Friday, April 13, 2012

Street Fighter X Tekken review

Capcom's brilliant crossover makes the best of two fighting heavyweights.

Format: Xbox 360 (version tested), PS3, PC
Developer: Capcom
Publisher: Capcom
Released: Out now
The marriage of the two most popular fighting games on the planet may seem like a match made in heaven, but despite sharing a genre, these two heavyweights are a world apart. Capcom's Street Fighters are nippy, projectile-loving brawlers built on lightning quick combos, whereas Tekken's combatants are heavy, juggle-happy beefcakes trained in studious strike chains and movement. Diametric opposites, chalk and cheese united only in their love of smacking each other around.
So that Capcom have inserted Tekken's roster into the Street Fighter IV engine with such a deft touch is a terrific achievement. Nina, Yoshimitsu and King sit alongside Ryu, Chun Li and Zangief as if they've always shared an arena. But while they slip into Street Fighter's techniques of quarter circle special moves easily, Capcom has kept the Tekken identity strong.
Not just in respect to Namco's characters either. While this is identifiably a Street Fighter game --Tekken will take the lead in a Namco developed game next year-- it weaves Tekken DNA through its core. Juggles, previously a dark art in Street Fighter, are now an essential skill, enabled by combos that are easier to chain together than SFIV's strict timing. As a whole, Street Fighter X Tekken is a little faster, slicker and more accessible than Capcom's previous game.
But don't mistake accessible for easy. A tutorial mode that runs the gamut of moves, from simple punches to the advanced 'arts' is the first thing you'll play through. It opens a door for newbies, certainly, but the complexities that lie within are staggering. Focus attacks are gone, but a launcher attack and three-button link combo are available to every character; a welcome thread that ties all the fighters together. Ultra attacks have also been replaced with super arts and cross arts, super powerful attacks performed alone or with your tag partner at the cost of juice from your power bar at the bottom of the screen. All the special arts moves need a simple quarter-circle manoeuvre while hitting two attack buttons. They're far easier to pull off than Street Fighter IV's Ultras, but are dangerously simple to counter and don't dish out as much damage.
Street Fighter X Tekken's control system has been streamlined to allow players to concentrate on the complexities of tactics, rather than struggling with complicated inputs. Tag partners each have an individual health bar, but only one fighter has to be beaten to finish the round. It brings a neat bounce and flow to each fight, asking you to carefully switch out partners to preserve your health bar. The game also introduces a 'Gem' system, which allows you to equip your fighters with different abilities that can be activated mid-fight for a limited time. These gems range from power or defence boosts to automatically countering throws. Their inclusion has been divisive and are initially a little confusing. However, they do allow you to identify weaknesses in your game and fill the gaps in your arsenal with the right gem.
The purists, understandably, will scoff at such an idea. And the gem's controversial inclusion doesn't stop there, with Capcom reportedly planning on charging for extra gem sets. This brings a concern that those willing to splash the cash will gain an unfair advantage in online battles. Capcom will have to be careful over how this is handled to avoid breeding resentment. There are also some major players in the roster suspiciously missing. My personal horror at discovering Blanka wasn't included has me baulking at the possibility of having to pay extra for my main character. I'm sure many will feel the same.
Reservations about DLC (and bitterness at Blanka's exclusion) aside, it's would be churlish to criticise what isn't on the disc when what is there is still generous. A healthy roster of characters and a decent selection of lively arenas is not to be scoffed at. And the important business of smacking each other about --which is what we're all here for after all-- is as fun and frantic as ever. Capcom, even when using such different tools, proving they are masters of their craft yet again.

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