Game: Street Fighter X Tekken
Available on: Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 (Reviewed on PlayStation 3)
Another week in GiaG Towers, another high end fighting game finds its way into my mighty paws. It is unbelievable to think that, including this choice new offering from Capcom, in 2012 we have already looked at five major releases based around the pugilistic arts, and it is only the beginning of March! It is extremely cool that the fighting game community continues to exist, even if it does so across the sprawling realms of the internet, rather than in a smoke fuelled arcade.
My most exciting gaming moment from last year was when Yoshinori Ono stood before a crowd of comic book nerds and gamers just like us, and delivered the news that another crossover game was in production. The fact that he did this after a wonderfully staged WWE-style confrontation with Tekken producer Katsuhiro Harada made the announcement all the more magical. Of course I had my doubts as to how Capcom could successfully cross-pollinate two very different fighting beasts. On one hand you have your projectiles, your super arts, your circular motions, your Shotokan, and on the other hand chain combos, 3D arenas, juggling, grappling, and giant bear-on-panda action.
I had been intrigued by the relationship between Capcom and Namco for many years, and always fancied trying out the results of their last collaboration, the unfortunately Japanese-only tactical RPG Namco X Capcom. Thankfully, as I pour one out in memory of my man the late Biggie Smalls, I can try out Street Fighter X Tekken, which hits UK stores on the anniversary of his tragic shooting. It is quite fitting really, as Smalls clearly loved a bit of Street Fighter, in between “flipping coke in corner store bodegas” he was out in the back room taking on scrubs who would dare step to his apparently quite-tasty Dhalsim; “Street Fighter 2, I’m inviting you” indeed. The question I ask is this: is this long awaited meeting of the fighting giants a Juicy treat, or is it just a load of Party and Bullshit? And did I really just kick off a review using two hip hop joints in a decidedly odd analogy?
STORY: Any crossover game worth its salt requires some sort of ridiculous premise that can be used as a backdrop to hold the game together narratively and give a token excuse to justify the two opposing sides fighting each other. In this case the aeons-old story of Pandora’s Box has been nicked and recycled. It is appalling stuff, the mysterious box has fallen out of thin air somewhere in Antarctica, sparking a worldwide curiosity that leads to a motley bunch of fighting types making a pilgrimage to the icy outpost to find out if the artefact can give them unmentionable power. Amongst the folk looking to dip their bread into this megalomaniacal gravy are Capcom’s villainous Shadaloo and Mad Gear ne’er do wells, various people named Mishima from the Tekken-verse, the virtuous and popular likes of Ryu, Ken, Paul and Law and…Pac Man. The arcade mode of the game tells the story of how Street Fighter and Tekken came to meet. It is not as comprehensive and meandering a tale as we have seen from other fighting games recently, but it is classic Capcom stuff, and did give me plenty of laughs, whether this is what they intended or not.
GRAPHICS: This is another beautifully designed and implemented fighter from Capcom. A killer intro movie sets the scene with authority. The core of the game does not seem a million miles away from Street Fighter IV, but there are so many excellent touches that set this apart, the camera zooms in and around your fighter when you pull off a throw, the gloriously animated stages are split into levels which your players leap into prior to each new round, the character profiles that bookend each match are huge, incredibly detailed and full of life. Like Marvel Vs Capcom 3, there are plenty of nods to other games in these backdrops, including a brilliant Dino Crisis themed stage, and the Mad Gear Hideout, which has the likes of Damnd and Haggar frolicking away behind you as you fight. Proper end sequence movies are included rather than barely animated or still images. The characters themselves are a winner, I love the way the Tekken stalwarts have been “Capcom’d”, they fit fight into the Street Fighter universe whilst never losing any of their charm. Take Paul and Law, for example, they have the almost cartoon-like features people love about Street Fighter, but they are still unmistakably Tekken guys. Three faces we haven’t seen as selectable fighters in a current-gen game make an appearance, the Final Fight trio of Hugo, Poison and Rolento, and fit right into the mix aesthetically.
