- Ultra Street Fighter IV – 1979
- Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 – 1014
- Super Smash Bros. Melee – 970
- BlazBlue: Chronophantasma – 508
- Killer Instinct – 338
- King of Fighters XIII – 319
- Injustice: Gods Among Us – 311
- Tekken Tag Tournament 2 – 257
Above you is the line-up and player registration numbers for EVO 2014. With Capcom’s two big-name franchises headlining the world’s biggest and most prestigious fighting game tournament this weekend, you may have noticed their other ‘experiment’ has been omitted this year, swept under the rug like a dirty secret and probably never to be seen again at a major tournament. So, just what the hell happened to Street Fighter X Tekken?
I’ve always believed that in this genre at least, a game’s popularity in esports is always a good indicator of how well it’s doing in general. After all, that’s what fighting games are all about – competitive gaming at the highest level. Take Super Smash Bros. Melee for instance: a twelve-year old Gamecube game that still has a thriving and active community that allows it to remain relevant to this day. So it isn’t a very encouraging sign that just two years since its release, SFXT has been dropped from the ‘Super Bowl’ of its genre.
I own quite a lot of fighting games, so as an experiment, I decided to be an ‘online warrior’ for an evening to see how well these games were doing at 8pm peak time on Xbox Live. Obviously, the likes of Ultra SFIV and UMvC3 still have a lot of people playing them, with no end of challengers on ranked and endless lobbies being streamed to Twitch etc. I moved onto more obscure titles like Injustice, KOF XIII and Skullgirls, and even with these, I didn’t have to wait too long in-between matches to find opponents. So what about the retro scene? MvC2 and SF: Third Strike are decades old, and yet I was amazed that people were still playing them; five minutes or so was the longest I had to wait to find an opponent. Disturbingly, my experience of SFXT was quite the opposite. No endless battles, no scramble battle lobbies, no ranked battle opponents showing up. I had to wait a full twenty seven minutes before another solitary name finally popped up. In a one hour period, I found three different players online; it’s a virtual ghost town. The sad and simple truth is that people just aren’t playing this game anymore. But why?
On paper, Street Fighter X Tekken is a good fighting game. It’s made from the same engine as SF4 and has a fun and flashy tag team mechanic allowing for long and complicated juggles and combos. It also featured a gem system (more on this later) which gives boosts and assists designed to help out newer players, and lest we forget about the cast! Pitting Ryu against Kazuya, Zangief vs Jack and Akuma vs Devil Jin; these are mouth watering prospects fighting game fans could only dream about a decade ago, and now we actually have a game where you can finally do all this. Yet despite all this, SFXT has sold just 1.28 million copies. Not a terrible figure for a niche genre, especially when you consider that the likes of Tekken Tag 2 have sold around 1.1 and Injustice 2.4 million respectively, but nowhere near the almost-8 million that SFIV has sold. And therein lies one of the many problems that ultimately lead to its decline.
Love it or hate it, Street Fighter IV (and it’s many iterations) has been a huge success, single-handedly reviving an entire genre as well as helping the fighting game community and esport become what it is today. Marvel vs Capcom 3 offers a faster paced and flashier alternative to SFIV’s slower and more thoughtful approach, but SFXT falls somewhere in the middle of the two. At times, it feels like a wishy-washy noob-friendly version of the two, but who exactly is it trying to appeal to? It’s worth noting also that it came out just four months after UMvC3. Capcom then released an update to SFIV a few months after that. Unfortunately, SFXT’s waning popularity is due to more than just a case of identity crisis and bad timing.
The gem system I mentioned is an interesting prospect, and whilst I applaud Capcom for wanting to make their game easier for newcomers, it alienated hardcore players – the vast majority of people who play these kinds of games. What was the point in investing hours and hours trying to get good at the game when you could just equip gems that gave you increased damage, speed and armour? Why learn intricate and complicated combos when you can just press two buttons and have the game ‘quick combo’ for you? There is even a gem that auto-blocks for you! Auto-block!? You’re going to play a fighting game and let the CPU block for you!? It’s as if Capcom forgot who their real target audience was. Pretty much every organiser of every major tournament banned the use of gems outright, but Capcom stated that the game was built around them, and stressed that they are an integral part of the mechanics. Capcom even refused to include a gem-free mode, further alienating the fighting game community.
To add insult to injury, Capcom also introduced DLC gems with price tags, giving players who could afford to spend money even more of an advantage; as it turned out, most of the paid gems were more powerful than the given free ones. It was also later discovered that twelve hidden characters were included on the game’s disc, but fans had to pay to unlock them nine months later. This, alongside a series of launch issues such as laggy online play due to poor netcode, online sound issues, infinite combo bugs and game freezes seems to have put too many people off from playing SFXT.
It’s a shame, because if you put aside its issues, Street Fighter X Tekken at it’s core is a good fighting game with an utterly fantastic premise. But it seems a handful of shoddy business and gameplay decisions from Capcom means you can’t help but notice the lingering stench that comes from a bad reputation. Here’s hoping Namco’s Tekken X Street Fighter (of which we have heard worryingly little of) will give both these franchises the crossover they deserve.