Game Review

by Todd Ciolek,

Street Fighter X Tekken

PlayStation 3, Xbox 360

Street Fighter X Tekken
Two major fighting franchises collide, mixing 19 characters from Capcom's Street Fighter series and equal number from various Tekken titles. All of them are drawn to a mysterious cube discovered in the Antarctic, and each fighter has a different reason for wanting the artifact. Some of those reasons make more sense than others, but it all inspires plenty of martial-arts savagery and comical nods to both franchises.

Street Fighter X Tekken should be a pretty easy game to enjoy. Yes, it's a shameless fusion of CAPCOM and Namco's biggest fighters. Yes, it's taking advantage of the Street Fighter revival to serve up old characters one more time. Yet the entire fighting genre relies on exploit—er, refining the idea of one-on-one matches, and Street Fighter X Tekken knows what it is. It's a flurry of fan-bait packaged with the right strokes of humor and absurdity, and it's damaged only by CAPCOM's misguided attempts to squeeze the idea for every last penny.

The best thing about fighting-game storylines is that they don't really matter. No great narrative, no sense of continuity is violated when characters from Street Fighter and Tekken pop into the same world and squabble over an alien artifact that looks like a day-glo Hellraiser cube. It's called Pandora's Box, and it the MacGuffin that drives Tekken's Mishima family and Street Fighter's Shadaloo cartel into a turf war, dragging in dozens of brawlers from both series. In the 38-character roster that's initially available, the Tekken half delivers what's expected, putting three different generations of Mishima alongside the cyborg-samurai Yoshimitsu, the upbeat Xiaoyu, the stylishly rotund Bob, and the Native American scientist Julia Chang. Street Fighter follows the same popularity contest for the most part, but it resurrects some little-seen names from the shared lore of Final Fight and Street Fighter: the heavily armed mercenary Rolento, the towering Andre the Giant tribute Hugo, and the somewhat controversial Poison, who's rarely playable. All fighters pair up for two-on-two matches, and players can switch between them in the middle of a match—and the middle of an attack, for that matter.

If the idea sounds similar to the Marvel vs. CAPCOM games and their relatives, the core of Street Fighter X Tekken is still closer to the comparatively normal Street Fighter IV. It's a smooth, approachable fighter without any billion-hit combos, and it should be familiar territory for any Street Fighter aficionado. It also integrates the Tekken characters fairly well, giving some of them projectile attacks to match the fireball-tossing abilities of their competition; at first impression, it feels like Street Fighter IV with 19 new characters. Below that surface, however, it's not quite the same. Special moves are simple in their controller motions, throws are less harmful, and quick combos are easier to pull off. A super meter allows for powerful specials and more glamorous supers, aside from enabling the game's new techniques. One of these is Cross Assault, which brings out both of your characters to fight at once. Its opposite is the Pandora maneuver. Usable only when the health bar is below 25 percent, it sacrifices one character and turns the other into a glowing, raging powerhouse for a few seconds—and if you can't beat your opponent within those precious seconds, you automatically fall.

The tag-team play and solid Street Fighter foundations make for a fairly enjoyable fighting game, but this wasn't enough for CAPCOM. They needed something that would set Street Fighter X Tekken apart, something that would make the game more approachable to newcomers, and maybe, just maybe something that could wring extra cash out of the fans. So CAPCOM came up with the Gem system. At first, fighters can equip up to three little jewels that sit above the super meter, and each grants a different ability when certain conditions are met (such as taking a set amount of damage). Some merely boost defense, speed, or attack power, and these actually add a touch of strategy to everything.

Unfortunately, others merely make the game easier to play. For example, one gem grants auto-blocking, while another lets a player automatically escape throws at the cost of a little energy from their super meter (effectively making them immune to a legitimate tactic). Yet another greatly simplifies the controls, fixing it so players don't have to worry about those rolling motions in order to throw a fireball. It all seems just a bit unnecessary. While Street Fighter can be complex to those who've never handled a fighter before, it's hardly impossible to learn once you've grasped the basics. Powering up a character is one thing, but literally removing certain elements makes the game less interesting. It's like playing a version of Super Mario Bros. where the computer jumps every gap for you.

And how do you get these Gems? That's a big part of the problem. Many of them come standard with the game, but others will be available for purchase as bonus downloads (some even come in the game's special edition). This has already sparked outrage among the most devoted of fighting-game types, as it requires players to pay for the best advantages in matches. Organized contests will likely sidestep this by banning Gems altogether (CAPCOM's even promising a specific mode for tournaments), but it doesn't bode well for the player who simply wants to hop online and face a few total strangers right now. As more gems are introduced, it'll be harder to avoid the disadvantages they bring to under-equipped characters. Good competition is always part of a fighting game's long-term allure, but Street Fighter X Tekken threatens to reduce itself to a test of who buys the best jewelry.

This isn't the only thing players will have to buy if they want the most out of the game. CAPCOM announced that 12 additional characters, six for Street Fighter and six for Tekken, would be available to buy via download in the fall, along with a complete version of Street Fighter X Tekken for the Vita. Then someone discovered that those 12 characters are already on the game disc—you know, the disc that CAPCOM's selling as a full-priced game. Now, downloadable content is a big part of the modern game industry, and any successful CAPCOM fighter gets sequels and upgrades. Yet it's not right for a company to ship a game with so much of its content hidden until we pay even more money. Nearly half of the “new” characters aren't new at all, either. Of the Street Fighter cast, Elena is the only one not ported over from Street Fighter IV. Charging extra for a spare character or two (such as the game's amusing mockery of NES-era Mega Man) is an understandable trend (though not a pleasant one). Charging extra for nearly a fourth of the game's roster is just insulting.

If it's not a complete game, Street Fighter X Tekken at least unites the two series in the right way. The characters are all modeled in the cartoonish fashion of Street Fighter IV, though this crossover puts heavier shadows on their exaggerated, hypermuscular forms. The game feels strangely dark in some scenes, though it's bright and lively in the backgrounds. If these stages aren't as cameo-intensive as an SNK fighter, they hold all sorts of characters from Namco and CAPCOM titles, and others, such as the penultimate level's mammoth chase, are downright impressive on their own. It's also fun to see the two lineups clash, despite some missed opportunities. Characters only get story scenes if they're joined in specific duos, and tales of the Street Fighters don't mingle with the Tekken side in these team-ups. The pairings are amusing when they're intentionally mismatched (such as Rolento and Ibuki) and they're backed by appealing voices in both English and Japanese, but some characters keep too straight a face about everything. Chun-Li and Jin, this is a fighting game, and not even a canonical one. Just let go.

It's a shame that Street Fighter X Tekken can't escape problems that aren't really its fault. The core gameplay is fast-paced and just different enough from the common Street Fighter, and it'd stand well enough on its own. Unfortunately, the Gem system drags down the competitive angle for no real reason, and it's hard to justify paying full price for something with a decent chunk of material needlessly locked away. Street Fighter X Tekken is the right kind of crossover, but it's being sold the wrong way.

Overall : B-
Graphics : A-
Sound/Music : B+
Gameplay : B
Presentation : C+

+ Solid play mechanics, plenty of neat touches for hardcore fans
Gems unbalance things, the full game isn't available

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