It’s difficult to imagine a time without Capcom’s crossover fighting games. The company has been methodically migrating its way closer to claiming the industry’s coveted fan-service throne (arguably currently held by Nintendo) for what feels like ages, and doesn’t show any sign of letting up in the foreseeable future. While the prosperity of these titles can be shallowly attributed to their accomplished uniting of revered franchises, plucking the most significant aesthetic quirks from both and fusing them to spawn a rewarding whole, what the renowned success of the Vs. and now X (pronounced “cross”) series ultimately boils down to is the fact that these are, quite simply, the most mechanically sound fighters money can buy. Whether playing with a standard gamepad or the preferred arcade stick peripheral, the long-developed, refined combat systems rapidly become second nature, ingraining their offensive/defensive patterns, compulsory cancels and reversals, flashy signature specials, and last-ditch tactical maneuvers into the brains of an international league of impassioned genre enthusiasts, myself included. After any intense session, when I close my eyes to regenerate some mental dexterity, I can clearly see button combinations scrolling across the darkness in bright, colorful lettering like a roaming marquee.
Tekken’s peculiar cast of characters, functionality, and graphical style has always felt like Namco falling a ways short of Capcom’s unmatched ingenuity. That being said, Street Fighter X Tekken somehow, startlingly, has managed to sway my opinion of the Tekken roster, so much so that I find myself hellbent on perfecting a team of brawlers originating strictly from that side of the aisle. While it’s safe to say that the overall tone of Street Fighter X Tekken is assuredly leaning toward the essence of Super Street Fighter IV, a number of pronounced traits from the Tekken camp have been implemented to a sharpened degree, and the result is a uniquely absorbing experience. The combatant relay scheme of Tekken Tag Tournament, along with its non-auto throws, is a prominent presence. Losing one fighter in a round amounts to a complete defeat, rather than moving on to the next available contestant in your queue to continue the battle. This method takes some getting used to, but the slight raise in across-the-board arduousness conclusively intensifies the progressing scenarios to the point where any other manner of play seems too merciful.
Street Fighter X Tekken’s match-pace fluency easily ranks loftily alongside last year’s quintessential Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3. Showdowns are artfully accelerated, and the ease at which tagging your characters back and forth in order to chain massive midair shuffles to lengthy combos and eye-melting Super Art moves is immensely gratifying. A pair of new, once heavily debated pre-release functions are introduced in the game, and for the most part they’re a welcome addition to an internal entity that’s already brimming with optional customization. Activating the premiere Pandora technique is one step away from throwing in the towel, an “I’m probably about to die, so fuck it” kind of strategy that simultaneously puts both you and your opponent on high alert. Once initialized, the initiator’s trio is subsidized to one character, the Cross Gauge is maxed out, and 10 seconds are placed on a countdown clock. Needless to say, shit gets hectic mighty fast; if the offensive player is unable to land the killing blow on their adversary, it’s game over in a flash. At first glance, Pandora may seem a tad gimmicky, even lazy, as it may minimize the measure of skill required to conclude a bout traditionally, yet mastering its usage takes a necessary dedication and expertise that promptly reveals itself as a chaotic compulsion.
The addition of ability enhancement stones, formally labeled Gems, is the weightiest and most skepticism-inducing neoteric aspect of Street Fighter X Tekken. In the simplest of terms, these Gems act as a sort of RPG element, allowing for the improvement of individual stats that translate into upgraded battlefield performance. Thankfully, Capcom keeps the process relatively straightforward and organized, grouping Gems into two distinct classes that provide an expedient balance of enrichment. Boost Gems are of the action-orientated breed, put into motion as specific circumstances are satisfied during fights; they intensify strength and speed, possibly concurrently making Pandora mode less of a necessity and easier to efficiently execute. Much like the buffs of many a streamlined role-player, Assist Gems are reinforcements of the passive variety, equipping automatic defense and counter capabilities that could do well to help out those in the tightest of spots, although they do periodically deplete the Cross Gauge. It’s not much of a mental stretch to see why the concept of Gems initially sparked controversy. The submissive souping up of character credentials outside the realm of contest engagement seems like an unfair way to level the playing arena (newbies can give veterans trouble with enough modifications tacked on), but the integration of Gems into the Capcom lexicon ushers in not only a fresh layer of outcome control, but a subcutaneous injection of modern fighting-game philosophy.
With an online mode that hits most of its marks, despite a pinch of customary lag here and there, Street Fighter X Tekken gives the firm impression that it’s the go-to fighting gridiron for 2012. By temperately commingling the idiosyncratic atmospheres of its titular series and prefacing a couple of inventive platforms with Pandora and Gems, the game is characteristically solid without being outright revolutionary. Take it from someone who’s previously rebuked Tekken, my Namco-fighter agnosticism has practically been erased, slotting yet another jewel into Capcom’s coruscating crown of crossover benevolence.