Street Fighter X Tekken Review
Capcom realized that there's got to be a middle ground somewhere between the relatively slow, dull action in Street Fighter IV, and the completely ridiculous speed and massive team-decimating combos of Marvel vs. Capcom 3. With their latest creation, Street Fighter X Tekken, I believe they've found that middle ground, and the combination of the two has worked well. There are a few technical issues, all of which are fixable, even if Capcom refuses to fix one of them, and that might hold them back from greatness this time if things aren't worked out soon. Still, SFxT brings a large, interesting roster, great character trade-outs and interactions, and more amazing fighting from the best in the fighting game business.
First things first: this is a Capcom game and it plays like it. The decade-plus history of crossover fighting games tells us that the game behaves more like the games of the actual developers, so SNK Playmore's SNK vs Capcom played more like the King of Fighters classics while Capcom's planned follow-up played more like Street Fighter. It's the same here, and Namco is currently developing Tekken x Street Fighter which will most certainly play more like their own games. Still, Capcom did a great job here of bringing in more free-form juggles, famous in the Tekken series, into this; it means that before the game was out for even just a few days, we already started seeing some great creativity in building combos - not just conventional ones, but tag combos as well.
A lot has been said about SFxT's gem system, but I haven't really seen what the big deal is just yet. You choose gems that are activated under some particular condition during the fight, and they give you a particular boost for a short time - maybe more defense, better damage, faster movement, and the like. The issue is that some gems are DLC and others came with pre-orders of the game, but frankly, I feel like any imbalance with these is minor - and it's much less of a disadvantage to pick bad gems than than if you pick bad characters or if you are a worse player. Simply put, gems can turn the tide in a close fight, but so many other factors have a much larger effect on the outcome of a match. At the same time, their lesser impact also means it's easy for tournament organizers to just ban gems entirely without affecting the game much, and that's exactly what they've been doing recently.
Offline play is about as deep as you'd expect in a Capcom game: not great. The developers have spent a lot of time on two versions of the trial system, one of which is like SFIV's where you're told the steps to deliver a big combo and simply waits until you get it right, not really explaining what you're doing wrong at all. Arcade Mode is just a warm-up, and while any competitive player will spend far more time in Training mode (then practicing their new tricks against real opponents), I still think that WB and NetherRealm Studios hit a chord with casual fighting fans by giving them a meaty single player mode to play, and that the Japanese developers out there that want to make a truly well-rounded fighting game should try and put more effort in. Hell, Namco did this with the original Soul Calibur, and even Capcom did this years ago with the huge number of offline modes in the portable versions of Street Fighter Alpha 3, so I'm not sure why they've left all that behind.
Before we go on, I should mention that I'm not an expert in fighting games; I've never won a real tournament, nor have I even competed in one, and for some, that means my opinion is worthless and they've already clicked their Back button to read an opinion from a more serious player. That's fine, but I do pay plenty of attention to the fighting game community, and I'm getting the vibe that this game, when paired with the $500,000 in tournament prize money Capcom is putting up for their flagship fighting games throughout all of 2012, will have plenty of life in it. The game is already slated to be in the big-time at EVO this summer, and while we've heard some harsh words about the game and its balance from both rank-and-file stream chat people as well as guys like UltraDavid and James Chen - and tournaments so far have rejected the gem system in its entirety - this situation about SFxT's supposed deep seated problems seems, well, temporary.
Some fighting game fanatics sometimes tend to over-exaggerate the issues they perceive in these games, and they're often the loudest voices. If you read the chat during a tournament stream long enough, you'll hear negative opinions on nearly every major fighting game - not that these games are mediocre, nor are they good with a few serious flaws, but that these games are just the worst things ever made; they're awful and completely worthless. After hearing those perspectives for long enough, all I can do is suggest we exercise caution as we move forwards, and look at winning trends at local tournaments on a basis of at least a few weeks before we decide that SFxT is The Worst Fighting Game Made At Least Since Rise of the Robots. And then, if that happens, we can give Capcom a chance to fix a potential issue with a patch, too...
On the multiplayer side, Capcom decided to slow down the pace of the game and the amount of tags so that they could have two-on-two action, both online and offline. To that end, two players on the same console can team up against the enemy, and four can go at it all together on two-player teams - and the ridiculous Scramble mode, which drops all tagging and just puts all four fighters on screen at once, is a complete riot. (It's this decade's equivalent of getting your friends together for Ready 2 Rumble-fueled drinking games.) Of course, Scramble mode probably doesn't have much of a place in competitive play and I'm pretty sure the standard tag-team mode is more viable overall, but putting four fighters on-screen at the same time is fun once in a while.
Some very interesting netcode changes have been implemented for SFxT, but there are some drawbacks, too. In this game, Capcom has tweaked things so that you can do combos online with the exact same timing and execution you would use offline, because it's using a netcode with a "rollback" system built into it. It's a little bit like the GGPO system that Capcom recently used in SF3 Third Strike Online Edition. Unfortunately, the big side effect of this is that sounds and voices drop and glitch very often while playing online, and while Capcom has talked about working on an upcoming fix, I think many of the potential casual buyers of this game aren't going to care; the first impression is often the biggest one, and many games are made or broken in their first couple of weeks' sales.
There's one other issue, and this one seems to be entirely Capcom's fault. On PS3, you can get into the tag team mode with two players on one console, each using their own controller and being assigned to one of the two fighters on a team - and it works in both offline or online play. On 360, only one person on that console can play when going online. When Capcom was asked about this, they cited an Xbox Live profile issue and said there's nothing they can do about it, but the simple fact is that people have been doing exactly this in other major games on Xbox 360, some of which are not published by Microsoft at all, for years now. Capcom needs to talk to Microsoft and do whatever's necessary to fix this, or the poor guys at CrossCounter.TV will have to keep doing Excellent Adventures episodes on PS3, where there far fewer online players in SFxT. I'm sick of seeing that "Searching..." screen, dammit!
At this point, the fighting game scene has never been bigger or more exciting. There are more tournaments and there's more money than ever before, and multiple publishers are vying for gamers' attention, as these big tournaments sell copies and get people playing all over the world. Street Fighter x Tekken probably has a few minor balance issues, but I'm more concerned with its issues for the rank-and-file online players, especially those on 360 that are missing an online mode entirely for no good reason that I can see. If you get some good players together in a house to just play, that's where Cross Tekken (as I've heard it called more than a few times) does its best. If you're an online warrior, stick with what you've got and wait to see what Capcom does with its online issues. All that said, the game's fundamentals are great, and the fighting action is wonderful. After spending several paragraphs talking about problems, it's important to come back to the notion that Capcom really did carve out a new fighting niche with their third major fighting game release to come out in the last six months. Not bad, Capcom! - now let's work on getting online play working well for everyone, shall we?