Street Fighter X Tekken starts with a tutorial, a first for a Capcom fighting game. It covers the basics, then walks you through an avalanche of systems. Coming before a single punch has been thrown in anger, it’s an overwhelming amount of information, and even old hands will have forgotten some of it when it’s over.
Much of that is down to the myriad ways in which you can use the Cross Gauge, a three-bar meter at the bottom of the screen that fills as you land and take hits, even if they’re blocked. As well as the standard EX moves and Super Arts, there are counters and tag cancels, which bring in your teammate to either continue a combo or make a blocked move safe. When the meter’s full, you can choose between a Cross Art – essentially each of your team’s Super Arts performed in succession – or Cross Assault, which puts both of your characters onscreen for a few seconds. With so many options, meter management is more vital than ever.
SFXT is a team game, but the round’s over as soon as one of your fighters’ health is depleted. So as well as keeping an eye on the Cross Gauge at the bottom of the screen, attention must be paid to the bars at the top. And while the game runs at a slightly faster pace than Street Fighter IV, combo timings are far more lenient, thanks in large part to Cross Rush, a basic combo available to every member of the cast.
The Street Fighter series’ combo systems have typically been designed around links – for an attack to connect, it has to be input at the precise moment the animation of the previous move finishes. Tekken, meanwhile, often uses chains, wherein the required button presses can be tapped out with less strict timing. One of the reasons the Tekken characters feel so at home here is Capcom’s decision to incorporate chains into SFXT. Tap a light, medium and then two heavy attacks, and you’ll launch your opponent into the air, with your teammate running in to continue the combo. It’s enormously powerful for such a basic technique, but is wildly unsafe when blocked, and chains can’t be cancelled into special moves (although you can follow up with an EX move or Super Art).
The emphasis on chains over links is a welcome one after Street Fighter IV’s overly precise combo system. Yet any suggestion that Capcom has dumbed down to appeal to a wider audience is off the mark: tight links are still here, and advanced players will employ a mixture of the two for increased damage. And once an opponent’s in the air, the real fun begins.
While Street Fighter has featured juggles before, they’ve been situational, only working in the corner or against certain characters. Here, they’re ubiquitous, and your opponent can be hit from the moment they leave the ground to the instant they return to it. Even then, a ground or wall bounce move can keep the combo going. As in Tekken, if a move looks like it should connect, it will. But there are limits, which have been put in place in order to stave off the threat of infinite combos being discovered once SFXT is in the hands of players.
Street Fighter IV players expecting a smooth transition – the two games share an engine, after all – may be in for a shock. SFIV’s Focus Attack has no equivalent here, for instance, and attempting to absorb a fireball with the technique will result in your teammate tagging in to receive a face full of plasma. But after a brief adjustment period, SFIV players will revel in the extra opportunities for flashy, extended combos.
Those coming from Tekken will probably take a little longer to settle in, but may also be surprised at how faithful Namco characters are to their original forms. Moves have been logically altered to fit Street Fighter’s inputs – Law’s three-hit spin kick is a natural fit for the Hurricane Kick motion – and each fighter has an extended list of unique moves, which are normal kicks or punches modified with a directional tap. These set up follow-up attacks, many of which are chains, and alternate between high and low hits to force an opponent to block accordingly, a key Tekken mechanic.
Significant effort has been put into customisation, too, with both user-defined costume colours and the gem system, SFXT’s most controversial mechanic. Each character takes three gems into a match to momentarily boost damage, defence, speed or the rate at which your meter builds. For beginners, there are gems that block attacks or escape throws at the cost of a chunk of Cross Gauge; for advanced players, there’s the prospect of hundreds of hours of tinkering to find devious loadouts. Our fear that gems would unbalance the game was unfounded. Their effects are simply too brief, limited in most cases to 10 or 15 seconds.
With customisation comes a natural focus on microtransactions, and Capcom doubtless has a steady flow of costumes, colours and gems planned to ensure a busy DLC schedule for the months to come. Indeed, SFXT has been designed with longevity in mind, and while producer Yoshinori Ono’s insistence that there will be no disc-based revision of the game is a welcome one, it sticks in the craw to learn that 12 characters are on the disc, waiting to be unlocked by a DLC update later in the year. While Capcom’s business strategies are disappointing, however, the game itself is a joy.
We scoffed when it was first announced, and when Ono’s worldwide tour with Tekken’s Katsuhiro Harada gave the impression it was all a bit of a lark. But SFXT successfully combines the best of the most popular 2D and 3D fighting games in the world, proves Capcom’s most newcomer-friendly fighter, and boasts a combat system of bewildering depth. If any company was going to move the genre forward, it seems fitting that it’s the one that invented it.