Oh, Tekken. How I love thee! Whilst others may pledge their allegiance to Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat or Dead Or Alive, I stick to you like… something… sticky? Wait, that’s gross. (Shut up, it’s a hot day and my brain has shut down already.) What I mean is: whilst others may boast superior story modes (Mortal Kombat 9), or better graphics (Dead or Alive 5), or deeper fighting mechanics (Virtua Fighter 5), or the wondrous power of the Capcom money train (Street Fighter, a series that I just can’t get into no matter how hard I try), I will forever be yours and you will forever be mine.
My love affair with you began way back on the PS1 when Tekken 3 first stormed onto the scene. It was on the bundled demo disc – side note: remember demo discs, the extremely useful little buggers – and I played the Ling Xiaoyu/Eddy Gordo demo constantly. Eventually, I managed to borrow a copy of the actual game from a friend of mine and it became a regular staple of my PlayStation. I spent hours mastering characters, unlocking end movies of the strange serious and hilarious nature, hunting for your many secret modes, grinding to unlock Gon… I was in love. Everything about it appealed to me. The game looked great, there were a tonne of modes for hours of replayability, the AI was always one step ahead of me meaning that I could never become too good and cause the game to stop being fun, it awoke a love of martial-arts cinema that I didn’t know I had…
I was never a fan of Soul Blade, Namco’s other PS1 fighter (which eventually morphed into the critically-preferred Soul Calibur series). Yeah, it was pretty, but I never liked its combat, which I found stiff and too complex, with the game’s initial difficulty – that, according to my extremely hazy memory, was akin to trying to knock down a mountain by headbutting it repeatedly – turned me off the series totally. Tekken, though, was devastatingly simple to pick up, especially with characters like Eddy and Hwoarang (who was my go-to character of choice once I mastered him and people wanted to play against me). Anyone could jump into a game and at least have a shot at winning a round, it was that accessible. But the system was also far more intricate than it let on and dedicated players soon went from randomly mashing buttons to having four or five go-to combos to eventually learning the very subtle intricacies of Eddy’s various capoeira stances, the kind of differences that separated a Tekken newbie from a Tekken lord.
Years passed but my devotion stayed strong as you went from a fun tag spin-off that inadvertently served to catch me up on your series history so far and is likely best remembered for the throw-away bowling mini-game which was anything but (Tekken Tag Tournament), to a slightly awkward transition into the PS2-era that nevertheless was still a strong underrated entry in its own right (Tekken 4), to inarguably the best instalments in the series (Tekken 5 and its PSP update Dark Resurrection). All the way, I remained under your spell due to your continually rock-solid mechanics, your large variety of modes, your endless little secrets, and a tone that was serious when it needed to be (the Mishimas whose saga has no right to be this compelling) and full of wacky Japanese humour when it didn’t (a style of humour that I’m a fan of having grown up watching Takeshi’s Castle). Tekken was fun, the kind of fun that kept me playing long after I should have stopped caring.
Then, however, something changed. Tekken 6 dropped onto home consoles in 2009 but something felt… off. This one wasn’t grabbing me. I wasn’t as madly obsessed as I was with Tekken 5. Consequently, I started picking faults. The decision to cap Ghost Battle rankings at 1st Dan for each character unless you took them online was a stupid idea. Trying to find a match that didn’t lag to unplayable proportions, or just simply drop altogether, was like trying to find a brain cell in a Geordie Shore cast member. The lack of a traditional Arcade mode to progress through, instead replaced by a mini kind of “boss rush” only accessible through Scenario Campaign, made unlocking the various ending movies a lot more unfulfilling (and the quality of said endings was also lacking). Load times, even after the 5GB optional install (which you absolutely must take if you want to get through a fight before you reach 50), were inexcusably long.
And then there was Scenario Campaign. Oh, what a mess Scenario Campaign was. I mean, the concept was sound, bring back that old Streets of Rage style brawler but in 3D, but there is a reason why you don’t take fighting game characters and plonk them in a 3D scrapper whilst keeping the same control scheme for moves as you’d have in standard one-on-one gameplay. The camera was operated by a drunk Michael Bay, the targeting system seemed custom-designed to pick the wrong person at the worst time, your AI partner might as well have been a sack of potatoes because a sack of potatoes would have been useful, the story was way too self-serious to laugh with and placed far too much emphasis on the dullest character in Tekken history (newbie Lars Alexandersson), the difficulty was brutally unfair at many points and it looked like arse compared to the main game. Yeah, it lasted a while, so you couldn’t say that you weren’t getting your monies worth, but so does dying of herpes.
