It’s finally here, but is it really worth all the hype? How has Capcom been able to manage Namco’s primarily projectile-free combatants, shoving them into an unfamiliar 2D fighting plane? And what is the deal with those sparkly gems? All these questions and more can now be answered, because Street Fighter X Tekken has entered the arena on both the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3. The PC version will be following soon.

While some people may see this as yet another fighting game sequel, it can be argued that this is a new game altogether. A lot of its foundation comes from the Street Fighter tradition, but the transition from Street Fighter IV isn’t exactly automatic. Let’s get hype.

The Highly Anticipated Battle

Street Fighter II revolutioned the fighting game genre in 1991 and then the original Tekken brought it into the 3D world in 1994. Ever since then, fighting game geeks like myself have dreamed about a crossover where we could pit our favorite heroes and villains against one another. We got a glimpse into what was possible with games like Marvel vs. Capcom and Capcom vs. SNK, and that “versus” mentality is now extended into Namco’s world.

I’m happy to see that Capcom didn’t simply port over its Street Fighter IV characters in a strictly straightforward fashion. Yes, guys like Zangief and Ryu aren’t really all that different, but we also see characters from previous Street Fighter games. They’ve brought in the likes of Rolento, Poison, and Hugo, for example. To be made available as future DLC are also characters like Elena, Guy, and Blanka. Yes, you may have heard the controversy about how this DLC is already on-disc and I don’t really agree with that move, but that shouldn’t really detract from the overall game experience.

On the Tekken side, you’ve got a good assortment of fighters too, including Asuka, Heihachi, King, Hwoarang, Steve, Yoshimitsu, Ogre, Kazuya, and everyone’s favorite fighting bear Kuma. I don’t see Panda as an alternate costume, but that might be some future DLC too. If you pick up the PS3 version, you also have Mega Man, Pac-Man, Toro, Kuro, and Cole.

Super Arts, Cross Arts, and Cross Assaults

In Super Street Fighter IV, every character had a “super” combo, as well as two “ultra” combos. In Street Fighter X Tekken, they each only have one “super art” and that only takes up two bars of meter. These are closer in scope to the ultras. Some of the old supers have been translated into EX moves, like Ryu’s Shin Shoryuken.

The core gameplay has teams of two taking on one another in a tag-based fashion and, like Tekken Tag, the round ends as soon as just one partner is out of life. This is very different than MvC, for example. Given that the focus here is on teams, it’s not surprising that Capcom has introduced some team-based moves too. You get your juggles and mid-combo switches, but you also get two new innovations: cross arts and cross assaults. Both of these take up all three bars of meter.

A cross art is essentially a double super art. The current character initiates a combo of some sort and then launches the opponent into his or her partner, who completes the “ultra” animation. This will naturally vary from team to team. With a cross assault, both of your team’s characters are allowed onto the screen simultaneously for a short period of time. During that period, you double-team your opponent’s single character.

More Gameplay Tweaks

You can tell that Capcom tried to design this game to appeal to both newbies and veterans. There are features in here that are friendly to people who don’t eat, sleep, and breathe fighting games. The basic launcher is almost a “dial a combo” system: light, medium, heavy, heavy. That’s universal for all characters, launching your opponent into the air and automatically tagging in your partner. You can also burn a single bar of meter for an “automatic” combo by either hitting LP+HK or LK+HP.

You’ll also find that the leniency for linking and chaining your combos is decidedly higher than Street Fighter. However, at higher level play, there is a great deal of depth of complexity to be enjoyed. You’ll get plenty of juggling, similar to what you would have experienced in the Tekken franchise, as well as ground bounces and wall bounces. The tagging system allows for even more complex juggling and combos.

The complexity continues with all sorts of other features. The gem system can give your character certain boosts–in strength, speed, meter generation, and more–and these are activated by performing certain actions. If you connect with five normals, for example, you may get a temporary boost in strength. Each character can only load up with three gems and the selection of these is customized, giving the game an almost RPG-like element.

And then there’s Pandora. When your on-screen character is down to less than 25% health, you can hit down, down MP+MK, sacrificing that character altogether to give a temporary boost to your partner. The partner then has a boost in just about every attribute, but this is time-limited. When the time expires, so does your team. In practice, it’s not at all useful, but I do give credit to Capcom for trying something different. In the video above, the sub-boss team is in Pandora mode for the entirety of the match.

The Single Player Experience

On the single player side of the equation, you get your regular arcade mode where you battle through a series of teams, face the Pandora’d team described above, and then face the final boss. If you have one of the pre-formed pairings, you also get the “fight your rival” match that you had in SFIV. There are plenty of stages, including multi-level environments. You don’t bust through them during a round, but the arcade mode will have you travel between them between rounds.

Along with that, you get the similar training and trial modes as SFIV. These are very useful for learning all the different characters and how to use them. There’s also a new “mission” mode that reminded me a lot of Smash Bros. You are given unique match circumstances that you must pass, like winning using only special moves or beating four successive teams with just your one team.

Problems with Online Gameplay?

Most people who pick up this game will want to test their prowess online against another combat enthusiasts. After all, beating up on the computer can only be fun for so long.

Now, I’m hoping that this is a bug in the netcode that can be worked out with an update or two, but I did encounter a rather significant issue with online play via Xbox Live. Even when I had a “full bar” connection with my opponent, the sound for the moves would cut out incessantly. The video portion mostly held up, but considering that many of us rely on audio cues for certain elements, like hit confirms, this really hurts the online experience.

Should You Cross the Line?

Street Fighter X Tekken represents a fairly ambitious effort from Capcom. They didn’t want to alienate their existing user base, but they didn’t want to simply recycle an old formula either. And for the most part, I think they succeeded. Scramble mode, where all four characters are on the screen at the same time, can be a lot of fun at parties, even if it may not be that viable for competitive play.

The pacing isn’t quite as slow as Street Fighter IV, but it’s nowhere near as frantic as Marvel vs. Capcom 3 either. The well-timed juggle combos really speak to the Tekken side of the equation and Capcom handled the “projectile issue” for Tekken characters quite well. Given the heavy combo and juggling focus, in fact, the Tekken characters are mostly superior to their Street Fighter counterparts.

This is far from a perfect game, but any fan of the genre will have virtually no choice but to pick this up. Now, we just have to wait for Namco to cross the line with Tekken X Street Fighter.

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