Taking time to play through all of these old fighting games has been a major nostalgia trip. My early teenage years were filled with afternoons at the arcade in front of Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat machines. But for every fighting game I played as a teenager, there were a few that for a number of reasons, I never bothered with. I remember one weekend in particular when my local arcade received a new cabinet. It was another two-player brawler by the name of Virtua Fighter. Released by SEGA in 1993, Virtua Fighter was similar to other fighting games at first glance. Two players go head-to-head in a martial arts contest, complete with unique characters, stages, and a plethora of special moves. But what made this game different than all the others, was the fact that it was presented in 3D. I remember the buzz that Virtua Fighter generated in the arcade. People were lining up to play it. In fact, it received so much attention that the arcade owner thought he could make a little extra money by charging seventy-five cents instead of the regular fifty for a single game credit. While many patrons happily paid the price, I scoffed at the idea of paying an extra quarter and turned my attention to more familiar games.
To say that Virtua Fighter, with it’s fancy graphics, helped revitalize the fighting game genre is an understatement. In fact, I’d love to take the time to give Virtua Fighter a proper review. There’s just one problem, the majority of games from the Virtua Fighter series are pretty hard to come by. As a whole, the series has been largely abandoned by SEGA and most of the games have never been re-released for modern consoles. Thankfully, it wasn’t long after the release of the first Virtua Fighter game that the team behind its invention was hired by Namco where they made it their goal to create a nearly identical (but improved) game. This game is called Tekken. As I mentioned above, Tekken was originally released as an arcade game. But it was also ported to the Playstation where it really emerged as one of the system’s premier fighting games. The Playstation version of Tekken is a nearly perfect port of the arcade original, but with a slew of added features. This is the version of the game that I played and will be talking about for this review.
Like most fighting games, Tekken features a loose backstory. It begins with a man known as Heihachi Mishima. Obsessed with having an heir powerful enough to take over his corporation (which itself is a front for research into the occult), many years prior Heihachi pushed his son, Kazuya, off the edge of a cliff to test the child’s will to survive. Having survived the fall, but close to death, Kazuya made a pact with the devil; his soul in exchange for the strength to get revenge on his own father. Years later, after hearing rumors of his son’s survival, Heihachi puts together the King of the Iron Fist Tournament; a martial arts contest that promises to award fame and riches to whomever can defeat Heihachi in battle. The tournament itself is really nothing more than bait to lure Kazuya into the arena where he will either be defeated or emerge as a worthy successor.
Graphics aside, Tekken is unique from other fighting games in a couple of different ways. First and foremost, the control scheme. Most fighting games of the age have buttons that were mapped to different strength-based attacks. For example, light, medium, and hard punches. Usually, stronger attacks were slower, so depending on the situation, players would select an attack based on their current situation. Tekken, however, does things a bit differently. Instead of the standard approach, each limb of the fighter is given its own button. So, you have a button for the right fist, left fist, right foot, and left foot. At first glance, this scheme doesn’t really make much sense. But the idea behind it is that players will now be able to figure out how to execute special moves in a logical manner, instead of having to rely on memorizing a series of senseless button-mashes. It ends up feeling rather revolutionary. What I mean by this is, let’s say you’re doing battle against an opponent who performs a powerful downward-jump kick. It stands to reason that you might be able to replicate the move by jumping towards your opponent, then pressing down and either right or left kick. Simple, but groundbreaking.
Another aspect that makes Tekken a bit different comes in the form of its character roster. Well, at least that’s the case with the PS1 version of the game. You see, both the original arcade release and the PS1 port start off with the same basic roster of playable characters. As usual, each character has their own unique backstory. But unlike other fighting games at the time, each character also has their own unique “sub-boss” that they will eventually encounter as they progress in the tournament. When playing the PS1 port, defeating a sub-boss will unlock that character and add them to the playable roster. This makes conquering the game with all of the characters much more desirable and adds to the replay value of the game itself. The game roster in Tekken is as follows:
Kazuya – The main character. Son of Heihachi. Kazuya possesses a preternatural power. His only goal is fight his way through the tournament so that he can defeat his father and claim his birthright so that he can use his newly found wealth to take over the world.
Jack – Jack is a Russian-built android. He was designed solely to infiltrate the tournament to prevent Kazuya’s attempts at world domination.
King – A mask-wearing luchador wrestler. King is a benevolent character who wants to win the tournament so that he can spend the winnings on building an orphanage.
Yoshimitsu – A mysterious masked ninja. Yoshimitsu is the leader of a secretive ninja clan.
Law – A Chinese-American kung-fu adept who inspires to open his own dojo.
Michelle – Half Chinese, half Native American. Michelle’s father was murdered by Heihachi. She has entered the tournament to avenge his death.
Nina – An Irish assassin. Nina has been hired to kill Heihachi by defeating him in the tournament.
Paul – An American brawler. Paul is the only fighter who has a history battling against Kazuya. Always seeking to improve his skill, Paul has joined the tournament in hopes of finding worthy opponents.
Wang – Kazuya’s sub-boss. Wang is an aged martial artist and was a close friend of Kazuya’s grandfather. He doesn’t approve of Heihachi’s abuse of power and seeks to put an end to his evil ways.
Prototype Jack – Jack’s sub-boss. An earlier version of the Jack android. Prototype Jack was obtained by Heihachi and entered into the tournament roster to shake things up.
