Worlds collide, battles erupt, and pink-haired transgendered beauties fight tooth-and-nail with freaking bears; Street Fighter X Tekken has arrived, pitting two of the fighting game scene's favorite franchises into one sexy, riding-crop wielding package.
Perhaps I'm a little obsessed with Capcom's Poison, or maybe she/he merely represents the best of both worlds with a little something extra thrown in for good measure. Capcom and Namco Bandai's best warriors come together in a race to possess a mysterious artifact known as Pandora's Box. Some seek power, others fame and fortune. The reasons aren't particularly significant; it's the getting there that counts, tearing through opposing teams in a series of two-on-two battles to determine which pair is worth of a closing cinematic. It's Tekken's colorful cast fighting on Capcom's 2D field; Namco Bandai's drama dipped in Street Fighter frivolity.
Yeah, I'm probably just obsessed with Poison. Let's get on with it, shall we?
All My Fighting Friends are Going Out Tonight: Street Fighter is the greatest 2D fighting franchise of all time. Tekken is... right up there in terms of 3D fighters. Combine them together and you've got... well, you've got Tekken characters fighting much like Street Fighter characters, and that's not a bad thing. It's fun seeing how Namco Bandai's characters' moves translate into Capcom's system, just as (fingers crossed) it should be equally enjoyable seeing Ryu and friends moving about in 3D when Tekken X Street Fighter comes out.
As it stands the 38 characters comprising the game's launch lineup is one of the most satisfying collections of fighting game characters ever assembled. Arranged in teams of two for story purposes (and hey, there's a bit of a story here!), each group and individual feels like they belong here, despite disparate origins. And hell — don't tell Capcom this — I probably would have paid $60 for a game that features only Poison and Kuma, locked in endless bear / girl-boy battle.
Professor Dan's Crash Course on Street Fighting: Fighting game fans new and old can benefit from the lessons Street Fighter's Dan Hibiki has to offer. He's as effective at teaching as he is ineffective at fighting, guiding players through the basics of combat before going in deep with some of the game's more complicated strategic maneuvers. And where many less-skilled fighting game players (Hi!) will stumble into mechanics they just can't seem to master, Dan's got power-enhancing gems at the ready to make sure the lessons get learned. Speaking of gems...
Playing to My Strengths: Street Fighter X Tekken's gem system is a lifesaver for fighters not quite as well-rounded as the power players out there. There are six gems types — assist, attack, Cross Gauge, defense, speed and vitality — and three slots per character to fill with color-coded crystals. If your guard is weak, toss in a gem to shore up your defense. If you're too slow to land a blow, do a little speed. Each gem requires certain conditions be met, with more powerful effects requiring more extreme measures, ensuring no single combination gives a player an unfair advantage. Overall the gem system adds a layer of strategy and customizability to each fighter, allowing players to custom-build their ideal combatant. It also gives Capcom another avenue for nickel-and-diming downloadable content, but you take the good with the bad, right?
Even More Colorful Characters: Taking the customization a step further, Street Fighter X Tekken allows you to create and save two custom color combinations for each character. It's a silly superficial thing, but I love the idea of giving each of my fighters a uniform color scheme, making them my own. One day opponents will know me by my pink and yellow World Warriors, and they shall tremble in anticipation of an easy win.
Deeper Than I Can Go: As approachable as the game is to new players, there's plenty of depth here to give the veteran fighters a chance to shine. Cross Arts that link two tag team members together into a continuous string of attacks are suitably devastating, while Cross Assault places both characters on screen at once, both controlled by a single player. If dire circumstances arise you can even sacrifice one character to launch into Pandora Mode, gaining enhanced strength for a limited time, followed by instant death should your opponent fail to fall in the time allotted.
These advanced mechanics, which I may never personally master, make online matches between evenly-matched players highly entertaining. Which leads us to...
Replay Value: I might be addicted to Street Fighter X Tekken's replay mode. While I tell myself I am studying strategy by downloading player-shared replays of particularly exciting bouts sorted by skill or character, what I am really doing is kicking back with some popcorn and enjoying the show. It's almost more enjoyable than actually fighting.
Solo Staying Power: There's plenty of content in Street Fighter X Tekken geared towards players that would rather keep away from online play. Unique stories unfold for each matched pair of fighters, making replaying the game's arcade mode multiple times a must. Challenge mode is available for each character, giving the player a chance to master moves simple and complex. Mission mode features a series of fights with specific win conditions, putting acquired skills to the ultimate test. Can you defeat Balrog using only normal attacks? I can't, but I'm drinking milk.
Did I Stutter Online? Yes, Yes I Did: While some of the online matches I participated in were smooth and silky, others suffered from horrible lag, making the match unplayable on my end. My opponents seemed to fare better, easily kicking my ass into oblivion while I desperately tried to connect with anything. Even sticking to folks in my own area with lovely connections I encountered stuttering battles on multiple occasions.
Awkward Pauses: A bit nitpicky, perhaps, but in the Xbox 360 version of the game each fight is preceded by a splash of dramatic music, after which the fighters just sit there in silence, gritting their teeth or offering the occasional twitch as the game loads up the stage. Installing the game onto the hard drive decreased the load times significantly, but not so much that I didn't get at least a few seconds of uncomfortable silence before every round.
Originally I had a third "hated" in the list, but then I realized that my own ineptitude at fighting against other human beings is hardly Capcom's fault. I can blaze through Arcade mode like a professional mixed martial artist, but the moment I am faced with a living opponent I become as effective a fighter as a sack full of kittens encased in concrete (so the claws don't do damage) and wrapped in an especially thick down comforter (so the concrete doesn't hurt). If I ever find out this really is Capcom's fault, however, I shall march down to their head office and flail my arms ineffectually.
Despite my many failures, Street Fighter X Tekken keeps me coming back for more. It's not the odd coupling of characters from clashing franchise, though I admit the allure of Poison beating a bear into submission has its appeal. No, it's the combination of plentiful single-player challenges to overcome and the promise that one day, one faithful day, I will stumble upon the correct combination of skill and enhancements that will grant me that single, solitary moment of victory I so crave.