultaneously) will take some work. I would say the same about the game’s Pandora mechanic, but given that it requires you to sacrifice one of your fighters for a short-lived boost that automatically kills you when time runs out, I find that it’s far more prudent to just avoid the thing when at all possible.

Of my two major complaints with the game, Pandora is a pretty good example of the first; SFxT is full of ideas that needlessly complicate the experience. An even better example of this would be the game’s gem system. In theory the gems allow new players to gain an even footing with more experienced fighting game veterans, or allow veterans to tweak their gameplay experience in any number of ways, but in practice — and this may change as the game ages and players figure out new ways to exploit its many facets — they only serve to needlessly complicate the otherwise pretty straightforward, and genuinely excellent fighting system in place here.

I can see the idea behind the gems as offering yet another layer of complexity, but this particular layer seems contrived. Apparently a number of people agree with me, as two of the fighting game community’s biggest weekly tournaments have banned the use of gems outright.

Why then am I still so keen on the game? Because moreso than any other fighter (with the possible exception of 2011’s Mortal Kombat 9) it offers a deep, comprehensive experience for gamers of all skill levels. Dedicated fighting game junkies have 38 unique fighters and a huge swath of options to keep them occupied, while more casual players have a surprisingly deep story mode that requires many, many playthroughs to completely unravel. Granted, this too is marred by options that seem half-baked. The character color customization mode is currently very limited, and while the game is obviously set up to support multiple costumes per character, SFxT initially only offers one look per character (and a palette swap). I have faith that both of these things will eventually be fleshed out via downloadable content, but at the moment it feels like more should be there and simply isn’t.

In truth, the above are niggling complaints. The only true flaw in SFxT is that its online component was simply not properly prepared for launch. In a basic sense it’s functional, and lag is far less a problem here than in most fighters, but I’ve yet to play an online match that didn’t include noticeable delays and bizarre audio issues. This seems like a small problem, but you’d be surprised at how missing sound effects can completely screw up your timing in a game like this. As of yesterday Capcom officially addressed the problem, saying the following:

The new netcode implemented in Street Fighter X Tekken allows for up to 4 players to have a smooth online experience, however depending on the connection stability between players, things like “spontaneous match rollback,” “voice effects cutting out,” and “sound effects cutting out” also are occurring. This netcode is written in a completely different way than the Street Fighter IV series netcode, and that is why these problems are occurring.

As Street Fighter X Tekken is a tag battle game, the amount of data that is exchanged between player connections is a lot more than the normal 1v1 battles of the Street Fighter IV series. In order to compensate for this and provide a smooth gameplay experience, the netcode was written the way it currently is. Unfortunately, this has also brought on the sound problems we are having now.

In order to completely fix all the sound issues, the smoothness of the online gameplay has to be traded off, so it is a very complicated and difficult balancing act. We would like everyone to know that the development team is currently looking at various ways to improve the sound issues.

We will have additional updates on this and other things soon, so please stay tuned. Thank you all for your understanding.

Hopefully the issue is a minor one that will be amended with a small patch in the near future, but until then I can't wholeheartedly recommend the game's online component.

I want to stress here though that the above is really my only solid complaint. It's not so much that the game feels only partially finished, as it feels like SFxT is a game and a half. Capcom created a very solid fighter that will appeal to both hardcore and casual fighter fans, and then gleefully piled on a ton of extra concepts. These extra concepts will eventually be more fleshed out, but for now they mostly serve as a teaser of what the game could eventually be.

That said, it's still a ton of fun. Particularly in the game's perfectly-suited-for-party-play four player tag team modes. It's apparent that the developers were gleefully throwing together ideas here, and long-time fans will find a billion tiny things in SFxT to be excited about. From the frankly startling amount of fighter interaction, to the stages themselves — I particularly like the stage where Mike Haggar startles members of the Mad Gear gang by bursting out of the background — everything here just screams "fan service."

Those on the fence about the title might want to wait until this fall when Capcom has promised to release a sizable DLC update that adds another 12 fighters and, most likely a host of other improvements to the game. Yeah, that seems typical for the company that released half a dozen different iterations of Street Fighter II over the years, but at least in this case we've been promised that the update won't require players to buy an entirely separate game to get the full experience.

In the end, Street Fighter X Tekken is still a fighter worthy to sit alongside Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3, Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition and Mortal Kombat 9. All the improvements coming in the future are just icing on an already tasty cake.

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