SOUND: With such a wide array of tunes to choose from, Capcom have done the business in selecting some recognisable songs from previous Street Fighter and Tekken games, and given them a nice makeover in some cases. There are tunes for particular stages, tunes which denote certain characters and teams, even incidental music for when you pull off a Cross Assault. Case in point, team up the classic combo of Ryu and Ken, and execute the aforementioned dual assault to get a blinding remix of Ryu’s classic Street Fighter II stage song. Heihachi always had the best theme music in Tekken, and his high tempo theme is recreated excellently. Another fan favourite, which I am pleased to say turns up, is King’s mega synth-driven number, replete with quality 1980’s-style electric guitars. With all of the old school fighting tunes going off, it is easy to forget that there is also an impressive opening song courtesy of Floridian speed metallers Black Tide, which lends the opening an edginess that the likes of 3rd Strike and SFIV lacked with their theme songs.
No Street Fighter game comes without a vast array of voice work, and this is no exception. With options to have both the original Japanese voices or English speech, all of the characters are accounted for, including Kuma’s mighty roar, which sounds the same regardless of region. Cheesy American Voiceover Guy handles the intro and end sequences.
GAMEPLAY: Let us not forget, Street Fighter IV is no more, Capcom have told us that there are to be no further revisions to that title. So this is a brand new IP, and while it borrows a few bits from its predecessor, there are some superb new additions to Street Fighter X Tekken that make it stand out from the crowd.
For starters, the game is tag-based. In bog standard arcade mode or when playing with your mates, you select two characters that can be freely tagged in real time during the bouts. The bouts themselves are worked the same way as Tekken Tag Tournament, in that the first team to lose all vitality for one of their duo loses the round. You can play the game in co-op, which is a brilliant inclusion, and has an emphasis on plenty of switchovers to pull off lengthy combos. There is also an option to play with all four characters on screen at all times. The last time I can remember anyone attempting this in a 2D-style fighter was Arc System Works’ over-egged Guilty Gear Isuka, which tried to compensate for the confusion of having four characters on the same screen by chucking in a ‘Turn’ button, which was as much use as non-alcoholic beer. The four player melee here is similarly confusing and messy, and is not the best way to experience the game.
The other major new feature to Street Fighter X Tekken is the Gem system. I must confess that when I first heard about this inclusion I was wary, being able to customise characters abilities using gems set the alarm bells off in my head that we were going to see some sort of Pocket Fighter/Power Stone mechanic, at odds with the style of game in hand. But I am pleased to say this is a superb inclusion. Each character has three Gem slots, into which you place status-enhancing stones. Out of the box, there are several Gems available which can be used to boost various statistics. Immense Power Gems increase the damage you inflict, Iron Wall Gems increase your defence, Onslaught Gems increase the rate in which your Cross Gauge fills up. There are several more types of Assist Gems, some of which are unlocked during gameplay, with a promise of downloadable Gem packs in future. Choosing your Gem loadout allows you to completely customise your character to suit your playing style.
The EX moves and Super Arts are retained from Street Fighter IV, but there are new combo types here that mimic the chain-style attack inputs from Tekken. Cross Rush involves choosing punches or kicks and then inputting light, medium, hard and then hard again in quick succession to complete a tasty combination which ends in a “Launcher”, throwing your opponent into the air and then tagging in your partner to continue the flurry of blows. You have the option to map particular combinations to buttons on the controller; however I have never been a fan of this kind of thing. One of the reasons I fell in love with fighters was the way you have to learn combos and specials, and the feeling of accomplishment and extreme coolness that comes with pulling a twenty hit bad boy out of the bag.
Another new addition is the Super Charge. Every character on the roster has one particular attack which can be “charged” by holding onto the requisite button after execution. Case in point; when controlling Ryu, his Hadoken fireball can be charged; hold it down long enough and it automatically turns into an EX Hadoken, keep it held down after that and it will become a Shinku-Hadoken Super Art. Both the Cross Rush and Super Charge can be satisfying to connect with, but over-reliance on them can lead to your opponent easily picking you off as you telegraph what you are going to do next.
Last but by no means least is the option to enter Pandora Mode. When you are down to 25% of your vitality bar, you can trigger Pandora which sacrifices the player currently tagged in and gives your remaining fighter ten seconds with an unlimited Cross Gauge in a last-throw-of-the-dice effort to defeat your opponent. Failure to win during the ten second time slot results in an instant KO.
