Street Fighter X Tekken PS Vita Review
I laughed when a review copy of Street Fighter X Tekken for PS Vita showed up unannounced on my doorstep. "Really, Capcom, you want me to review this? But the stream monsters hate Cross Tekken!" But I gave it a fair shot, and a lot of things came flooding back to me from my review of the original SFxT - mostly that it actually is a really good fighting game, even if it's not the most amazing game around for watching pro competition. Now, fighting game ports on Vita have been especially stellar, with 60fps renditions of both Mortal Kombat and Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 being very close to their home-console originals. But with SFxT, Capcom has made about as much of a no-compromises port as we could ask for, and I hope this shows other developers that even if the Vita just winds up becoming a home for ports rather than original games, that this is the way you port games.
Still, it can't be denied that this is a port that no one was really asking for, especially after the release of the original. The fighting game community has latched onto Super Street Fighter IV 2012, UMVC3, and stuff like Tekken Tag 2 rather than this game, but I kind of lost sight, especially, with fighting games, that it's one thing to spectate a pro player, and it's something entirely different when you're actually playing it yourself. With that said, I'm hoping that with this Vita port, this game is given another fair shake.
As you can probably expect from the title, this Capcom-developed game brings Street Fighter and Tekken characters together in a two-on-two fighting game. Capcom started to go a little crazy and brought in characters from other games - like Mega Man and Pac-Man - and the full roster of 54 characters is here on Vita. That includes all of the original and DLC characters from the original game, and on the retail version of the game, you even get a code to have all of those characters on a PS3 copy if you hadn't bought them already. (There are some issues with the codes not working on PS3, apparently, but a fix is being worked on.)
The fighting is intended to be a hybrid between SF and Tekken, with a mix of combos that allow for the slick on-the-ground creativity of both ranged and close-up fighting in Capcom games along with the freeform juggling you see in Tekken. Throw in the ability to use a launcher to safely switch in mid-combo to your other character, and combos become both an offensive and a defensive tool. Stringing together 20+ hit combos isn't terribly difficult, and while the game has large enough health bars that it has become infamous for too many time-outs, that's also because there aren't really any comeback mechanics like X-Factor or Ultra Combos to make for super-damaging ends of rounds. That contributes to the game being less exciting to spectate, but that also makes it a little more fair and consistent to play - without the randomness you see in other fighting games.
SFxT on Vita is packed full of features, and while it's got a pretty barebones arcade mode, the new Kumite mode pulls down AI profiles that mimic real players in something that reminds me a bit of Ghost Battle mode in the recent Tekken games. This mode is a blast and while I'm not convinced it really makes the AI act like a player, it does make for some great matches. On top of that, the game's wealth of options for watching pro players' techniques and developing your own great offense and defense really make up for the lack of a solid, lengthy story mode. The huge roster certainly doesn't hurt, either, and the game does wind up being fairly balanced - and Capcom has already committed to developing a "Version 2013" balance update for the game that will be sent out to both home console and Vita versions.
If you're trying to develop your combos, there's a ton of ways to learn how to play this naturally; the tutorials and mission mode only take you so far, but SFxT's basic training mode has lots of little options and also allows you to use the Vita's right analog stick to move the opponent character around (since it's useless otherwise). You can "follow" up to ten of your favorite online players, batch-download their replays, then watch them in normal speed or in slow motion, and even turn on damage and input displays up so you can see exactly how they're executing their moves. Other little features include the ability to tap the screen in character select to pick previous teams you and your opponents have played, the chance to customize the looks of your characters to a degree, and of course select gems - which, yes, still have powered-up versions sold as cheap DLC. That's probably the only gameplay-related issue I have with SFxT.
I found the online play to be a little worrisome at first in that the little cutscenes leading into a fight would lag and desync, but during the fight the game was very successfully hiding that latency. I'm not enough of an SFxT expert to tell you that you definitely can do all of your awesome training-mode combos online without changing the timing, but my time spent online certainly made it seem like it. (I will have to defer to reports of seasoned players' experiences on this for final word, however.) But here's something that's even bigger: SFxT shares cross-platform online play with the PS3 version. That might seem like a negative considering that those playing at home get to use nice, expensive arcade sticks, but to me that still beats a fragmented, dying online community like we often see with late fighting game ports.
Graphically, SFxT is one of the best games to show off what the Vita can do so far, all at a buttery smooth 60fps. Unlike with UMvC3, the backgrounds are fully rendered in 3D, and unlike the Mortal Kombat 9 port, the characters still look excellent up-close when the game slides the camera up to do its brief cutscenes and win poses. The menus and other screens are chock full of hand-drawn art of the characters, and the whole thing looks glorious on the Vita OLED screen. I'm sure that polygon counts and texture quality had to be played with in order to make the game run great on the Vita, but visually, this looks like about the closest thing to a no-compromises PS3 port I've seen yet.
There are a few negatives here on Vita that are small, but should be mentioned. I find the menus a little slow to load, especially moving around in any of the sections under the online heading. That doesn't seem to be because of any lag on PSN itself, but it just seemed to be a sluggish menu system overall. Beyond this, my only other complaint is really that the Vita controls aren't really ideal for a six-button fighting game like SFxT is, so you'll have to get used to using the tiny little face buttons on the Vita, and you'll also have to dump two of your attacks onto shoulder buttons - which are configured by default to heavy punch and kick, but ever since Street Fighter II on the SNES, I've been re-assigning medium punch and kick to the shoulder buttons, and I was happy to be able to do that here. There are also screen taps you can use for pre-set combos and specials and even little swipes for two more functions on the Vita's rear touch panel, but I found that the best thing was to just disable all that and go with a simple six-button setup without any trickery.
I don't know if Capcom is cursed or whether they've inadvertently asked for the negativity their fanbase has been hurling towards them over the last couple years - over a number of issues that are beyond the scope of this review - but it does kind of suck that one of the most impressive technical demonstrations on the Vita right now is a port of a fighting game that the community and fanbase weren't even really asking for. Still, if you are coming into this review with the same attitude I had developed over the last five or so months since the original was released - that after watching the FGC and many commentators trash SFxT, that it's an awful game worthy of constant ridicule - I invite you to try this out again anyway.
Other than a couple of minor issues and unavoidable things you'll have to get used to when doing competitive gaming on the Vita, SFxT really is a fun and fair game that's plenty fast, but not so frantic or silly that you get lost with a half-dozen characters flying around on-screen. This game delivers a solid balance between the simple, memorable core gameplay of Street Fighter and the wild, open feel of Tekken, and the full experience is available on your Vita for a pretty reasonable $40. And if you still haven't played the original, Sony is also offering Cross-play compatibility with PSN-bought versions of the game so that you can play on either Vita or PS3 whenever you want. Not a bad deal!
Disclaimer: This review is based on a retail copy provided by the publisher.