Namco or Capcom? Tekken or Street Fighter? Kazuya or Ryu? Question no further ladies and gentlemen, we now have definitive answers. The greatest characters from both the Namco fighting classic and Capcom’s fighting empire clash for our entertainment in one of the most solid tag style fighters consoles have ever seen.

Now, to answer everyone’s first question, does the game use Street Fighter‘s 2-D engine or Tekken‘s 3-D engine? Street Fighter won this one. Though you might think this would handicap the Namco fighters, the combat system was well thought out to give them the best of both worlds. Tekken combatants retain the ability to sidestep or slide forward into certain attacks. For instance, King has a forward slide-step that is not only be used to avoid some attacks and projectiles, but can also be the starting point for combos or special attacks. Tekken characters also come equipped with many of their standard combo attacks, like Jin or Kazuya’s five hit combos. By comparison, I feel like the Street Fighter team has been slighted. I guess in the interest of balance, the SF cast lacks anything to truly set them apart. Both sides have Super Combos, Special Attacks and the like, but SF’s characters have been stripped of Alpha Counters (introduced in the Street Fighter Alpha series), the parry system (from Street Fighter 3), or the latest Focus Attacks from SF 4. To casual or moderate gamers, this is of little consequence, but to the frame counters or the SF fanatic (like me), it hurts. Outside of that, the gameplay is solid.

Unlike Marvel vs Capcom 3, one downed fighter equals a loss for the round, even though the fighters have their own life bars. This creates a greater sense of urgency when it comes to character switching. Super Combos are executed by either charging a character-specific attack (i.e. Ryu’s Hadoken charged will first become the fire Hadoken, then the Shinku Hadoken) or charging the Super Combo meter through attacks and taking damage. The meter also allows for various tag maneuvers ranging from the ability to switch characters mid combo to a Tag Super Combo, which is a heavily damaging and a beautiful way to dispatch an opponent.

Two of the biggest changes either universe has ever seen in battle are the new gem system and Pandora mode. The gem system allows you to take either preset or custom gem sets into battle for a little extra kick. Heavy attacker? Equip gem sets that raise your attack power. More of a defender? Tweak your gems accordingly to make yourself as tough as Zangief’s iron body. Before you can use these gems, however, you must complete the prerequisites needed to activate them. To raise your attack, you may have to successfully land anywhere from 5 to 15 normal attacks depending on the strength of the gem. To be honest, this is not a feature I use often, but when I do get into it, the gems definitely help add even more depth to the game. When you find yourself on the wrong side of a beating and you have 25% health or less, you can activate Pandora mode. Activation will sacrifice your teammate in order to boost attack power, set your combo gauge to infinite, and steal twice your partner’s remaining health. What you become is a near invincible fighting machine with a killer new look—and a time limit. If you cannot KO your opponent by the time the Pandora mode ends, you will automatically lose by time over. With great power comes great responsibility as they say.

Your traditional game modes are all present. Arcade mode gives you the story of how the worlds united and their goals leading up to the final boss fight. Versus gives you the chance to kick and punch your friends until your heart’s content and allows for 2 on 2 matches, for those who just cannot wait to get on the sticks. Network mode allows you to fight against anyone from one corner of the world to the other, as well as seeing online rankings and viewing replays of other epic battles. Training mode lets you freely pummel the CPU until you are accustomed to the controls, while the Challenge mode’s tutorial will walk you through the finer points of gameplay step by step. Challenge mode also offers Trial mode, which tests your ability to perform various attacks and combos of increasing difficulty with your favorite fighters. Mission mode gives you a battle situation, be it defeating the four kings of Street Fighter or winning via perfect. You must accomplish the goal, unless you are me and you lose until you have had enough. All and all, as with any fighting game, as long as you are willing to up the difficulty or not beat your friends too badly, there will always be something to do with this one.

The graphics are my favorite part of the game. Everything from character models to backgrounds and menus are done with a stylized look similar to that of SF 4. The graffiti of the Half Pipe stage is vibrant, the chaos of the final Pandora stage makes you feel like you can be engulfed in it mid battle, and the Mad Gear Hideout is full of general hilariousness (which is now a word if it was not before). Every punch, kick, fireball, devil wing and wicked smirk is beautifully animated, making the already epic battles much more amazing. Add in the ability to customize colors and even download additional attire for your fighters, and you are provided with an ever changing visual landscape.

The sound is equally satisfying. A mix of remixed Tekken and Street Fighter tracks are sprinkled in with new guitar riffing rock instrumentals; very fitting to each stage. Added bonus, you can customize the character vocals between English or Japanese voice acting. If you are anything like me, you set Ken to English and Ryu to Japanese just because it is an option. Even the sound effects of the menu screen being separated by the X when starting a battle is fitting with the vibe of the game.

Though I love this game and it will have a long standing place in my collection, I have to say the handling of characters is the only thing that truly sullies its good name. Any fans of Blanka, Guy, Cody, Sakura, Elena, Dudley, Lars, Alisa, JACK-X, Bryan Fury, Christie, or Lei will have to shell out another $20 to have them join the fray. The biggest insult is they display these characters in the fighter select screen, whether you purchased them or not, constantly reminding you of what you do not have. That is just not nice. Also, apologies to the 360 crowd, but Cole, Mega Man, Pac Man and of course, the Japanese Sony mascots TORO and KURO are only available on PS3. Now, I fully understand economics and I know it is about the money, but whatever happened to “beat the game with XX to unlock XX”? Guess I am really getting old.

All and all, we have a solid fighter on our hands here and with this, Tekken Tag 2, Marvel vs Capcom 3 and Dead or Alive 5, the fighter genre is looking very strong. I am glad these two fighting giants could set their differences aside to give us this gem and I certainly look forward to more collaborative efforts. A solid 8.75.

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