I think every gaming generation has a moment where it becomes “legitimate” in some form. Launch titles can sometimes be underwhelming, little more than tantalizing glances at what could be on the horizon. But then a batch of games come along that put their stamp on the generation as if to say “Oh yes, this is how things are going to be from now on, so get excited!”
Tekken is very much one of those games, even if, as we may find out as this feature ambles along, it perhaps does not retain the same lustre over two decades on from when it first put a studded glove straight into our solar plexus that first magical time.
Tekken first saw the light of day in the arcades way back in December 1994. An immediate hit with the arcade crowd, despite the heavy competition of the day, it seemed only natural that it would see a port to Sony’s new-fangled PlayStation thanks to it using the System 11 arcade board, which mirrored the PlayStation hardware very closely. It hit the PlayStation in March 1995 (the rest of the world would have to wait till November of the same year) and quickly received rave reviews.
Playing it today, it’s easy to see why this was the case. The game is still immensely playable, especially if you can grab some mates to play with you, with the combat relatively easy to pick up while still being difficult to master. Tekken differed from Street Fighter II and Virtua Fighter in that you had use of only four buttons that controlled each characters’ limbs independently. Thusly, one button controlled the right leg while the other controlled the left arm and so forth.
Each character also had the ability to perform two different throw moves, performed by pressing X + Square or Triangle + Circle, with more difficult combo moves that could be performed by the more skilled players. Blocking is a simple case of walking backwards, the best way to handle blocking in my personal opinion. Throws cannot be blocked but they can be dodged if you’re quick enough.
As with most fighting games, all the archetypes are present and correct. You have the mysterious protagonist who has a visually recognizable piece of clothing to go alongside their stoic personality, in this case Kazuya with his iconic studded red glove. You have your Pro-Wrestler in the Tiger Mask inspired King, the sassy but lethal woman fighter wearing a tight outfight in Nina, the powerful juggernaut in the robot JACK, and the Bruce Lee au mage in Law. Where Tekken differed was that it also included bizarre characters that hadn’t been seen before, such as a real honest to goodness bear in the form of Kuma. Overall, Tekken has one of the most colourful and enduring rosters of fighters ever to grace the genre.
The original home release of the game has quite sparse options from the fighters we’re used to today, with just arcade and versus modes on offer, along with an options mode to tweak the difficulty, length of rounds, and also how many rounds you have to win in order to advance.
As mentioned, the gameplay of Tekken is reasonably easy to get into and when you play the game with a human player of equal skill, you’ll get a lot of fun out of it. However, when played against the CPU, the game becomes an exercise in frustration due to the incredible difficulty. You can choose your difficulty, all the way from “Easy” up to “Ultra Hard”, but even on Easy it took me over half an hour to complete one play through of arcade mode due to the simply unreal proficiency of the CPU.
The biggest problem is not so much that the computer is skilled, but more that the computer is exceedingly cheap and will regularly spam the same couple of attacks over and over. This understandably makes matches a tedious ordeal in chipping away at the computer’s health bar while continually blocking the computer’s favourite move. Eventually, I found myself spamming the computer right back just so I could get to the end of the play through and watch the FMV video that accompanies your arduous victory.
This ultimately diminishes the sense of achievement in reaching the game’s conclusion, as well as giving little impetus to play the arcade mode with the other characters other than to unlock the hidden fighters for multiplayer. Ironically, the best fight you will normally get will be against the game’s epic boss in Heihachi. Heihachi is hard as nails, but he at least varies his offense, meaning you can have a good fight in route to getting your clock cleaned. Sadly, the thoroughly unsatisfying path you will take to finally get to compete with Heihachi in glorious combat will likely mean that by the time you finally get to him, you’ll just want it over with so you can get on with the rest of your life.
I can understand such cheap tactics from the computer on an arcade game, as the game exists as a way to take pennies from your pocket, and having you get clobbered in the third or fourth battle is usually a good impetus to make you part with some change in order to see more of the game. But for a home release, I expect a lot more balanced of an AI in exchange for the eight Bison Dollars that I had to lay down on the counter to get my grubby mitts on the game. Unfortunately, Tekken does not provide that balance and, as a result, I’m not sure I can recommend it for any other reason than if you’re a collector and you want it for collecting purposes.
If you’re looking for some King of Iron Fist action on the original PlayStation, I would instead suggest you grab a copy of Tekken III, which benefits from having better gameplay, better graphics, and more game modes to choose from.
Tekken is an incredibly important game and was integral, along with some of the other big arcade conversions of the day, in establishing the PlayStation as the console to own during its first year of existence. The launch games set the table, and a few months later Tekken came along to lay a marker that only led to bigger and better things, both for the fledgling console and the series itself. Better games in the series have come along since, but that doesn’t take away the importance and still lasting impact of the very first King of Iron Fist Tournament!
As always, I’ll post some game footage below.
Thanks for reading
Nil Satis, Nisi Optimum
You can view YouTube Footage of the game, courtesy of World of Longplays, by clicking right HERE
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