Round 1, FIGHT!
Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the past two years, you’re likely to be well aware that the time is finally upon us to settle the claims of supremacy between two of fighting games’ most prominent franchises. Between a constant stream of trailers, dozens of community preview events, the squabbling antics of series producers Yoshinoro Ono and Katsuhiro Harada, and even the staging of a self-promoting reality TV show, it’s arguable that even if you had hidden under a rock you still would not have been spared from its defeaning presence on the horizon. But now it’s finally here, the inevitable question rears its head – is it actually any good?
Game: Street Fighter x Tekken
Presentation-wise, using the same engine as Street Fighter IV (SFIV) does give Street Fighter x Tekken (SFxT) a very familiar look and feel to its spiritual predecessor, from the opening menus all the way through to the in-game fighting. Whilst there’s a heap of new artwork splattered all about the interface, as a whole it’s certainly taken the “if it isn’t broke” philosophy, with the obvious focus from a design perspective being on making the Tekken characters fit cohesively in their new home. Given the potential for a clash of art styles, this task has been handled surprisingly well, with no characters looking either out of place or unfaithful to their original incarnations. Special mention should also go to the range of new stages – on top of being bright, colourful, and lively, each also goes through changes between rounds (and sometimes even mid-round) to keep the visuals fresh at all times; the only complaint being as it was with SFIV – it’d have been nice to have had more.
From an audio perspective there’s plenty to applaud too – character dialogue can again be switched between English and Japanese on a character by character basis, and there’s enough variation and variety in the soundtrack that you’ll still be recognising new tracks some way into your time with the game, all of which fit in nicely with the other themes at play. There’s a lot of situational music being used in fights too, not to mention some heavy fanservice in the shape of remixes of classic Streetfighter and Tekken tracks. Whilst a lot of the time the music is quite subtle in comparison to the carnage on screen, it’ll often be hard for fans of either series to not to notice certain homages and to crack a wry smile.
A tutorial mode is now present to run you through the very basics as well as the entirely new aspects of the system. Combine this new know-how with Dan making a cheeky reference to a certain SNK fighter, and this 15 minute intro becomes less of a chore but rather a pleasant, yet mandatory pre-cursor to all of the fun to come. From that point on though, it’s very much business as usual – another gruelling set of combo trials are present but disappointingly only focus on single characters at a time, and whilst there is a ‘Mission mode’ to accompany this, the focus is more on beating computer assailants under increasingly ridiculous conditions rather than actually teaching you about the game. Whilst of course there’s an arcade mode, and plenty of cut scenes to unlock at either end of this, those with a vested interest in either series’ lore are probably best putting their fingers in the ears and closing their eyes. The basic premise is that the legendary Pandora’s Box has landed out in the Antarctic, and everyone wants a piece of the action – most notably, but not limited to Mishima Corp & Shadowloo – hence everyone getting together for a quick bit of fisticuffs en route. As a whole, single player content is certainly the weak link of the package given some of the efforts seen in other more recent fighters – and especially given it’s mostly the same old structure that’s been recycled, despite some dramatic changes in mechanics asking significantly more of its players.
Any fears this might stir are quickly put to bed though, as when it comes to the gameplay itself there’s very little to fault at all. Tekken-heads might find some bewilderment in their half of the cast now having six buttons at their disposal, but they all manage to maintain a smooth translation, with lots of original motion-based moves and target combos having very close equivalents, neatly avoiding the heartbreak of play styles being completely re-invented. Although teams only comprise of two, there’s a variety of ways to tag in and out that cater for beginners as well experts; Marvel vs Capcom-a-like launcher combos allow you both juggle an opponent and tag out simultaneously with a simple light, medium, heavy, heavy chain, whereas the more combo-proficient will be busy experimenting with special moves linked into tags, back into specials, then int… you get the idea. With only one character needing to be defeated for you to lose a round, fights become more tactical as you try and evaluate which of your duo works best against each of your opponents, and can turn any calm situation into a high-pressure one at very short notice when a weakened character is clearly looking for a safe window to bow out.
As ever, multiplayer is where the majority of your time will be spent – and with the new team format, some of the options presented make for some quite refreshingly unique ways to play. Co-operative play brings an entirely new element of teamwork and/or bickering to the table when it comes to the likes of shared meter management, co-ordinating combos, and timing tags correctly. Abandon all sense of decency and you can even enjoy 4 individually controlled characters on screen at the same time with ‘Scramble’ mode – a manic and quite frankly overwhelming take on Street Fighter Alpha’s ‘Dramatic Battle’ setup. In setting up for all of these, as well as the usual set of labels and greetings to self-apply, you can also now tinker with character’s colour palettes and gem load-outs to add an extra level in diversity. Whilst the netcode has a few kinks still to be worked out (tests at time of review still demonstrated some rollbacks and dropping of audio), the support for SFIV before it and the fanfare for this title as the new hotness leaves little doubt that Capcom will be keeping a very close eye on this and patching accordingly.
Early in the game’s coverage, details of the Gem system provoked some quite outspokenly negative reactions among the community, and as such it’s worth clarifying that in practice it is far from the worst case scenarios many believed would become truth. It’s important to not lose sight of the fact that no single gem has the power to deny a mis-matching in terms of skill; whilst effective use of the system will certainly provide support to certain play styles, the effects are often so minor that it’d go by unnoticed were it not for the character in question gaining a rather colourful border around them.
Whilst unquestionably a Street Fighter game at heart, if you’re a fan of either series there should definitely be space for SFxT in your collection. If you’ve followed SFIV through it’s various revisions then you may find this a little dry in terms of solo content, but contained within is one of the finest rosters ever seen in a fighting game. There’s an incredible amount to learn in relation to each character, and that’s before even contemplating ideas of gem loadouts and team synergies. It’s exciting, it’s technical, and it’s fun; a big hit for Capcom, and one that we can’t wait to see countered by Namco in the near future.