Capcom delights in updating each Street Fighter at least three times before hunkering down to create a new version. Diehard fans rationalize the updates, touting new special moves and under-the-hood improvements. The rest of us shake our heads and hold out for the inevitable next version, or open our wallets and migrate with the rest of the herd. Street Fighter X Tekken [$2.99] marks the third Street Fighter to land on mobile devices, but unlike the previous and most excellent second release, Street Fighter IV Volt [$4.99], this one's not so easy to recommend.
Like the flagship console version, SFxT for iphone is a two-on-two fighter. Each player chooses two warriors and lays waste to other tag teams using a flurry of combos, special moves, and tag-team attacks. The roster is one of SFxT's weak spots. Volt currently offers a staggering 22 fighters from which to choose. SFxT includes 10, leaving fans of either series with a mere five familiar faces and an anorexic roster. To be fair, Capcom added to Volt's roster over time and they'll likely do the same thing for this game. Or, more likely, you'll have yet another release to add to the army of Street Fighter icons littering your Home screen.
As in previous mobile iterations, SFxT players duke it out using a simplified interface: One punch, one kick, an X button to swap fighters, and a Special button for special moves like fireballs. The streamlined interface benefits both the novice and the pro player looking for on-the-go action away from his fight stick. Novices can tap buttons arbitrarily to string together moves, while veterans can still outperform button mashers by relying on precise execution to pull out longer, flashier combos, or disable simple moves and input specials using the tried-and-true mix of joystick movements and button presses.
Besides tag-team play, SFxT throws a few more elements into the mix. After choosing their team, players choose a Pandora's Box, a powerful but temporary upgrade that sacrifices their partner and a compelling risk-reward mechanic for desperate situations. Gems, another new addition, are awarded in a random roulette-style game triggered when players perform a tag move. Depending on where the wheel stops, you might receive a boost to an in-game stat such as attack, or nothing at all. You're not punished for missing out on a power-up, so the off-chance of netting one is a good way to reinforce using tag attacks, maneuvers that experienced players will want to weave into their strategies.
Technically, the game makes a few minor improvements. Animations are as fluid as ever, characters boast significant detail and crispness. Unlike Street Fighter IV Volt's frozen-in-time environments, all SFxT backgrounds are animated, injecting some liveliness into fights and taking mobile games one step closer to providing a full-on console experience.
SFxT deviates from Volt in other, less fortunate ways. In Volt, players can enter ranked or unranked Wi-Fi matches. SFxT features only ranked and Bluetooth battles, forcing players to put their win-loss record on the line if they want to challenge opponents outside their living rooms. Crippling lag lowers ranked mode's stock even further, as matches outside your home country are often unplayable. More significantly, partaking in ranked battles requires credits. If you want to throw down online, you must either wait for the timer in the upper corner of your screen to expire and grant you a single credit, or buy gold as an in-app purchase and put it toward more credits.
SFxT's most egregious in-app purchase might be a deal breaker for hardcore fighting fans: At any time, players can buy gold and use it to upgrade their Pandora's Box. Honest players can swear off the store and earn points toward upgrades by playing the game, but inevitably they'll run up against players who dropped a Ben Franklin on upgrades. Pay-to-win upgrades don't break the game; skilled players can and usually will come out on top. But their mere existence does tip the balance away from Street Fighter's traditional reliance on skill (and spamming fireballs).
There's no denying that SFxT is a fun game. Like its predecessors, it runs smooth as butter, features a fighting system responsive and robust enough to nearly emulate playing on a stick, and it's a helluva lotta fun to look at. But Capcom's nickel-and-dime multiplayer decisions and the paper-thin roster make it an appetizer to Street Fighter IV Volt's seven-course feast.
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