When fighting games added an axis and went from flat brawls to three-dimensional rumbles, people joined one camp or another: 2D or 3D. The ambassadors of the two were arguably the Street Fighter and Tekken series, respectively. In addition to the basic differences in gameplay — move sets, joystick motions, etc. — there were title-specific mechanics within the two franchises that players had learned and mastered separately and independently.
A divide arose.
So what were Capcom and Namco thinking when the two developers/publishers decided to bring the two franchises together? Would it even work?
With Street Fighter X Tekken (due out this Tuesday for PS3 and 360, with PC and PS Vita versions coming out later), the Street Fighter 4 engine was given a turbocharge along with an infusion of Tekken — and a heaping spoonful of accessibility. Knowing that casual fighting fans are often turned off by the learning curve required for success, Capcom added a buffer of sorts by including “gems” that temporarily boost one's stats or alter gameplay mechanics. After meeting certain conditions, your chosen gems activate. In theory, this may give a player an unfair advantage, and loading gems to counter an opponent's is akin to counter-picking a character. The activation conditions remain hidden, however, and are numerous enough to fit into a customization role, as more advanced players will likely do.
The tag-teaming gameplay feels much more fluid than the latest iteration of Street Fighter. Along with built-in combos (“boost combos”) that all of the characters across both rosters share (simply tap attack buttons in order of strength from weak to strong), normal links feel much easier to execute with the window for successive attacks being larger than in previous modern-generation fighters. Adding an extra tap at the end of a boost combo turns it into a “cross rush,” launching the defender into the air while simultaneously tagging in the reserve attacker.
For better or worse, mashing buttons will likely result in an instantaneous cross rush until players figure out how to best utilize their characters’ independent strengths. Even beginners can pull off impressive-looking combos and quickly learn how to manage their fighters. Using a risk/reward system, by simplifying combo inputs, beginners stand a fighting chance against more (but not that much more) experienced players at the cost of expending cross gauge (built up by executing and connecting attacks), difficult-to-execute combos are available with the press of two buttons (“quick combos”). Super arts are no longer limited to having a full cross gauge and have simplified inputs.
All of that is fine and dandy, but how would Tekken characters adapt to this foreign engine? They can’t even throw fireballs! And they normally dodge attacks by simply moving to one side! This whole rolling toward and away from your opponent…who does that? "Zoning" has become an integral part of the Street Fighter series, and one would think that you could just throw fireballs at the helpless Tekken guys until time runs out. But the Tekken characters were given dash moves that bring them within close proximity of a fireball-spamming Ryu, ready to launch a counterattack. Tekken’s attacks relied on four buttons — by including their “unique attacks,” Capcom has made it much easier for those accustomed to that style of character control to jump right in.
At first, being wholly from the Capcom camp, I was tempted to stick with those whom I found familiar and have spent hundreds of hours using– namely Abel and Akuma. But the Tekken characters have been implemented so well that after several matches and a thorough training mode, previously unfamiliar characters felt like they belonged in a Street Fighter game, and Hwoarang and Law found their way into regular rotation. The character archetypes that both rosters have — the Bruce Lee imitators, the hulking goliaths, the transgender whip-wielders (oh, wait…) — feel and play very differently as one would expect considering the aforementioned "different franchises" thing yet work well when forced to play together in the same sandbox.
In addition to the various training modes that familiarize beginners and veterans with the roster, a slew of other modes are included in true Capcom fashion: online (to play with others online, obviously — at this current time, I was unable to test it out, but Street Fighter’s already-excellent netcode has supposedly been improved), Scramble (a four-player WWE-esque Royal Rumble way to play with friends), and Mission (win by using preset requirements), among others. The character customization, although merely cosmetic, is a fun way to have your character stand out; who wouldn’t want to play as an albino Ryu?
Many players who hadn’t touched an arcade stick since they were kids and waiting on the dryer at a laundromat were turned off by those who could do so much more than flail around mindlessly through button-mashing. By catering to this pick-up-and-play crowd as well as the hardcore players, and with a little help from a former (and future) rival, Capcom has created its most accessible and fun fighter to date. This one should win plenty of fans, new and old, over.