Street Fighter X Tekken is one of the best fighting games on home consoles. The combo system is deep and rewarding, the character animations are flawless, and the roster of familiar characters should make fighting game fans giddy with anticipation.
I want to make sure you know about the game's sheer excellence before I say this next bit: Street Fighter X Tekken may be the last fighting game I ever play.
That's not because the game is bad. The game is good. Too good, in fact. So good, it's better than me.
Street Fighter X Tekken has beaten me, left me bloody, broken and all too aware of the fact that developer Capcom's fighting games are approaching levels of sophistication that overwhelm my aging fingers and reflexes.
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The game brings together characters from Capcom's Street Fighter series and developer Namco's Tekken series for the first time. (Actually the second time, if you count some obscure Japanese role-playing game that never made it to American shores.)
The history of these two franchises accounts for most of the excitement behind the game. Street Fighter II, which defined the arcade fighting genre for almost a decade, was critically acclaimed when it launched in 1991. And after game systems became powerful enough to render 3D graphics, Tekken became one of the first and best 3D fighters when it launched in 1994.
The story centers around a conflict created when an alien object falls from the sky in Antarctica. Everyone starts fighting over it, vying to control its mysterious power. Then there are some, um, irradiated mammoths.
OK, I admit it — I'm not really sure what the story is about. Capcom seemed to put even less effort than usual into this story than its past games, but that's alright because nobody plays Capcom fighters for the story.
Fighting games are all about competing with others, and Street Fighter X Tekken is at the top of its class, better than even Street Fighter IV or Marvel vs. Capcom 3.
I had no trouble finding online matches against other players, even in the week before the game officially hit store shelves. There was no lag in any of the matches I played, a necessity for fighting games, which depend on the split-second timing of strikes and blocks.
However, it wasn't all peaches and gravy — in about two-thirds of the online matches I played, the audio during punches and kicks would cut out sporadically. The music and dialogue played just fine, but when I landed a strike, silence. I initially thought it was a problem with my system or audio setup, but the sound worked just fine in single-player and local matches.
Before each match, players pick two characters, who they can swap whenever they choose during the fight. If just one of the two characters on a team loses all of his or her health, the team loses the round.
Your success at Street Fighter X Tekken will depend entirely on how well you can learn and memorize combos, strings of attacks that don't give your opponent a chance to fight back. And the number of ways you can do combos in Street Fighter X Tekken is almost unprecedented in Capcom games.
The standard fighting game controls are here: punches, kicks, throws, blocks, ducks, jumps and special attacks.
Finding which attacks work well together is a matter of spending a few hours beating the snot out of training dummies. Discovering combos becomes an immensely bigger challenge when you factor in all the new stuff Street Fighter X Tekken offers.
For example, by pressing heavy punch and heavy kick at the same time, your character can do a launching move that throws an opponent into the air and calls in your tag team partner to continue the combo. You can also map rudimentary combos to different button combinations. These mini-combos are, of course, most effective when used during a longer combo.
Say somebody is comboing against you like there's no tomorrow. How do you get out of it to launch your own attack? Perform a Cross Counter. Essentially if you manage to block an opponent's attack, you can cancel your block immediately and launch your opponent, calling in your partner to turn the tide. The timing has to be very precise; I have successfully done a Cross Counter once, and it was an accident.
Street Fighter X Tekken also introduces a brand new concept to Capcom fighting games in terms of "gems." By collecting gems and assigning them to your characters before a match, you gain certain benefits, like temporarily increased speed or automatic blocking.
There's a dozen more new features I don't have space to get into, so if that sounds like a lot to take into account during a three-minute fight, take the word of an almost-30-year-old: it is.
That's why I'm considering hanging up my fighting game towel. Kids these days have the reflexes of cats, and out of about 25 online matches I have played, I have won one of them. That's right. One.
People play fighting games because there is no purer competitive experience. It's just you and your reflexes versus your opponent and theirs. There is no luck.
Mastering the game is hard work, but the payoff is the taste of sweet, sweet victory. After losing constantly, I am left hungry, but those with good reflexes and analytical skills will find much to love.