Certain gamers understand ennui. An example would be fighting game fans, particularly those who love Capcom, in these months following Marvel Vs Capcom 3 and Super Street Fighter IV Arcade Edition. The first was a gorgeous, sparkly nothing, and the second was the point of diminishing returns for the peerless SFIV. So when the Street Fighter X Tekken logo comes up, it almost takes a heave to put your hands on the fightstick. Come on: another one?
The fight starts and, like a flaming Dragon Punch to the chin, Street Fighter X Tekken hits with amazing force: forget about faffing around with Spider-Man. It looks like SFIV, and in many cases characters are using moves from SFIV, but this has moved very far from SFIV – and it doesn't merely feel different, but fresh. Street Fighter X Tekken is faster, much more combo-oriented, incredible looking and - most importantly of all - a fighter that brawls just as well as it dances.
Each fight is between teams of two characters - and when one of the characters is KO'd, the round is over. Switching is done by pressing both medium attack buttons, but this 'normal' tag is slow and leaves the exiting and entering character vulnerable for a split second. Much safer and quicker is a tag out while your opponent's prone body is flying through the air. For such a purpose, there are launchers.
Sorry, did I say launcher? I meant CROSS RUSH ATTACK. These glorious moves boot your opponent in an upwards arc and switch characters automatically (you can also EX-tag in just when the blow lands for a quicker continuation), setting up a juggle opportunity that even a blind donkey could hit. And so verily, they shall eat a combo. The window is wide, but it's continuing the combo beyond one or two hits that's the real skill – there are already videos of pros hitting crazy double digits when using the CROSS RUSH ATTACK.
The combo system shares elements of Street Fighter Alpha and Tekken, though there's not quite a direct line from either. Moves can be chained together into the usual pre-set combos, but there are also moves that can break into these combos, counters, juggles, air juggles and of course tag combos. It's a fluid system with hundreds of possibilities, but everything comes from simple fundamentals: a four-hit combo that ends in a launcher, a launcher that automatically tags out and one super meter for everything.
This is the first of a projected two games (yeah, right), the other being developed by Namco in the Tekken style. But Capcom are doing Namco proud with Street Fighter X Tekken – the influence of Tekken is everywhere to see here, albeit reworked and reined in. The juggling combos and ground bounces are a central part of how this game works, quintessentially Tekken but tailored to fit. Many of the Tekken characters have one animation to begin multiple possible moves, the fake-outs that break through a stubborn guard. This 2D fighter does such a great job capturing its 3D rival's DNA that you can only marvel.
Ryu's the first character to try out, of course, and perhaps the wrong choice: his main move set's nigh-identical to SFIV, but the new attacks slot into Street Fighter X Tekken's overall system seamlessly. His main 'new' move is a walloping donkey kick last seen in Street Fighter III – but here, it's one of the few moves that results in a wall bounce. Because what Ryu really needed was another way to set up his Ultra, amirite? I'll get me gi.
Ryu's CROSS RUSH ATTACK is a simple uppercut, while he can also charge his fireball - at max charge, shooting out a free Super fireball. These two moves, bespoke for each character, are what replaces SFIV's focus attacks: the first sets up Street Fighter X Tekken's combos, the second goes through stages of charge with different effects. In all honesty the full Charge attack seemed to take far too long, at around four seconds, to be of much utility - but then, what if your opponent wasn't looking?
Cross Assault is Street Fighter X Tekken's boldest new mechanic, and it's simple enough: do a quarter-circle away and press both medium attacks with a full meter, and both of your fighters jump in and gang up on the opponent while the metre ticks away. You have direct control of one fighter, and the other's slightly greyed-out and backgrounded, but the transitions are very confusing - each time a move connects, your control switches to the other character.
I'm not going to lie: I was crap at this. It'll take a very quick brain, or excessive practice, to make the most of this system. In certain fights it was the fatal mistake, letting the lone fighter dragon punch through two fools rather than one. Yoshinori Ono has hinted we should expect 2vs2 online multiplayer, incidentally, so don't be surprised to see this get a dedicated mode. Or perhaps they'll save that for Super Street Fighter X Tekken Ultimate Arcade Edition.
We also had a go with Yoshimitsu, and all of his Tekken move set was present and correct, including the daft ones: poison breath, and the vintage face slapping move that, no kidding, has the official name 'Slap U Silly.' Harada must be great at texting. Yoshimitsu's suicide move, turning his back on an opponent before stabbing himself through the gut, was present and correct but - extremely odd, this - didn't deal him any damage.
Regardless, Yoshimitsu was the highlight of the day's play: he's just such a weird character, and unlike anything in the Street Fighter universe. He's a gimmick character - and probably the best gimmick character in fighting game history - and it's wonderful to see his full box of tricks intact and slotting so neatly into place.
Eighteen characters have been confirmed so far, and it's mainly the usual suspects. A surprise announcement of Poison was made last week, a fan favourite (mainly, it has to be said, because certain people enjoy obsessing over her gender.) It seems quite clear why she's held in such high regard: she's a sassy lady with a shock of pink hair, a riding crop, and the best win quote out of the whole roster: “I'm not just hotter than you, I also just kicked your ass.”
The full roster's easily googled, but it's worth mentioning that a Comic-Con trailer last week teased Cody, Guy, Hugo and Mike Haggar (please let it be true), though they're yet to be seen in-game. Oh, and if you're playing on a Sony console, you get charisma sink Cole MacGrath to play with! Bet he's good.
The most surprising aspect of Street Fighter X Tekken is how new it feels. There's an ordered chaos here that doesn't feel like anything from the competition: it's a fast and aggressive fighter with the meatiest sound effects this side of a butcher. There are constant flourishes. When a cross attack hits there's a sharp camera movement towards the blow and a freeze-frame at impact, complete with SFIV's ink trails on the aggressor's limb, which just as quickly snaps back out to the normal fighting view. The common-or-garden throws are now a feast of zoom-ins, pans and those delicious 3D character models as they're performed. This game looks like Street Fighter IV, but as you watch it moving that's less and less true. It looks better.
Tekken's a blood-and-thunder fighting game, where relentless pressure and combo strings mean a constant stream of blows either way. It would be grossly unfair to say it doesn't have subtleties, but it's not a subtle fighter. In Street Fighter X Tekken this offensive focus translates into a new combo system that breathes fresh life into Street Fighter's cast – freed to chain as many hits and do as much damage as possible, they're wrecking balls. The Focus Attack, brilliant as it is, wouldn't feel right here. Street Fighter X Tekken doesn't need it. The combat feels imaginative, it feels exciting, but most of all, and for the first time in a while, smacking Ken in the chops just feels damn amazing again.