What pits M. Bison’s Shadaloo organization and the Mishima Zaibatsu of Tekken fame against one another? In generic fashion, the “Pandora Cube,” a powerful mysterious artifact, has crashed on Earth. Both sides vie for ownership and the power that comes with it. When starting Arcade mode, a cinematic gives this brief backstory, and then it’s time to fight.
Two fundamentally different fighting franchises: Street Fighter is slow and deliberate; Tekken is fast and aggressive. Merging both in Street Fighter X Tekken results in, at the least, a creative take on the fighting formula.
Street Fighter X Tekken starts with an unhelpful tutorial for the casual crowd (hint: me). The tutorial entertains just as much as it teaches thanks to a humorous instructor, but the lesson plan is flawed. Many commands and combos are explained in-depth, but the tutorial never explains the timing of said combos. This proves problematic, especially when playing against fighting-game veterans online or testing the higher difficulties of Arcade mode. In these arenas, I often resort to mashing buttons while others perform perfectly-executed combos, but I find solace in Arcade mode’s regular difficulty level.
The roster — accurately represented in terms of attire, moves, and dialogue — is varied, but remains balanced in most cases. Some inclusions are surprising. Marduk, for example, is a powerful grappler who moves sporadically during fights. No other character can match his fluid style, for better or worse. Some favor a strict, balanced roster, whereas some would rather assume the role of a unique character. Whether these inclusions enhance or detract from the experience will come down to preference.
As mentioned, the mechanics of the two franchises vary, but Capcom balances them well. Pulling from the Street Fighter, Tekken moves now require frame-specific inputs; it’s not just a button-mashing frenzy like Tekken can be on its own. Conversely, Street Fighter characters are faster than in, say, Street Fighter 4, which balances the fighting mechanics to a sort of middle ground. All in all, the few tweaks aren’t exploitable or detrimental to the experience.
In a move that will surely upset the competitive crowd, Capcom has implemented a “gem system,” which adds a layer of customization. Assist gems will be favored by new players, as they allow for easier special-move inputs, automatic blocking, and other dumbed-down commands. Experienced players can opt to use other gems for more health, speed, or strength — which should, in theory, balance the assistance new players receive. In practice, it does not, because other game-altering commands are available. A press of either thumbstick will execute an automatic combo — a couple of punches, a low knee, and an uppercut — that would otherwise require three button presses.
Experienced players don’t need to fear an all-handicapped fighting game, though. More complicated and deadly combinations are available for those willing to put in the practice. While playing online in Endless Battle, a mode where eight players join a lobby and two fight at a time, one player made an obvious attempt to exploit the readily available, watered-down combos. The opposing player, clearly a fighting game vet, made quick work of the other with a string of combos and, eventually, a Super Art — an elaborate, stylized, and powerful finishing move. The poor guy left the game soon after his crushing, expected defeat (full disclosure: I was that poor guy).
It’s frustrating how contemporary fighting games (with the exception of Super Smash Bros.) aren’t accessible, as I continually find my excitement crushed after minutes of actual playtime. In Street Fighter X Tekken, as with any other fighting game of recent years, humiliating defeats rack up quickly, even on local games. I went to a friend’s house to play against him (destroy him) after going through parts of the tutorial. I used what I had learned — combos, enemy-lifting uppercuts, tag-team moves — but his incessant pressing of the X and A buttons proved superior. Though I still don’t understand my ineptitude for fighting games, I think the gaming community would welcome more easily-accessible game types. It’d probably save a few controllers, windows, and friendships, too.
Though my frustrations got the best of me at times, Street Fighter X Tekken is an enjoyable fighting experience with plenty of content and achievements to keep dedicated players overwhelmingly busy. It introduces new concepts to a genre that has become almost formulaic, and despite its lazy story and unhelpful tutorial, fans will surely enjoy it. Newcomers beware: this game is tough to learn and much more difficult to master. You will lose, and you will likely rage quit once or twice, just as I did.
In this frenetic and visually pleasing experience, perhaps Capcom’s most commendable success is in bringing together two inherently different franchises and making it work. Not only do the different styles of play work together, but they actually complement one another, allowing for a greater variety of fighting styles. The result is a unique experience for a genre that desperately needed one. Fight on.