With all of these new fighting features it is easy to forget that Capcom have had to make the game work to suit both the Capcom and Tekken fighters. Outside of their normal 3D fighting plane, the Namco characters retain most, if not all, of their familiar Tekken attacks and combos, including their signature Juggle style. They fit seamlessly into the Capcom universe, and it is great fun to learn how each of the massive roster play. The PlayStation 3 version has five additional fighters exclusive to the platform. Toro and Kuro are Sony’s feline mascot characters and are, for SFXT purposes, styled after Ryu and Kazuya. Cole from inFAMOUS makes a guest appearance and slots in nicely with his lightning based offence. Finally, Capcom and Namco mascots Mega Man and Pac Man join the fray. Mega Man appears, hilariously, in the manner of the notoriously crap American Mega Man box art, whilst Pac Man is perched inside a mech.
I do have a bugbear with this otherwise rock solid corker and that is the insane loading times. I am aware that there may be a patch forthcoming to rectify this, or even allow for a HD install, but in its present state there are 10-12 second loads between fights in Arcade mode. Capcom need to get to work on resolving this problem, and fast.
MULTIPLAYER: At the time of writing there were no proper servers in operation, and the limited player matches I have enjoyed with friends have been riddled with lag and sound issues. I am not too disheartened by this and have every confidence that come release day everything will be ship-shape, with the support promised for Theatre mode, and online battles for both single players and co-op pairs. Interestingly there is the option to train online, which is a fantastic way for you and your fighting comrade to hone your offence before taking to the servers to rack up some wins.
LONGEVITY: There are not a huge amount of modes to play around with. Arcade Mode, whilst not featuring much in the way of story or different pathways through the game, will provide plenty of challenge, as there are different endings to see and bosses to encounter depending on which side of the Capcom/Namco fence you are on, or which team you play as. There are pre-determined pairings (such as Ryu & Ken, Chun Li & Cammy, Heihachi & Kuma) which have specific endings and “Fight Your Rival!” encounters.
There is a Trial mode where you can learn specials and combos for each character and unlock new Titles and Icons to customise your battle card. The tutorial features a brilliant cameo from pink-gi clad favourite Dan Hibiki, who. whilst talking you through the various techniques, finds the time to try his hand at rapping, and to have a sly dig at Terry Bogard, the Legendary Hungry Wolf and SNK figurehead.
Mission Mode is all-new, and asks you to win a succession of increasingly difficult encounters with set conditions. One minute you will be asked to defeat an opponent without using Special moves, the next minute you find yourself having to defeat the Four Kings of Shadaloo one after the other, in a tough as nails throwback to Street Fighter II. There are only twenty of these missions, which is a bit paltry when you look at the depth of similar modes in Mortal Kombat and Blazblue, but Capcom have the benefit of the Gem system, which means you can tinker about with your loadout in order to work your way through some of the more difficult battles.
VERDICT: I was looking forward to this game with same sense of anticipation I used to feel when I was a wee nipper. It was worth the wait. This is a blast of a game, a real treat which features an excellent array of new features that find Capcom right back on top of their game. As a tag based game it will be compared to Marvel Vs Capcom 3, which is similarly impressive but a very different affair; this is a faster moving game that SFIV, but not as nippy or wilfully OTT as the comic book dust-up. Crucially it is very easy to pick up, with simple commands belying a deep combat system. I could argue that there is a lack of modes on offer but when you factor in that there are an amazing 43 characters, and you can customise each of them to your own twisted ends, this is a game I can see myself hammering for some time to come, especially when those servers start buzzing.
With Namco promising a Tekken X Street Fighter game set within the universe and fighting engine of their flagship fighter, and a forthcoming PS Vita version with a staggering twelve extra character additions, the future is bright for the two companies and for this new and exciting clash for the ages. It will be fascinating to see what they do with the Capcom characters, just in the same way it has been a pleasure discovering Capcom’s sterling efforts with the Tekken cast. It truly is a golden time for fight fans. Enjoy it.