Namco’s Tekken series looks set to become quite a ubiquitous property over the next 18 months or so, with multiple entries in the series in the pipeline for all major platforms. For starters, we’ve got the excellent-looking Tekken Tag Tournament 2 for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, the distant Tekken x Street Fighter, plus all-new outings for Nintendo Wii U and 3DS. Frankly, having been a fan since 1997, I can’t remember a time when fans had it this good. The focus right now, however, is Tekken Hybrid; a tidy little bundle featuring a meaty teaser of things to come, an absurd CG flick centering on a Japanese schoolgirl and her robot chum, and nice whiff of nostalgia to round it off. In other words, Tekken Tag 2 Prologue, Tekken: Blood Vengeance, and a HD revamp of PlayStation 2 launch effort, Tekken Tag Tournament.
Kicking things off with the latter, Tekken Tag features every character in the series up to and including Tekken 3 (hey, it is over a decade old, remember), though even by today’s standards it’s still a pretty substantial line-up. Here you can expect series staples such as Kazuya, Heihachi, Paul, Law and Xiaoyu, as well as forgotten combatants like Kunimitsu, Ogre and Unknown. Technically the game is quite a few steps back from the likes of Tekken 6, and harkens back to the days where bouncing your foe to perpetuate gravity-defying juggles was unheard of. Sure, giving your victim a battering in mid-air is still part and parcel of the equation, but you won’t be able to pull off those health-draining combos seen in later instalments.
This isn’t always a bad thing, as you’ll be turning to your attention more to your arsenal of bread-and-butter combos, specials and grapple techniques. Indeed, timing becomes just as instrumental in getting the upper hand on your opponent as it always did, though instead of timing juggles and ‘bouncing’ them for another round ala Tekken 6, you’ll be looking for an opening in your enemy’s attacks to land a clean blow. It’s satisfying and there’s still a fine degree of strategy involved as you mix up attacks, plus advanced fighters will still get a kick out of escaping throws or ‘chickening’ reversals. Of course, the Tag component really adds a new tactical dimension to the tired and tested Tekken paradigm, and it soon becomes apparent your partner is more than just a second health bar. You can tag in an out and any point, sure, but you can also spice things up by smacking your opponent skyward, tagging your partner in, and getting off a small juggle before they land. This also extends to throws too, with King and Armor King in particular possessing jaw-dropping tag grapples.
As such, the guts of the Tekken brand still works fine, though given the lack of evolution in gameplay things invariably feel a little limited compared to recent games. Characters possess fewer moves and techniques, and veteran players may find themselves having to reacquaint themselves with their character’s trimmed repertoire. This has its advantages, as I personally found myself adopting some of my fighter’s more forgotten moves to compensate for the lack of Tekken 6’s offerings. One area that Tag is conspicuously lacking in – and may be difficult for newcomers to accept – is the lack of interactive stages. Yep, there’s no mashing your opponent up against a wall here or stomping them through the floor; instead, stages seemingly rotate on an ‘infinite’ playing field ala the PSOne days, resulting in you feeling quite detached from your surroundings.
Of course, Tekken Tag isn’t just limited to you taking on the computer, although it has to be said the varying difficulty levels result in a decent enough challenge. But nope, multiplayer is what keeps series’ heart beating, and Tag is chock full of modes to tuck into. Aside from your bog standard Versus mode, you can also take part in Team Battle and the fan-favourite Tekken Bowl. The latter is just as it sounds: a bowling game with Tekken characters. You pick a fighter, line up your shot, select the amount of force you are going to put behind the throw, and lob the bowling ball down the alley. It’s simple in execution, but oh-so addictive and a blast with two players. It’s just a crying shame, however, that Namco didn’t see fit to implement any form of online play — a missed opportunity if ever there was one.
Meanwhile, single-players can also tackle Survival Mode, which has you getting into a ruck with an endless stream of opponents until you finally run out of steam. There’s also Theatre Mode, allowing you listen to the game’s soundtrack and check out some of the in-game ending sequences (which admittedly, are poor compared to the sumptuous FMVs we’re used to). Visually the HD paintjob has spruced things up nice enough, with characters in particular sharp and clean. However, while the locations of the fighting arenas are certainly varied and vibrant, there’s not an awful lot going on in them, and come off as pretty static bar the odd spectator flaying their arms about. Bottom line though, if you want a decent slice of ‘classic’ Tekken, then Tag definitely does the business.
Of course, the most attractive component of this package is the playable demo Tekken Tag 2, dubbed Prologue. Four characters are available, namely Ling Xiaoyu, Alissa, Devil Jin and Devil Kazuya, as well as a handful of stages. The tag mechanic is back, obviously, but this time it has been expanded beyond the original game’s functions. The biggest tweak is that you can now attack your opponent simultaneously with your partner in a special combo assault, leading to your victim taking quite a pasting. Mechanically the game is based on Tekken 6, so you’re able to ‘bounce’ your opponent off the ground to extend juggles, and while wall stages are back in the main game, I can’t say they played much significance in the demo.
The demo is woefully short, and I blasted through it in about 15 minutes, although you could attribute that to the fact I just so happened to be well accustomed to both Jin and Kazuya. Nonetheless, a couple more characters and some more stages – preferably of the multi-layered variety – would have been welcome. Regardless, from my time with the demo, I can state unequivocally that Tekken Tag 2 is shaping up to be a fine addition to the franchise. Visually it’s certainly no slouch either, with lush effects populating each stage as you batter your opponents, from the realistic undulating of water around your character’s feet to glare of the sun setting. Characters look ace too, sporting rippling muscles and fluid animation. Pleasingly, there are also Trophies to be unlocked too, which is rare for a demo.
As for Blood Vengeance, well, those of you who are familiar with Tekken’s increasingly convoluted, borderline absurd plotline should have an idea of what to expect. All the usual eccentricities are here, from benevolent, pet Pandas to pink-haired, flying robot chicks. It’s a bit hit and miss, with the narrative being the usual load of Tekken rubbish, but it’s one of those guilty pleasures you can’t help but feel compelled to see through. The fights are pretty nicely done though, and stylishly aligned with what you’d expect from recent Tekken games.
Overall, Tekken Hybrid is a worthy addition to any beat-‘em-up fans collection, though it’s more of an attraction purchase for hardcore fans. The price may irk some, since the only full game is an 11-year-old port, but the fact remains it’s still just as much of a competent fighter as it was back on PS2. The movie is definitely one for Tekkenites, and Tekken Tag 2 Prologue proves a compelling tease of what’s shaping up to be a must-have fighter, even if it could have benefited from one or two extra stages/characters. If anything, this is a great stop gap before the big hitters start rolling out.