Armor King – King’s sub-boss. Armor King is King’s old wrestling rival. He has joined the tournament for the sole purpose of defeating and humiliating King.
Ganryu – Yoshimitsu’s sub-boss. Ganryu is a disgraced sumo wrestler. He has joined the tournament in attempt to recapture some of his lost glory.
Lee – Law’s sub-boss. Lee is Heihachi’s adopted son. Originally intended to be the prime rival for Kazuya, Lee meets his fate once he is pitted against Law.
Kunimitsu – Michelle’s sub-boss. Kunimitsu is a former member of Yoshimitsu’s ninja clan. She’s an infamous thief who has joined the tournament in hope of obtaining great wealth.
Anna – Nina’s sub-boss. Anna is Nina’s little sister. Also trained as an assassin, Anna resents her upbringing and hopes to defeat her sister in combat as a way of getting back at her father.
Kuma – Paul’s sub-boss. Kuma is a bear. Yes. An actual bear! Raised from a cub by Heihachi, Kuma has been trained as a lethal attack-bear and entered into the tournament to destroy anyone in his path.
Heihachi – The final opponent in the tournament. Players who can complete arcade mode within five minutes and thirty seconds without continuing, will unlock Heihachi as a playable character.
Finally, there’s also a super-secret character for players to discover. When the game initially starts up, there’s a playable version of the Namco classic, Galaga that appears on the loading screen. Players that can manage to achieve a perfect game in Galaga will also unlock an alternate “Devil” form of Kazuya for the roster. The PS1 version of the game features local multiplayer.
While the basic formula is the same, I personally found Tekken to be a nice change of pace. The 3D camera work was impressive for its day and age and the fighting system is both intuitive yet complex. I’m sure that some players will find frustration with having to unlock a large number of playable characters. But to me, that’s actually part of the attraction. I know the main purpose of fighting games is to enjoy the competition between players. But when playing on a console, you’ll also be spending a lot of time playing alone. Having a number of characters locked from the start, actually provides motivation for the players to progress and experience the gameplay with a variety of fighters. This is a great way to subtly force players to improve.
For me, Tekken proved to be an interesting change of pace in a crowded genre of games. Despite being innovative for its time, it still feels a little rough around the edges. This was a game that I had very little experience with before starting my playthrough for this review. This means I went into it with a largely clean slate. It took me a little time to get acclimated to the look and feel of this game. But in the end, I was largely impressed and I’m eager to see what the next installment holds.
Version Reviewed: PS
Difficulty: Hard – This game offers quite a challenge for even experienced fans of arcade fighting games. The home console port does include the ability to set a difficulty level. But in reality, I’ve found that this only seems to affect the first few battles. After that, the difficulty tends to curve upwards pretty drastically. The final battle seems just as difficult on Easy as it does on the hardest setting. Finally, when playing against another opponent, the challenge will vary depending on the skill of the other player.
Story: The storyline for Tekken is an interesting twist on the usual “tournament” set up. It essentially places Kazuya as the only character of real importance. As usual, each character has their own backstory and motivation for fighting. But, I certainly find Kazuya much more interesting due to his role in game’s main storyline. Regardless, the lore for the game is extremely well done.
Originality: In terms of pure originality, Tekken doesn’t offer anything new. It’s very much a copy of Virtua Fighter, with a number of quality of life improvements. That being said, it does break ground in terms of its single player experience.
Soundtrack: Tekken boasts an impressive CD quality soundtrack. Each battlefield has its own specific theme and nearly every one of them are fitting and well-produced. The tempo of the tracks are perfect for this type of game. The sound effects and character voicing do become repetitive at times. But honestly, that’s a common complaint for games of this type.
Fun: Like most fighting games, Tekken is best played with others. But when it comes to playing alone, Tekken is actually a cut above the competition. I personally found quite a bit of motivation in unlocking all of the optional fighters. Plus, the exercise of doing so actually made me a better player in the end.
Graphics: This game is an early example of 3D polygon graphics – and it shows. By today’s standards, Tekken’s 3D graphics looks very blocky and dated, but at the time of its release it was top of the line. Oddly enough, the 3D presentation is done on top of flat 2D backgrounds. The combination makes for a rather odd looking game at times.
Playcontrol: This is probably my biggest gripe. But it’s odd, I can’t quite put my finger on the problem. The controls feel tight and accurate and the action is not really stiff or clunky. But something about it just feels slightly “off”. If I had to put a label on it, I guess I’d have to say the the playcontrol for this game is “soupy”. It feels slightly laggy, but still precise in the end. It’s a very weird feeling and it certainly takes some getting used to.
Downloadable Content: No.
Mature Content: Fighting violence.
Value: This is game is currently available on PSN for the low price of $6.00. For this price, it is well worth the money. However you’ll need either a PS3 or PSP to play it.
Overall score (1-100): 80 – Tekken is an impressive debut into the growing class of arcade fighters. While innovative in a number of ways, it’s not without its issues. But in the end, it’s a solid game that’s more than worth a look.
Original System: Arcade, PS
Available today on: Currently unavailable – (Updated as of Spring 2022)
Best Experience: PS3 (PSN) – (Updated as of Spring 2022)
Other Reviews In This Series:
Tekken Tag Tournament – Tekken Tag Tournament 2