Tekken’s always been the weird outlier of the 3D fighting genre, the Keith Flint haired, armored tiger masked, Yoshimitsu-ed stepchild to more realistic fare like Virtua Fighter and Dead or Alive, female T-100 rip-off boss characters and moon bounce breast physics notwithstanding, of course. Yet as Virtua Fighter rots in Sega’s dead IP graveyard and Dead or Alive languishes in free-to-play, microtransaction irrelevance, The King of Iron Fist endures, creating a fresh installment in the new Tekken 7 that respects its gonzo origins while also more than fulfilling all of the requirements that modern fighting fans demand from a wholly worthwhile standalone retail product.
Whether a casual fan or a dyed in the wool, Electric Wind God Fist-ing Tekken hardcore, Tekken 7 has you covered. A Mortal Kombat / Injustice style cinematic story mode chronicles the latest in the bloody soap opera of the Mishima family, bringing full scale globe trotting warfare into the equation and even flashing back to some of the iconic scenes in the series’ history (playing through the robo-carnage of the famous “Heihachi is dead” opening cinema from Tekken 5 was a particular delight). Side stories for each character pop up too as you ascend through the Heihachi/Kazuya/Jin heavy narrative, taking the place of the older character specific Arcade modes from the Tekkens of old. Arcade mode does still exist though, but it’s more akin to a time trial with a set number of opponents and a generic ending for each fighter.
Of the game’s hefty 38 character roster, 9 of them are brand new, which is an unprecedented move for a series of this vintage. Standouts include magic wielding Vatican agent Claudio (seriously, all this devil-y stuff’s been going on for so long and the Vatican’s just NOW getting involved?), hulking cyborg brute Gigas who looks and acts more like Bane than the Bane in Injustice 2 does, Kazuya’s resurrected, devil gene infected mother Kazumi, and of course the most hyped edition to the Tekken-verse, Street Fighter’s Akuma.
Akuma in Tekken, I’m happy to report, feels a lot like Akuma in Ultra Street Fighter IV. Air projectiles teleports, even a super meter to either fill for a devastating ultra fireball or to mete out to add EX priority damage to his specials, the Master of Fists does everything you’d expect still slots almost strangely too well into the sidestep, backdash and throw heavy Tekken gameplay formula. It’s a weirdly pleasant surprise, and gives hope to the fact that the long promised (threatened?) Namco produced Tekken X Street Fighter game may actually see the light of day.
The game includes several New Japan Pro Wrestling themed customization items, including the ever ubiquitous Bullet Club t-shirt and this Kazuchika Okada inspired get up for King.
Still with me? Good. Because I haven’t even gotten to the best part of the Tekken 7 experience. Fighter customization is nothing new in the world of Namco’s Fighters and Tekken 7’s might be the deepest yet. Thousands of items both shared by the cast and exclusive to specific characters are available to adorn your fighter with, ranging from intimidating to ridiculous and everything in between. Grass growing beneath their feet? Check. A generic game of Jenga stacked precariously on their head? Check. Of course there’s guns, knives and swords that can actually be used in battle (however, hilariously ineffectually) and an entire back catalog of series spanning clothing pieces for franchise stalwarts like Paul and King, and almost full color customization as well.
Most of these adornments can be earned in the game’s highly addictive Treasure Battle mode, a sort of simulated online / survival battle (perfect for those of us who couldn’t be fucked these days to get good enough at one of these games to actually play it competitively online) where you fight increasingly difficult AI (with their own preposterous user names and fashion sense) to earn in-game cash and costume pieces, sometimes right off of a doppelgänger’s back. Add to this the fact that the entire series’ music catalog is available to listen to, mix and match and make playlists of to use during regular gameplay (not that the new soundtrack isn’t absolutely top notch) and there’s a gallery mode that includes every single opening and ending cinema from all 9 prior installments (Tekken 1-6, Tekken Tag 1 and 2, and free-to-play PS3 debacle Tekken Revolution) and Tekken 7 is a whole lot of goddamned game for 60 bucks.
In my review of the recent Injustice 2 I marveled at that game’s amount of content and polish. Though Namco can’t quite match Netherrealm’ on the graphical polish and character animation front (And Tekken 7 is still a very, VERY good looking game), they’ve seen NR’s story mode, character customization and engrossing one player modes and raised them a game that manages to be more pick up and play friendly for beginners and yet also more extensive for pros, with a deep bench of interesting characters that are just as fun to watch as they are to play, and a 20 year legacy that shows no signs of slowing down. Your move, Marvel Vs. Capcom: Infinite.