Tekken. It’s arguably the greatest 3D fighting game series ever conceived. After years of fame and popularity in the arcades and on the Playstation, the franchise was finally ready to make that big leap onto the PS2 in hopes of maintaining its iron grip on the fighting genre. After the incredibly successful debut of Tekken Tag Tournament on the new console, the future of Tekken looked pretty bright…until the previews for Tekken 4 started showing up. As the main series took its first steps onto a new console, it was evident that drastic changes were made to what die-hard fans considered fundamental aspects of their favorite game. In retrospect, Tekken 4 isn’t nearly as bad as its naysayers would have led gamers to believe, but it’s far from the best that the Tekken series has to offer.
Kazuya Mishima is back, and he’s pissed. At the end of the tournament in the previous game, Heihachi (Kazuya’s maniacal father/ Tekken’s main antagonist) threw him into a volcano and left him for dead. Big mistake, gramps! Flash forward twenty years, and it turns out that Kazuya’s charred remains were discovered and revitalized, allowing him to fight yet again. Who could have seen that overly cliched plot twist coming? But for this warrior, there’s only one thing on his newly rehabilitated mind: tearing Heihachi limb from geriatric limb. Despite two decades’ worth of events and plot development, the old villain still hasn’t changed a bit. Knowing of his son’s intent to murder him, Heihachi falls back on his usual strategy: sponsoring yet another King of the Iron Fist Tournament to lure Kazuya out into the open and using him for his own devious schemes. However, the fourth tournament hasn’t just drawn out the hero, but a huge roster of fighters as well; since the prize for winning the tournament is Heihachi’s company, this tournament will prove to be one of toughest ever seen.
You’ll be granted access to a wide variety of warriors, ranging from Christie’s smooth dancing moves, Hwoarang’s insane kick combos, Steve’s finely-tuned boxing maneuvers, and a dozen other fighters with unique combat styles. Luckily for you, mastering these various martial arts doesn’t require nearly as much effort as it does in the real world. All you’ve really got to do is press the right button and watch the mayhem. It’s this emphasis on button commands that defines the Tekken series; you can time your moves to perform a myriad of punches, kicks, and combos. At first glance, the gameplay seems horribly dull; many of the characters’ basic attacks only offer a light punch or a kick. What first-time Tekken players may not realize is that the seemingly slow-paced moves are implemented to allow just enough time to choose and input the button commands for your next attack. A small punch can lead into a harder punch, then a kick, a throw, an uppercut, and countless other potential combinations. Once you’ve gotten a feel of how the controls and combos link together, you’ll find that the game’s pace picks up considerably.
At least, that’s how it’s supposed to be.
Tekken 4 may have the awesome controls and responsiveness down, but comes off as a bit lacking compared to Tekken Tag Tournament and the other previous games in the series. The heart of the problem lies with the game’s levels. For this installment, Namco decided to throw out the infinitely sized areas of the older games and replace them with enclosed three-dimensional stages, complete with solid walls and breakable obstacles. Instead of perfecting your offensive and defensive skills against the computer, you can just beat your opponent into a wall and keep mashing buttons until you’ve utterly decimated their health bar and juggled them to death. The characters are also given far more agility and evasive maneuvers than their predecessors, allowing them to use the environment to their advantage. Implementing limited arenas may have seemed like a revolutionary idea for the Tekken series, but it hampers the quality of the gameplay.
The game tries to make up for its shortcomings by presenting gamers with a slew of unlockables and alternative gameplay modes. All of the characters have their own intro and ending, which can be unlocked and viewed via the game’s Theater Mode. Should you get tired of immersing yourself in Tekken’s plot, the game boasts Arcade, Time Attack, Team Battle, and Practice Modes to contend with. There’s also a Training Mode that challenges you to perform certain combos in the least amount of time as possible, but its fairly easy difficulty makes it go stale after a while. The only thing remotely interesting is Tekken Force, a small mini-game that pits your character against wave after wave of Heihachi’s inept underlings. Instead of using the usual one-on-one fighting game setup, this mode allows your character to ravage multiple foes at once like a beat’em up game. This could have been Tekken 4’s best feature, but its ever-rotating camera angles and utter lack of difficulty make it a chore to complete.
They didn’t get everything wrong, however. Even though Namco stunted the gameplay a bit, they pushed the envelope when it comes to the game’s presentation. From the very start, you’ll be greeted with an awesome CG-styled intro depicting Kazuya’s transformation from mere warrior into the quintessential badass he is today. Several of the endings are just as detailed, including the revealing of Jin’s latent powers, Hwoarang’s continued obsession with beating him, and Steve’s discovery of his heritage. You’ll get to see faces filled with emotions, be it anger, surprise, pain, or anything in between. The in-game characters don’t look quite as refined, but they are still fleshed out with the proper proportions and smooth animations. Though the level designs cheapen the fighting somewhat, they are incredibly detailed and realistic, right down to handicap parking signs and rippling water. You’ll be able to slosh through a fountain at the local mall, see innocent bystanders cheering you on from behind the windows downtown, crush your enemies through telephone booths in front of a movie theater, smash them into concrete pillars in the parking garage, and visit plenty of other wonderfully detailed locales.
Tekken 4 isn’t necessarily bad. It’s got nearly twenty characters with various playing styles for you to choose from. It delivers the multitude of extras we’ve come to expect with the Tekken series, and it’s got some of the best graphics to date. It should have everything you could possibly want from 3D fighter. The problem lies with the execution; in their process to develop the Tekken series further, they sacrificed the gameplay in the process. The need for strategy, technical handling, and overall expertise with a character has been but on the backburner in favor of interactive environments and limited space to fight. But hey, you get to fight Heihachi while he’s wearing a form-fitting diaper. That’s got to count for something.
Seven out of ten