There’s nothing purer in gaming than a good old-fashioned fighting game. One crazy, cartoonish character facing another, the game designers completely unrestricted by any need for realism. Good, friendly, violent fun. In the ‘90s titles like Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat and Tekken became a license to print money (or, at least, mint coins) in the arcades, and took hold the home-gaming market the moment their multi-button fury could be effectively translated to the console setting. They remain amongst the most iconic franchises ever.
However, with the evolution of more complex and realistic boxing, UFC, and even wrestling titles, and the ever improving combat of action/adventure titles, the question could be asked whether such comparatively simple games remain relevant. In an industry increasingly dominated by cinematic narrative at one end of the spectrum, and increasingly breathtaking sporting realism at the other, is an arcade style fighter still going to get people excited?
To ensure the answer is a resounding 'yes', developers Capcom and Namco have attempted to breath life into the genre, by bringing together their flagship franchises in the first of two “mother of all” cross-overs. It's been done for years now of course. Capcom and Namco characters, Marvel super-heroes, you name it, they've crossed-over. But Street Fighter and Tekken? This is the Beatles and Stones! The Avengers and the X-Men! Neighbours and Home and Away!
Exciting stuff for the fans, but does Street Fighter X Tekken deliver on the expectations its name alone creates? Has merging two of gaming's most famed titles delivered something truly special?
Disappointingly, the answer is no.
While this first of two opportunities to pit favourite characters against each other in dream match-ups is sure to tantalise every fan, the game presents as a Street Fighter title with Tekken characters, rather than a real cross-over. The controls and 2D graphics are all Street Fighter, and the look and feel of the Tekken characters is largely indistinct from that of their Street Fighter counterparts. While expecting radically different looking and playing combatants within the same game is unrealistic, more could have been done to make this feel like a real coming together of two worlds rather than what it ultimately is: Street Fighter with a whole heap more characters.
Of course, if the game was amazing, this wouldn't matter. Unfortunately, the game itself is perhaps more accurately described as just good. The fighting is enjoyable, if predictable, two-on-two tag team action. Combos are easily put together, the fighting styles of different characters are distinctively rendered and and super-combos are satisfyingly, cinematically epic. In fact, the game as a whole looks great, and there's a retro arcade charm to the good old fashioned, fast-paced, 2D approach to combat that shouldn't be understated.
Game options include a straightforward arcade mode, as well as a range of missions and character-specific challenges that set combat goals for players to achieve – win without using certain moves, string together combos of a certain number of moves, and so forth. As with the gameplay itself, it is all as might be expected, without offering anything really game-changing for fans of the franchises or genre.
More interesting perhaps, is the new 'Gems' feature, that allows players to customise aspects of their character's combat capabilities. It is a nice touch in an often inflexible genre, but it still feels a little limited in a world where nothing would be cooler than to create your own Street Fighter from the ground up. As players master the Gem system, it also seems likely that optimal settings for each character will swiftly become evident. If so, this will undermine the long term value of the feature, at least for more serious players.
And then there's the plot...
If there must be one, it's not unreasonable to hope it will be coherent and engaging, and might actually capitalise on the multitude of characters available, and the rich histories of both franchises. Alas, players are instead presented with some inconsequential carry-on about a magical box that appears to create bad karma and may theoretically be worth fighting over (or something). It's not that a mind-blowing plot was needed, but that such a poor one was delivered when the title presented so many opportunities for something more interesting that is disappointing. It's also further evidence of a fairly half-hearted stab at making this anything more than a passably good game with a money-making crossover appeal.
Worse than these complaints about the window-dressing, however, is the online experience on offer. Lagging was brutal during two out of three attempts to take on the world. Of course, this could have been a product of Stephen Fry hogging bandwidth in my neighbourhood, but a quick test with several other games suggested the problem lay not with Telecom or Sony, but with Capcom.
Assuming this problem is not ongoing, Street Fighter X Tekken will likely prove a fairly popular title, as a competently delivered new edition to an iconic franchise. However, as a long awaited cross-over of two of the most important fighting titles in gaming history, it ultimately feels like an opportunity missed - the whole being nowhere near the sum of its parts.
This is no doubt a product of the fact that, as part of the deal that secured this title, Namco are supposedly at work on their version of the cross-over – Tekken X Street Fighter. While there is no release date (and indeed little in the way of progress being made according to recent reports), it looks set to present the Tekken take on the crossover. The result will be another title for the fans, and another revenue stream for the developers, but it seems that this has been at the expense of undertaking the sort of collaborative effort that could have made this title something great.