At various stages in my life I think I’ve been a significant fan of both the Street Fighter and the Tekken games – but never at the same time. I was either obsessed with them individually or just not at all, something which I imagine a large amount of other casual arcade fighter fans were like too. I remember my very first PS1 demo disc contained a highly addictive dojo-esque level taken from “Tekken 3”, where the only playable characters were afro-Caribbean break-dancer Eddie Gordo and the highly sexualized Ling Xiaoyu; who I believe is still to this day giving 13 year olds semi’s. Whilst I ultimately cared less for Capcom’s franchise, it’s plain to see that it was indeed the Street Fighter series that has become increasingly more dominant in today’s gaming society. All things considered, what better way was there to celebrate the success of two of the most creative and popular fighting games ever created than by merging them both together…?
As if I was putting in that demo disc all over again; let’s start at the beginning. From a narrative perspective, Street Fighter X Tekken isn’t the most competent game I’ve played this side of the millennium. Heck, it’s actually downright confusing at some points and prompted further research from me to make sense of the over-arching concept. On one fateful day, the legendary “Pandora’s box” falls from the sky to the planet Earth – drawing in people from all around to bask in its radiant glory. I wish this was the extent of it, as this would make sense and would tie in nicely with the concept of gems (of which I’ll come to later), but the narrator – I kid you not – continues to explain that because the box is so powerful, it is reportedly now known to make people comatose. So from the very brief, poorly explained introduction all I managed to muster was that you, whoever you choose to be, must fight your way through a series of tag-team battles in order to eventually reach this mysterious box and let it bugger you in the jaffers (a phrase which here means: make you comatose.) What a compelling narrative! Latter research on Wikipedia of all places begs me to suggest that the box is supposed to gift power to whichever combatant possesses it, and again this would make more sense in relation to the newly introduced concept of gems. So where on earth did they grab the word comatose from? Was it poorly translated? I digress.
Yes, gems are the new and highly touted features introduced into this entry which has decidedly split some hard-core fans down the middle prior to playing. They’re billed as small boosts of energy that allow less-experienced players more a chance against the more hard-core veterans that swarm here and there – and whilst this is true, they’re not exactly game-changing. Fans that love playing to win can rest assured, if you were ever good at a recent Street Fighter game then you’ll still be great at this – gems or no gems. It’s like one of those things you don’t forget how to do, like driving a car, riding a bike or paying for sex. Quite often there were times when I couldn’t land a single punch against the AI and it switched me to “beginner” mode – allowing the gem system to take full effect and boost my energy whilst simultaneously dumbing down the analog stick movements required to pull off certain moves. I was doing exactly the same things, but this time they were actually hurting my enemy more – and it was this realization that made me feel pretty inadequate as a gamer. All in all, the gems are a nice touch if you’re new to the game and plan to play it religiously with other people who are also new to the game. For everybody else, I have to argue that they’re just a way of dumbing things down; over-simplifying crucial aspects to the franchise in so much that you don’t actually have to work anywhere near as hard for brilliant outcomes.
For those looking to learn the game the honest way and put in hours of hard graft, then you’ll be happy to know that the tutorial is both in-depth but also highly accessible and entertaining. After recently reviewing UFC Undisputed 3 (a game which had earned my ‘how not to do a tutorial’ badge of approval) this tutorial format felt refreshing and engaging, and I was able to follow instructions comfortably up until the latter stages – such as how to block a throw with another throw. The timing on this move seemed insane; the “required actions” confusing me to the point of random button bashing for any sort of illogical outcome. Whilst the controls become increasingly more difficult to crack as you attempt to progress higher, it’s this level of progression that I felt keeps the majority of the Street Fighter/Tekken audience addicted. Similarly to Call of Duty’s enticing “level-up” scheme, Street Fighter X Tekken helpfully documents your journey as a fighter in coherent ways – confirming your improvements as you feel them coming. This is where I can thankfully move on to some of the stronger elements of the game.
Content and graphic style are key here; delivering players bucket-loads of unlockables, progression, characters, customizations and medals all under the guise of a quality art-style and beautifully rendered animations. Obviously, gameplay will always be the leading factor on games such as these (if you’re after the next cinematic masterpiece akin to BioShock or Metal Gear Solid 4 then seriously look elsewhere), and whilst the controls are responsive and the format is balanced – what you’ll really be having a blast with here are all the unlockables and small quirks Capcom have introduced to their settings. I’ve never been a massive fan of Street Fighter’s environments, particularly on handhelds where each level seems to just be a variation of a busy road with slight oriental tweaks made to it depending on who you’re fighting. Well I can firmly eat my words with this entry, as Street Fighter X Tekken features some wonderfully creative and extremely refreshing locations, filled with exuberant detail and small quirky charms, which keep you coming back to revisit and replay time and time again. The longer you play through these levels, the more they change and expand; warping in intensity or drastically changing from a view-point. For example in the level “Pandora’s Box” (don’t get me started), as the clock runs down eventually the sky will open up and large hydra-like dragon heads will rain down from the sky and wreak havoc. Obviously you’re more interested on what’s happening with your fighter in the foreground, but for anybody that’s sat around you watching you play – this provides a welcome visual feast to keep them entertained.
Online is handled as capably as ever, and non-lag matches are always available to play at your own leisure. The selection screens are straight-forward and because each character has their distinctive pros and cons, you’ll never find that your tag-team is unfairly overpowered by somebody else’s. One interesting feature in the game is that anybody can challenge you (assuming you’re signed up to PSN/Xbox Live) whilst you’re playing through your single player campaign. The requests can pop up at will and you’re given a lengthy opportunity to accept them; each win earning you 50 more XP points on your progression up the ranks to being a master fighter. I must admit I love this feature and whenever I found myself getting challenged I always felt a rush of adrenaline; a childish bout of excitement and fear… Could I rise up to the level of the opponent? Short answer? No. Long answer: no because almost everyone online are already ridiculously good. Annoying, but such is the beauty of life!
In conclusion, Street Fighter X Tekken doesn’t really have anything new to offer existing fighter fans – but what it does do it does very well. The execution of the multiplayer and online modes are as accurate and reliable as you’d expect, but it’s the games’ lack of narrative depth that ultimately makes it less punchy than it could have been. Not to worry though, because if you’re just after a mindless fighter with plenty of customisation to keep you occupied as you progress through your campaign then you’re in for a real treat.