Don’t get me wrong, I still played the hell out of Tekken 6, but always with the thought in my brain that it could have been so much better. Other fighting games started to grab my attention. The deep and technical fighting of Virtua Fighter satisfied my craving for a fighting game with challenge. Mortal Kombat’s legitimately great story and gothic horror vibes gave me a fighter with a stronger personality. Dead or Alive 5’s initial (yes I did realise my mistake upon playing the damn thing) promise to tone down the ridiculous sexualisation made me no longer ashamed to be a fan of the fast-paced arcade brawler. You and I, Tekken, drifted apart. Other fighters were satisfying my needs and doing it better than your underwhelming current-gen entry.
Then, finally, I picked up Tekken Tag Tournament 2 last week and realised exactly what my fighting game life had been missing since I replaced you with various pale imitators: fun. From the opening movie onwards, the fun had been brought back to Tekken. Scrolling through the ridiculously comprehensive character list – short version: if they’ve been featured in a Tekken game at any point, they are playable here – the memories came flooding back and blazing through the Arcade Mode for the first time with Asuka Kazama (one of my two defaults) had a palpable sense of fun ricochet through my being. I was kicking arse in an arena designed around Snoop Dogg backed by a rap song he made specifically for this game! The tongue is most definitely in cheek, this time, and almost everything was designed with the goal of having fun. 75% of the ending videos are just plain crazy, money is practically dumped over you to encourage customising your fighters to death, stages are often the right kind of silly, Tag Throws carry often their own individual personalities…
On more technical levels, the game is challenging yet fairly balanced. I can tell when the AI is getting tougher, but I know that I can honestly blame myself if I lose because, at least 80% of the time, it’s my fault. I went to the well on that combo once too often, or I didn’t tag out fast enough, or I should have seen that combination coming, or I really shouldn’t have backed myself into that corner. And then there are the little touches. Characters having specific tag throws or reaction animations when paired with certain other characters, the return of even the most obscure characters who get their own ending videos and everything – and, in Violet and Combot’s case, their own Training cum Story campaign – or how, mild spoiler but who cares, Unknown really is a corrupted Jun Kazama (oh how I would love to have seen initial fan reaction to that reveal). The kind of little touches that, rather than supposedly making up for a crap fighter (oh hello again, Cartoon Network Punch Time Explosion XL), instead enhance a great fighter and make my years of being a devoted Tekken fan seem rewarded.
It was about the time I unlocked Hworang’s ending video – who of course challenges Jin Kazama to a motorcycle race and gets busted whilst Jin gets off scott-free because of course – that I realised why you, Tekken, still hold my heart after almost 15 years. Whereas other games focus on deep mechanics, high-quality story-telling with a side order of blood, guts and jump scares, and making me feel ashamed to be playing said game – I’m pretty sure that when you first boot up Dead Or Alive 5, you’re immediately added to the Sex Offenders Registry… You, Tekken, always focus on fun. Everything you do is in service of fun. Sometimes your attempts at fun don’t work out as intended (I’ll stop sh*tting on Scenario Campaign once you physically erase the memories of slogging through it from my brain), but that’s OK because most of them do! Even after all of these years, you are still the one arcade fighter I would happily take to my grave because you know what you want to be: you want to be fun. And you are fun. Stupidly, chaotically fun and a balanced, challenging, accessible yet deep fighter custom-designed to keep the fun running. “Fun” is something that is sorely lacking in current videogames and you, Tekken, thanks to Tekken Tag Tournament 2, have brought that fun back.
I haven’t taken it for a spin online, yet, but I’m looking forward to my first incredibly one-sided thrashing from somebody on the other side of the planet who eats, sleeps and breathes Tekken because I’m going to have fun whilst it happens. Thanks, Tekken. I do love you so.
In Actually Important News, This Week: Microsoft have once again reversed course and are now allowing indie developers to self-publish on the Xbox One. Now, admittedly, there are caveats and drawbacks (indies can only do so through Windows 8, which developers are not a fan of), but it’s the principle that counts and said principle is showing that MS are reversing course on policies almost as much as the current UK government.
Callum Petch made a meal and threw it up on Sunday.