I remember watching the finals for the Street Fighter X Tekken tournament at Community Effort Orlando 2012, the largest fighting-game event in Florida. Unlike the most of the other competitions at the event, it wrapped up on Saturday night instead of Sunday. The indie fighter Skullgirls also ended that day, but the venue hosted the event on the main stage and kept SFXT on a smaller secondary station. At the awards ceremony organizer Alex Jebaily jokingly congratulated the eight finalists for still playing it.
That probably wasn’t what Capcom had in mind when it released the crossover tag-team fighter last March to largely favorable reviews. The biggest complaint back then came when hackers discovered that the publisher locked a smorgasbord of costumes, power-up Gem System abilities, and characters for use as paid downloadable content later on. Even then, you can put up with stomach-turning marketing practices if the game itself was fun.
As time went, on, however, SFXT’s combat system became cursed with frequent timeouts and mechanics that are either unintentionally overpowered, useless, or banned in competitive play. Now, Capcom has unlocked the biggest vault in the disc’s data — 12 characters the developers intentionally partitioned from the rest of the roster — ahead of schedule to stave off its own self-inflicted wounds.
To be fair, the new additions are a mix of fan favorites, unsung heroes, and cool ideas who do their job of reinvigorating interest. On the Street Fighter side, veterans Sakura, Cody, Guy, and Dudley fit well in the engine’s combo-heavy nature. Street Fighter 3 alum Elena makes her long-awaited debut in a 3D fighter, and while her capoeira animations are not as smooth as before, she still excels with quick overheads and tricky setups. While Blanka has more combo potential than before, his hit-and-run playstyle doesn’t really suit SFXT’s mechanics.
As for the Tekken fraction, the heroic Lars is a versatile all-around fighter while cyborg madman Bryan is a powerhouse whose long limbs give him deceptive range. The giant Jack-X has interesting similarities to Marvel vs. Capcom’s Sentinel in terms of having a combination of strength and reach.
Alisa continues the trend of automated warriors with a frustrating long-range game and chainsaw hands that chip away at the opponent’s life and build a lot of super meter in the process. Christie is no longer the first-day button-masher’s favorite that she was in her home franchise, but she still has beautifully animated moves and confusing mix-up potential. Finally, while I’m not sure if a 2D character would ever need seven different fighting stances, it is cool that Lei still retains the complex movements that make him unique.
In theory, keeping a group of characters for later release is a good idea, and Japanese arcade games have followed this practice for a while. The ethics of leaving data locked on the disc aside, at $20 the bundle is a great deal compared to other fighters that charge at least $5 per person. If Capcom didn't keep the 12 warriors on the disc and sold them later on as true DLC, there would be far fewer complaints even though the additions were still have been completed at the same time as the original roster and the download would require more hard-drive space.
At this point, however, Street Fighter X Tekken has become a poster child of everything bad about Capcom’s business strategies. A cloud of negative press has hung over it since before it came out, the game hasn’t met sales expectations, and the developers had to do an emergency patch when one of their updates created a game-freezing glitch. Most competitive players refuse to use SFXT's much-promoted Gem System, and Evolution 2012 — the biggest fighting-game tournament in the world — only broadcast the top-four finals on its stream compared to the days of coverage for the other events.
I don’t feel sorry for Capcom, but I do for those who sincerely enjoy the game, of whom I count myself as a member. Despite the second-class treatment, SFXT was still the third-largest tourney at CEO. It has systematic problems, but so do the first versions of any fighter. No one remembers the original Capcom vs. SNK fondly, and every title has its annoying mechanics and haters. People have created videos to dispel misconceptions about how to play, and a patch that accompanied the characters’ release weakened the most complained-about tactics. It also toned down the auto-block and auto-throw-tech assist gems, which were the game's dumbest ideas by far. It isn't a full rebalance, but hopefully it will encourage more exploration of the roster.
In the end, I still enjoy Street Fighter X Tekken warts and all, but not as much as other games, and that’s a huge deal with so many quality fighters around. Even if you like one of the new characters, using them is like eating a steak dinner at a bad restaurant when you have to force yourself to like the title as a whole. Perhaps Capcom should have focused on fine-tuning the engine it had instead of developing this elaborate DLC strategy even if it means getting flak for making a sequel later.
Capcom provided me with a Xbox 360 review code for the 12 new characters.