My experience with Street Fighter was defined at an instance when Capcom's Seth Killian annihilated me and only used one hand in the process. I had asked Killian to display his infamous party trick and he graciously obliged, but that performance also spoke to my relative skill by way of interest, or lack thereof, in Capcom's stable of 2D fighters. Multiple iterations of Tekken, on the other hand, were responsible for poor college grades, intense arguments over the ethical necessity of throwing, and speculation regarding a temporarily-deceased Kazuya Mishima. An investment in one side merits interest in the other, so rather than a highly technical review my angle on the improbable Street Fighter X Tekken will appear as stated; a Tekken guy approaching a legitimate 2D fighter for the first time.
Regarding its matches, Street Fighter X Tekken resembles its closest cousin on its mother's side, Tekken Tag Tournament. Having played Tag to infinity and beyond, I assumed every fighter with a tag mechanic operated under the same basic rules. I expected the match to end when either member of my team's health bar emptied, rather than the apparent norm of one partner jumping in when the other was vanquished. Street Fighter X Tekken's concept of defeat is unnatural in Capcom's game space, but right at home with the Tekken faithful.
Having the foresight to acquire a used six button fight pad, I was free from the pratfalls begat by the standard 360 controller. Acclimating myself to Street Fighter's light/medium/heavy setup, on the other hand, was trickier than I thought it would be. Parsing the differences, some minute and some dramatic, between what appeared to be the exact same kick command took a little longer to get used it.
Thankfully Street Fighter X Tekken had a means to accommodate my ignorance. Blocking highs, mediums, and lows was nearly identical to Tekken, so that was easy to grasp. I was also sort of surprised by the ease of executing special moves. The wave motion required for throwing a fireball had never been a problem, but input rarely got more complicated than a half circle followed by a button. I'm sure subtracting complexity from execution upsets technical purists, but for new players it felt like one fewer barrier to cross. Performing launchers to setup juggles was familiar to my Tekken brain, as was Street Fighter X Tekken means using two buttons to execute a throw. Taken as a whole it felt like the game's mission was to reward timing and experimentation rather than pure execution, which leaves plenty of room for developing skill without the cost accessibility.
Basic input was the easy part. Depth and further complexity arrive with appreciation of the Cross Gauge, a three tiered, rapidly filling meter consumed for a variety of advanced attacks. Each character has a move that can be supercharged by holding down the corresponding button to initiate a risky delay. Using two of the attack buttons transforms that maneuver into an Ex Special Move while employing all three enables a Super Art. All have varying degrees of damage and subtle changes to animation and timing. As one would expect, increasing the damage potential also requires more of the Cross Gauge to be consumed.
Cross Canceling is a technique closer to Tekken's reversal system and also uses a single bar of the Cross Gauge. Cross Assault burns all three parts of the Cross Gauge but enables your tag partner to fight with you for a few moments of blissful two versus one action. Activating Pandora is by far the most risky and interesting option. If you're life is down to 25% you can sacrifice yourself to super power your partner with a never ending Cross Gauge. The catch is you only have a few seconds to finish off the opponent before your life burns out.
All of that was quite a bit to take in, and honestly I still don't have the tightest grasp on it. Ryu's moves looked vaguely familiar but contextually indifferent to the commands I was entering. Street Fighter as a whole was alien to me, so I switched over to Yoshimitsu and Kazuya and started fresh. What I discovered there were a whole bunch of moves I visually recognized and could mechanically replicate. Yoshi's poison breath, suicide, and rotating fists weren't exactly the same as they would have been in Tekken, but they were fairly close and their on-screen interpretation was spot-on. In fact, despite the reworked mechanics all of Yoshi's combos I began to develop at least looked like similar combos I was pulling off in Tekken 6. Kazuya, with pitch perfect godfists, was even closer. Even Steve's penchant for trading punches for dodges transition over to Street Fighter's visage. Through this period of discovery I was still completely terrible at the game, mind you, but for once I had incentive to practice and get better. I felt like I knew these guys, and that familiarity served as a will to power.
Gems act as another gateway into Street Fighter X Tekken. They come in two varieties, assist and boost, and up to three can be equipped into a loadout for each fighter. Assist are more scrub friendly and offer abilities like escaping throws automatically and simplifying input commands. Nothing's free, mind you, as enabling gems results in a corresponding statistical offset of Cross Gauge consumption. In a way they reminded me of similar items in Bayonetta that softly eased the player into a rather complex system. Boost gems, on the other hand, grant temporary statistical bonuses if certain conditions, like blocking five attacks or executing a launcher, are met. Gems reminds me a lot of items in Smash Bros - a casual friendly addition abhorred by hardcore enthusiasts - and Capcom provides the option to ignore them should players so desire.
Teaching theory in a fighting game community is a somewhat unsolvable problem. Techniques evolve over time, and what "works" when a game launches will often be replaced with completely different strategies just a few weeks later (and diverges even further months later). Street Fighter X Tekken attempts to cover some ground through twenty trials for each character that help them execute commands and time special moves. Another asset, one that helped me immensely, was the ability to train online with a friend in the Briefing Room. As a never ending versus match Briefing Room might sound like a small idea, but it solved the problem of my fighting game aficionado buddy helping me get better without forcing him to lug his fight sticks across town. Getting better at the game is still in the hands of your personal interaction with the community, but Street Fighter X Tekken sets the player on the right course to get there.
As a package, Street Fighter X Tekken filters its single player system through a couple neat modes. Aside from the already mentioned Challenge modes, Arcade mode serves to deliver a brief narrative affixed to your chosen couple. Dialogue fixed for specific rivals add a bit of flair, but each tale, as one might expect, is appropriately glib. There's no reasonable way to write a story about Street Fighter X Tekken and take it seriously, so I applaud Capcom for not wasting too many resources fueling one.
Versus mode is probably where most everyone will spend the bulk of their time. As of this writing (five days post-release) scattered reports are popping up of sketchy net code and some rather unpleasant sound issues, but given Capcom's penchant for proper patches I'd be shocked if it wasn't ironed out. In the matches I took part in I didn't experience much (if any lag), although it was hard to tell if it affected my experience given my complete inability to beat anyone. I actually had a lot of fun with Scramble, a side mode that chucks out the normal rules and lets four players fight simultaneously. There's no way Scramble (or gems for that matter) will make it into sanctioned tournaments, but as a new player a wacky diversion like that was appreciated.
It doesn't hurt that Street Fighter X Tekken's vibrant look is constantly pretty. Street Fighter IV's art style dominates the aesthetic; however each and every Tekken character was instantly recognizable. I can't speak to Capcom's side of influence, but the Tekken half didn't exclusively draw from the most recent iteration, but rather a variety of entries from the past decade. Furthermore each stage seemed to feature insane set pieces like a tyrannosaurs exhibit or a massive hovercraft bay that also happens to be trying to trap a wooly mammoth. On top of that each stage is absolutely loaded with cameos, including what I believe to be the only Kunimitsu sighting in the last fifteen years. Most importantly Street Fighter X Tekken, at least when played offline, wasn't prone to any crippling frame drops or graphical issues.