We’re lucky enough to have two of the greats combine to form one excitingly portable package in Street Fighter X Tekken on PlayStation Vita. Coming eight months after the launch of the title onto home console (to great critical success) it brings with it a selection of extra fighters to go alongside the original roster (fifty-five in total with the addition of twelve compared to the PS3 - although you can obtain them as DLC for the PS3 version if you buy the Vita game), touchscreen additions to gameplay as an alternative to the otherwise forced use of a D-Pad (compared to the connoisseur's choice of a fight stick) and some extra modes and builds on the original and impressive - although polarising - game.
Received very well by the gaming press and early adopters it latterly became somewhat polarising, which is perhaps unsurprising given the disparate nature of the two individual game series. In tournament play it gets very little gametime if any and people tend to persist with the classical titles rather than this mix and match tag team proposition. One reason for this may well be that very early on those who dipped their toes in were hampered by poorly executed online netcode making the game often unplayable and therefore leading to frustrations for all concerned. Whilst this has improved, more time with the title has allowed folk to get to grips with its good and bad aspects and really work out where it bests or doesn’t best other similar fighters. The Pandora mode for example, whereby you can effectively commit hari kari in return for some extra power in the seconds before you die is effectively worthless; the Gems can unbalance a fight which is otherwise finely balanced by the creators in terms of tag team matchup and the lack of a game-defining ability that is loved (for example Street Fighter IV’s Ultra, or Street Fighter III’s parry) is a big disappointment. Let’s be clear though, this game is still great fun if hard to learn given the mixing of two very different styles thanks to the dual-licence but, having had the time with its big brother the fact we don’t have a portable Street Fighter IV here is tinged with sadness.
As hinted at then the game is still very worthwhile if taken on its own terms and in isolation. The PlayStation Vita is receiving quite a bit of fighter/brawler love in its short lifetime and this is a welcome addition, especially as the content on offer is significant for a beat ‘em up. We have the second largest selection of characters ever in a fighting game to choose from straight away, each with their own C-Movie arcade narrative. There’s a lot of fan wish-fulfillment with the various available characters from Street Fighterand Tekken and bringing them together in a tag team style ensures a different way of fighting needs to be learnt if you’re going to succeed. There’s a lot you can do with these fighters as well - customise their appearance, their gem load-out and everything as in the console version; earn titles and take part in tutorials, trials and practices. You can even use the PS Vita’s camera to augment reality and watch as Cammy (random choice of course) performs special moves of your liking in your living room. It’s all rather entertaining and a good diversion from the fighting itself.
You can take your fighters online ad-hoc and via matchmaking on PSN, both ranked and unranked. Matchmaking works behind the scenes but the quality of an online battle varied from fight to fight. If your wireless connection is solid, and that of your opponent’s is too, then the netcode seems to manage well enough such that the lag is non-existent. However in practice this was rare and most games tested showed some kind of slow-down which removes enjoyment from the game because it’s so difficult to cope with the sub-second hit windows and so on when you have any lag. This is reality though - whilst the netcode could have been better (e.g. that of Street Fighter III: Third Strike Online Edition as opposed to the same as its bigger brother here) it does work given a sturdy enough pair of wireless connections. Of course with a home console you can go wired which removes issues from one end at least but here that’s not possible. Another challenge folks may find when they go online is the lack of like-minded individuals. Quite often we were left hanging whilst an opponent was identified - the fact the Vita is a fairly nascent console along with the delay of this version of the game will have affected this.
The fighting itself is exactly as in the home console version so for simplicity’s sake head here to read all about that. Suffice it to say that if you come from Street Fighter you’ll find those guys easy to use and the Tekken characters very difficult at first. If coming from the other direction you’ll find the same but in reverse. Street Fighter relies on special moves and combos that are controlled by quarter circle turns and button presses. Tekken is all about quick combination button presses corresponding to the use of a discrete limb as opposed to the light, medium and heavy punches and kicks from its tag team partner here. It takes awhile to get used to the new half whichever way you come to it and then even longer to master it. The temptation is to go for a tag team all from one game and whilst this yields instant rewards on or offline, in the long-term you’ll be missing out on a higher level of quality performance. The real issue is more about transferring any understanding of gameplay and controls to the game via the Vita. The feel of the Vita is such that in long sessions it’s still very unlikely to cause significant aching due to its ergonomics, unlike other handhelds available. This has been seen as a great strength and even when using the D-Pad furiously in games such as Ultimate Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 there’s just not a problem, which is remarkable. Which is why it’s such an annoyance to find that with the requirements of this game you’re likely to find your hands hurting within minutes of playing if you’re not very very careful. The D-Pad is in the upper left-hand side of the Vita anyway which can make it hard to use regularly for some, but when combined with the need to use all face and shoulder buttons at all times - where you have a light, medium and heavy punch and kick button - it means your left hand is contorted such that it hurts. If you have the touchscreen controls activated you’re also trying not to touch the rear pad as well, making the left hand position even more unnatural. Fortunately for a beat ‘em up one single bout, or a best of three fight takes only a few seconds and this fits well with the ethos of portability and pick up and play mentalities, but when on a commute or long flight it seriously limits your session on this one title.
Up to six moves can be mapped to the touchscreen, front and rear. There’s no explanation of this anywhere in the tutorials as you might expect and this did lead to some trial and error early on whilst trying to work out how to execute these moves. The four on the front touchscreen are organised as if four quadrants are overlaid onto the screen, but curiously only the right hand side rather than the whole thing. Moves five and six are the left and right of the rear touchscreen which is fine when you want to make the move but if you don’t it’s infuriatingly easy to accidentally find yourself performing a move you really didn’t want to. It is possible to turn off the touch controls but then of course you limit the ease of performing certain moves given one press on the screen is far simpler than a complex series of inputs. It makes for an necessary but unfortunate control system.
So in truth the excellence of Street Fighter X Tekken has been dampened by the passage of time and the experience gained, as well as the needs of the portable modification and how they translate into a less than stellar holistic experience. The game is still full of fantastic fighting, with great variety on offer in terms of who you can play as, what you can do and who you can play against, along with multiple ways to control your chosen tag team. The depth is there is you want to put in the hours and there’s a lot to be gained, it’s just that in the presence of alternatives which both offer more immediacy and a less painful experience - as well as more of an online presence, combined with the fact this isn’t just Street Fighter, it’s hard to see this becoming the fighter of choice for fans or otherwise.