Are two heads better than one? In the case of Street Fighter X Tekken you'd be hard pushed to argue otherwise. This brash Super Street Fighter IV spin-off embraces its position outside of the numbered series by carefully changing key mechanics and embracing its silly side in a giant (occasionally literal) bear hug.
It's still recognisably a Street Fighter game and almost half the roster will be instantly familiar to anyone who's spent quality time with the series. To balance this out, there's the Tekken characters, rendered in SF's eye-bulging cartoon aesthetic but with noticeably different fighting techniques from Capcom's crew. This is the real meat of the game for veterans - there have been a couple of ranged attacks added for parity, but otherwise the Tekken characters' strength usually lies in lengthy combinations of regular punches and kicks. Even if you've completely rinsed Street Fighter IV, there's plenty to learn here, particularly given the welcome inclusion of an individual Trial mode for every one of the 38 characters.
Fortunately, the new tag system and Cross attacks are kept relatively straightforward and an entertaining tutorial hosted by Dan Hibiki shows you the ropes. If you can consistently pull off a Hadoken, you'll be able to make the most of that second pair of fists and feet. Even Super Arts have been simplified so that they only require a single roll of the stick and new Boost combos and charged specials bolt easily into your existing Street Fighter skillset. That sense of immediacy and accessibility is a good thing too, because in spite of the fact that only one player has to be knocked out to end the round, matches will regularly bounce off the default 99 second time limit.
For players who want to dig deeper, the customisable Gem system is exactly the kind of experiment we'd hope to see in a crossover title. Allowing you to tune your character to your particular play style, it's only likely to be a truly deciding factor in high-level play, but should add a frisson of unpredictability to online bouts.
For solo players, while adding 38 individual storylines would have been a bit of stretch, Capcom has cannily created 'official' pairings which sit next to each other in the character select screen. Each of these has its own plot, rival battle and intra-battle banter, which is encouragement enough for repeated Arcade playthroughs.
This might be a spin off, but everything in the periphery is as fleshed out as you'd expect in a numbered instalment - even the small selection of stage backgrounds are rammed with fan pleasing cameos. Having said that, we still can't work out if the fact that Ogre looks like Seth with a green paint job and a silly hat is intentional or just a cost-saving measure.
Even the overly long load times can't overshadow what is a fantastically substantial fighting game. If Marvel vs Capcom 3 was too wacky for your tastes, this sits comfortably between it and Street Fighter IV on the lunacy spectrum. The tag mechanic is brilliantly robust, there are loads of new moves to master and the Tekken characters slot in more comfortably than a bum in a favourite armchair. Welcome to your new favourite fighting game.
Masterfully conceived, brilliantly executed
- A ton of characters to master
- Tekken fighters feel different
- Tag mechanic is great
- Gem system adds depth
- Lengthy pre-match load times