Both Capcom and Namco have created some fantastic crossovers in the past, which is one of the reasons why Street Fighter X (or Cross) Tekken was so intriguing. However, the most fascinating thing about these particular series being combined into a single game is how differently each plays. With Street Fighter, you’ve got a traditionally projectile-heavy gameplay style with a few characters bucking that trend like Balrog and Zangief, and Tekken is more throw and combo-heavy, with Ogre being the most notable projectile-user in the series. On paper, these are two completely different kinds of gameplay that simply shouldn’t work, but in execution, they work pretty well.
Thankfully, Capcom did a great job balancing the characters, so you’re not going to wind up feeling underpowered if you’re playing as King against Akuma. However, due to the very SF-centric nature of the controls, Tekken vets new to the SF series will have to get used to everything being different. The game doesn't use the one-button, one-limb controls, but instead uses SF's six-button setup. As a result, the game is inherently easier for SF players to get into.
However, the developers start the game off with a tremendous (optional) tutorial that teaches you everything you need to know. Beyond just showing you the commands, you have to actually execute them, and by the end of it, you'll be able to do Cross Arts (double team attacks), Super Arts, Super Charges, Launchers, and use short-term Gem Assists with ease. Normally, trying to learn the more intricate elements of a fighting game can seem daunting, but not here. You can learn all of the essentials within an hour, and it's easily the best tutorial I've ever seen in a fighting game.
The key to making use of most of the game's special abilities is the Cross Gauge, which is just your usual super move meter with a different name. If you build it up one level, you can do an EX special using two buttons instead of one, while building it up more lets you do a Super Art – basically a flashy super move, and building it up all the ways give you the ability to bring your partner in and gang up on an opponent. There's a risk/reward system to every advanced technique – they'll either cost you time or levels on your Cross Gauge. Nowhere is this more evident than in the new Pandora system that gives you a last-ditch mega boost to a character, but takes out a severely damaged character and only gives you ten seconds to finish the fight.
There's always something going on, and like the Vs. series, it can sometimes lead to too much going on, but it's always exciting. Using the Tekken Tag setup of the team going down if one fighter loses all of their health instead of the Vs. Method of everyone needing to lose all their health definitely changes things up for those used to Capcom's system. With that, you can use a character as a sacrificial lamb to soften up a really tough foe and hope that someone you're more skilled with can get the win. With the Tekken Tag setup, you need to carefully monitor each character's health and tag in and out frequently to allow for some health regeneration. There's less room for error and no way to have a sacrificial lamb.
Despite that though, since the core game plays so much like an SF game, it feels a bit like an SF game with a bunch of Tekken characters thrown in as a bonus. This isn't an altogether bad thing since it does put a really fresh spin on the usual Tekken gameplay, but also doesn't quite feel like the best use of the Tekken cast. It also kind of hurts the overall package that there aren't really any extra activities – like Tekken Bowling, volleyball, or beat 'em ups to be found.
Thankfully, there's enough variety with "just" the fighting to keep things interesting. Beyond the guided tutorial that teaches you the mechanics of the core gameplay, there's also a trial mode that tests your ability to do special moves and combos, as well as a super-tough mission mode that handicaps you in some way (win with only regular moves/special moves, fight multiple foes, etc.), and of course online play. Outside of some audio problems I'll get into later, it's a great experience. Fights are mostly lag-free, and you can take part in the usual two-on-two fights, or go at it in a scramble with four fighters going at it at once with no tagging in and out, or have an "endless" series of fights that serves as a makeshift survival mode. All of these modes mix things up just enough to keep things fresh, and I like having the ability to make my own in-game replay channel. It's surprisingly easy to set up, and serves as a way to either brag to friends, or show off your fights and get some constructive critisicm to improve weak aspects of your game.
SFXT controls very smoothly, but due to numerous attack types requiring pressing either two or all three punch or kick buttons, a six-button pad is a must. Reconfiguring the controls to use trigger buttons for heavy attacks never quite feels right when you've got to use all of them, and neither system's default d-pad or left sticks are ideal for fast quarter and half-circles. 360 owners will have to use an SF IV pad, while PS3 owners have the option of either one of those or a USB Saturn pad, and will also be able to use DLC on the Vita version of the game when that launches in the fall, making that one a better value over the long haul.
Visually, SFXT looks outstanding. The art style is based on SF IV’s more cartoonish style, which of course fit the SF characters well and served as a fantastic breath of fresh air for the Tekken crew. The character models as a whole are outstanding, as are a lot of the redone animations for the Tekken crew. Kuma in particular has way more personality here than before with his wacky jolly dancing after a victory, and some incredibly smooth walking animations from Poison that are among the most impressive in the game. Unfortunately, some of the redone animations don't look so hot, and seem like they're missing a frame or two, but most of the time, the animation is really smooth. I'm slightly disappointed in the background selection for the game – there aren't a lot to choose from, and while they all make sense for each franchise, only a couple are memorable and none come across like classics. It's not a huge issue, but another thing that hurts the overall package. It would've been nice to have Tekken 6's flaming tunnel or any iconic SF II stages thrown in, but that just wasn't meant to be I suppose.
SFXT falls short in a number of ways, but it falls hardest is with its audio. Given that it combines two fighting series with usually great soundtracks, having this game just use a bunch of generic techno hurts it a lot. No signature songs from either series are included, and the music included gets old really quickly. The voice work isn't very good, and you'll be hearing a lot of sound bytes repeat over and over again in the tutorial modes – have the pause button handy there. It wouldn't hurt to use it online since as of this writing, there's a pretty jarring glitch where sound effects have a very long delay, sound garbles, and sometimes don't register at all.
Street Fighter X Tekken is a great game in some ways and does a surprisingly good job of blending two completely different styles of fighting games. However, it's got too many rough edges to warrant a full-price purchase right now, and is definitely best-suited as a rental until the kinks are worked out. If that happens, then I'd say it's a worthy addition to any fighting fan's library for about $40.
This review is based on the Xbox 360 version of Street Fighter X Tekken provided by Capcom.