God it's daunting, isn't it? That first time you dip into a new fighting game's training modes and it hits you like a wave - you've got to learn. It all. Again. Those hours spent glaring at bright lights of the pristine training room memorising links and chains, the mental exhaustion of perfecting the microsecond timing between combo attacks, the constant trips to the pause menu's command list and the bounty of stick-snapping complexity hidden therein...
You'll do it, though. Be it for the love of the game, the love of the competition or the sheer artistry of digital combat, when Capcom offers up another delectable pugilistic platter, it's almost rude not to dive in head first like a pig in a trough, only emerging when you've finally nailed that Flash-kick-cancel-cross you've been working on since Sunday.
I'm getting ahead of myself, of course. Before you can even contemplate letting the word 'supercancel' spark through your frazzled synapses, you need to get your head around all the crazy Capcom has stuffed into Street Fighter X Tekken. Apparently, there's loads of stuff in here to help genre newbies compete with more experienced players. Yeah, maybe. It's kind of like putting you in an Apollo shuttle and letting you use a touchscreen instead of a joystick, though. Either way, you're going to be a ball of flames in seconds.
New players don't have trouble hitting three buttons in sequence (thus negating the Quick Combo feature, which isn't even worth talking about) or smacking the throw buttons at the same time. What they will probably struggle with, though, is a tutorial that invites you into its warm sitting room by showing you how to punch, then hurls you back out into the cold street five minutes later with a head bursting full of jargon and the most heinous overuse of the word art since the Dear Esther reviews hit the net. It's enough to put anyone off.
Thankfully, the game's actually nowhere near as complicated as it seems. There's a lot of superfluous technical stuff happening while you play, but for the most part, if you've chucked a couple of hadokens around in your time at the stick, you can play Street Fighter X Tekken. This really feels like a sequel; a fully fledged follow up with a tonne of new ideas but enough of the original's DNA linking them all together. There's a natural crossover in skills that's vital for those first few matches.
That grounding really helps when you start experimenting with the new systems, too. First off, and most obviously, this is a tag game, and joining the Street Fighter lot is a whole heap of lads and lasses from Tekken's side of the tracks. The control layout is classic Street Fighter, but now you can tag your opponent in with both middles (say goodbye to the focus attack while you're doing it) or smack both heavies to fire out your launcher, sending your opponent flying skywards and letting your tag partner zoom in underneath and continue the combo. It's like the perfect blend of Street Fighter's link-heavy combos and Tekken's juggles. Ingenious stuff.
That being said, the flow of the action does differ significantly from Super Street Fighter IV. It's fast, for one. Not Marvel Vs Capcom fast, but certainly snappier than SSFIV and very focused on offense. It also borrows the boost combos from Marvel, meaning you can quickly fire off a light, medium, heavy and then heavy again, and that'll set up your launcher and a tag. It's not as fundamental to the combat as it is in Marvel, but it's absolutely the lynchpin to lengthy and flashy combos, as your partner can jump in and continue the juggle, even hitting his Super Art (Ultra Combo, basically) in the process.
Unlike most tag games, the team-mates don't share a life bar but they do share a life, so if one member is knocked out, both lose the round. It makes tagging an absolute necessity and forces you to find teams who can work together well - typically fighters with similar styles make good pairs while you're still figuring out what the hell is going on. And unlike any game ever, there's the gem system, possibly the most confusing thing to happen to fighting games since the first time you played a pirated Street Fighter II cabinet and Sagats started falling out of the sky.
At their core, gems are perks. You assign up to three for each fighter, and they're activated by fulfilling particular scenarios mid-scrap, like getting hit four times or landing five specials. At first, each fighter has a couple of suggested gem set-ups, and while it doesn't make huge amounts of sense when you're in battle, seeing your man flash red means he's doing more damage, or green means he's moving faster. There are blues and yellows too, just to make things that much simpler.
Where the nightmare begins, though, is when you get to customising them. Everything is unlocked, so you're presented with pages of gems that you can assign to your character and no real clue what you should do or how you should proceed. It's like playing COD with every single perk and gun unlocked from the start - the temptation to just back away quietly and hope no one saw you come in is overwhelming. Dig a little deeper, though, and you'll find most of the gems do the same thing, but the way you activate them differs. Pick ones that suit your style: are you a defensive shell or a special-hurling maniac? Then immediately forget all the activation conditions and carry on regardless. If you're anything like me, anyway.
Is the gem system really necessary? There's a certain hardcore appeal to getting lost in it and customising your fighters to your exact style, but it almost feels superfluous - the fighting engine is strong enough to do without them. Yet they add a layer of depth that could definitely prove welcome after weeks and months of play. One piece of advice, then - don't fret about them too much. Mastering your characters and your combos will get you much further.
Talking of combos, Street Fighter X Tekken must be commended for how well it incorporates the kickpunching hellions of team Namco into the Street Fighter engine. They feel slightly different to play with, even beyond the lack of projectiles. Most of them, from Paul to King to Kazuya, have far more 'unique attacks' than the Street Fighter lot, meaning you can string together close-quarters combos far easier than you can with that other bunch and their fiery palms. For now, the balance is remarkably good. Yes, it's easier to play with Ryu and Ken than Julia and Yoshimitsu for now, but there are clearly plenty of Tekken characters who'll be quick to master. Law and King can be devastating after just a few rounds.
The roster's suitably packed, too. Despite a few notable omissions (no Jack or Eddy Gordo? No Blanka?) Street Fighter and Tekken fans should be pretty chuffed with this veritable who's who of both series' past. Rolento and Poison join a familiar Capcom bunch, while the likes of Heihachi, Kazuya, Kuma and even fat old Bob make the cut from camp Tekken. Namco stalwarts will be impressed on how well Capcom has incorporated team Tekken's movesets too. While the four-limbed button configuration is no more, you can still pull off Kazuya's Jumping spinning sweep, King's tornado throw, Paul's signature stepping punch and countless other fan favourites with ease. It's testament to the skill and craft of the team at Capcom that these moves feel just as instinctive here as they do inside a fully-fledged Tekken game, regardless of which buttons you're pressing.
So, not a huge amount of complaining going on, and rightly so, this is top level stuff from true masters of the art. Is it as good as Super Street Fighter IV though? Not quite. The added complexity, while superbly implemented, dilutes the purity of Street Fighter just a touch, and the easier Super Arts and Cross Arts mean those 'wow' moments don't feel quite as earned as that time you managed to cancel into Vega's Ultra and threw down the stick in utter contempt at how useless everyone else in the world is.
As an experiment and a sequel, though, Street Fighter X Tekken is still a resounding and admirable success, and further proof than Ono-san is hiding true genius behind those scruffy cords and pudgy cheeks. In this battle of Street Fighter and Tekken, Capcom has landed the first knockout blow. I can't wait to see how Namco responds.
Version Tested: PS3