I am of that dwindling breed who played the very first Street Fighter, when it hit that long-lost version of the arcade that was kept both warm and smelling of bed time by the adjacent laundromat. I also played the first Tekken, at one of those gaming nexuses parents use to occupy their children while they gamble away the mortgage.
I have a long and nostalgic history of losing miserably at both these franchises. Losing at either is a distinctly different experience, and I was sceptical at the thought of smooshing them together; Street Fighter is all firebally and whoosh, whereas Tekken has Eddy. I had visions of a game more redolent of mystery meat a la Blanka than a tight, cohesive brutality machine.
Thankfully, I was wrong.
Don’t play with yourself
First things first: yes, phwoar, that’s a lot of characters right there. Thirty-eight. I was rendered flaccid with decision anxiety when I saw the roster for the first time. And I’m given to understand another 12 characters are scheduled to make Capcom some extra tuck shop money.
The fighting will feel familiar to anybody who’s played Street Fighter 4: you get into the fisticuffs till somebody’s life meter takes a nose dive, exchanging hits of greater and lesser credibility and filling up something called a Cross Gauge, which frees up juicy super moves and tactical trickery. Rinse, bloody, repeat.
This is tag scuffling in the mode of Tekken Tag Tournament: pick two people/demons/animals with whom to beat up two other people/demons/animals. You’re free to pair anybody, but if you stick to the official duos you’ll get to blunder headlong into a Rival Battle, a set piece that sounds a lot cooler and dramaticker than it actually is.
Playing solo, you take control of both characters, but bring a friend and you can take turns being kicked to shit. Unlike, say, King of Fighters, you don’t work your way through each character in turn; you can swap them back and forth at will, with the knockout landing when either tag mate’s life meter rock-bottoms.
Make a move
Gameplay is split into a number of obligatory modes. You get to tough it out with story bells, or get straight to the gritty through versus battles, challenge and training modes, and online slap-fests.
The game kicks things off with a charming tutorial, which gives way to a series of trials and missions designed to hone your skills through ever-toughening sets of requirements. I suppose some people have all the time in the whole universe.
The story mode is … how to put this … fucking hilarious. Think B-grade soft porn trailer from a sci fi–obsessed seventies director, only without the simulated sex. It involves Pandora’s box, tee hee, and boys and girls fight over it, yes they do.
It’s not exactly meaty, but it’s elevated fantastically by the tag-team setup. I get bored with single-player fighting in femtoseconds, so getting to team up with a friend to take on the story mode was just wonderful. It’s even possible to bring all four fighters onto the screen simultaneously through Scramble mode, but damn it, I already have enough to deal with as it is.
The tag system adds a tremendous amount of depth and strategy to the deal. For one, if your life meter is taking a beating, you can swap out and rest your character to regain some oomph while your partner, hopefully, puts the bitch-down on your assailants. It’s also possible to launch an opponent into the air and whip your team mate in for some Tekken-style juggle jollies. Tagging at the wrong time leaves you wide open to devastation, though, so the system brings a welcome layer of risk–reward play.
Many of the upper-tier moves draw on the tag-team dynamic. The Switch Cancel, for example, allows you to flip characters mid-combo, opening up a chasm of potential sucker punches. And if the fireworks of a Super Art aren’t enough for you, try the Cross Art (which strings your team’s Super Arts together) or Cross Assault (which brings both your characters on stage at the same time for a double attack – about as chaotic as it sounds).
It can all seem a little daunting to a newcomer, but here I must note how cleverly Capcom has catered to beginners and fighting monks alike. There are a number of safety nets allowing beginners to trade flexibility, strength or a bar off the Cross Gauge in return for simplified controls and shortcuts.
And there’s a standard recipe for most of the basic repertoire of moves, meaning a new player can pick up any character and pull off a satisfying variety of punchery without much fuss.
Advanced biffers, meanwhile, have a staggering amount to fiddle with. The EX specials and flash Super Arts from Street Fighter 4 make a return, though gone are the days of double half-circles and other such thumb-defying manoeuvres; the stick motions required to pull off even the hardest specials have been pared down. Cancels, heavens damn them, are also back.
Diamond in the scuffle
Another stratum of strategy is slipped in with the inclusion of the Gem system. The idea here is to kit your characters out with up to three “gems” imparting certain advantages for certain costs. There are Assist Gems, which make evading throws or pulling off special moves easier, for a price, and five kinds of Boost Gems, which provide stat gains for short periods after their conditions have been met.
If, despite your best efforts, one of your characters is nearing death, you can always invoke “Pandora”. This puts your ailing fighter out of action and turns their team mate into a glowy magenta bundle of up-fuckery – but only for 10 seconds, after which it’s tickets if your spanking hasn’t landed.
Almost every aspect of the game shows up Capcom’s move toward a brainier, more tactical fighter rather than a button-mashing finger-twister. Make no mistake – the serious combos require some ridiculous timing and coordination, but the absence of all the extraneous spasticity has left this fighter feeling far more fluid, refined and agile.
With this huge emphasis on team play, training could potentially have been a big issue. Thankfully, though, the game offers a robust practice ground enabling you to work on the tricksier coordinated attacks with a friend over the intercables.
Here we come to a bitsy of a hitch, however. Online play. It was frustrating.
I started out totally unable to nuzzle up to fellow fighters online. I could look at the leader board, but I couldn’t reach out and touch anybody. I tweaked the nipples of my firewall, I disabled my computer’s hen-pecking immune system, but to bloody little in the way of avail.
Three days later, for who knows what reason, it just… worked.
Well, I say “worked”, but I mean that in the sense that leopard-crawling through broken glass works. This game is a laggy beast online. And thank goodness: it gives me something to say in a nasal tone whenever I lose a fight. Which is all of the times.
Seriously though, even minor lag in a game this heavily dependent on timing can be a disaster, and I’m not talking minor lag here. The sound also takes the proverbial beating online, syncing oddly and just generally glitching the hell all over the place.
In other words, it’s pretty broken at the moment. Considering how significant a part of the game online play is, this is a Bad Thing.
But I don’t really care, personally. I’m no rung-hungry fighter looking to prove myself on the leader ladder. I just want to beat up on a friend every now and then and pull off some flash shit that makes me look like I do kung fu in real life.
War and peace
Those wondering how Street Fighter and Tekken get along can rest easy: Tekken’s 3D aggressors work surprisingly well on the flat plane that is Street Fighter’s world, and Capcom has put a lot of work into making sure players more comfortable with either franchise will be able to get stuck in without a control-scheme overhaul. The Tekken characters have also been given a street-fighterised aesthetic; they’ve gone a touch cartoony in places, and for the most part the style works a peach.
I found myself missing sidesteps and associated moves at first, but I forgot about it the moment the manic gameplay took hold.
Overall the game is a beauty to behold. The animation is liquid and convincing, the stages overflowing with melodramatic colour and activity, and the big-gun moves satisfyingly crunchy. I can’t say the same for the music, though – it would have been annoying had it not been so insipid as to disappear into the background.
There are some other disappointments: for all that there are more characters than I’ll ever get to play Barbie the Bitch with, I missed Blanka and E Honda, to name just two. There are more characters on the way, but they should already bloody be here, considering that the console versions of this game already have a wealth of extra content (and let’s not get into the pre-DLed DLC debacle).
Still, this feels like a minor qualm to me, and I won’t have a moments hesitation around shelling out a few extra coins for a bolstered roster. Because I really like this game.
And because I’m a sucker like that.