Review: Tekken 3D: Prime Edition (Nintendo 3DS)

Tekken 3D: Prime Edition
Genre: Fighting
Developer: Namco Bandai
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Release Date: 2/14/12

Namco’s fighting game properties are getting really busy for 2012 aren’t they? At the tail end of 2011 the PS3 saw an exclusive release of Tekken Hybrid, and going into 2012 we’re already off to a good start with Soul Calibur V. Further, we’ll also be seeing Street Fighter X Tekken in a few weeks time, and Namco’s projecting to have Tekken Tag Tournament 2 on the consoles by the end of this year. It’s a busy year for Namco’s fighting franchises, to be sure, and Namco’s not looking to leave anyone out, as they’re bringing portable fighting action to the 3DS with Tekken 3D: Prime Edition, which takes the characters and mechanics from Tekken 6 and sticks them into a portable package. In theory, this is a fine idea; fighting game fans deserve to have games they love available to them on the go, and the 3DS worked well enough with Dead or Alive Dimensions, so it’s reasonable to assume a Tekken game could be translated to the console without too much effort as well. In practice, however, Tekken 3D: Prime Edition makes the assumption that concepts like “interesting gameplay modes” or “value beyond being a portable version of a fighting game” are easily replaced by including a terrible movie on the 3DS cartridge instead, which is… not a winning formula, to be honest.

Tekken 3D: Prime Edition has no story mode of any sort included, instead choosing to include Tekken: Blood Vengeance as an extra while focusing on gameplay above anything else in the actual game. The gameplay modes offered here are fairly decent, however; you’re offered Versus Battle for online and offline fights against people, Quick Battle if you want to go through a basic ten round Arcade style mode, and Practice if you want to work on the mechanics of the game on your own. There’s also Special Survival mode, which is an interesting scaling survival mode that puts you against waves of enemies you have to defeat with one life bar, while also occasionally asking you to defeat them under special circumstances or in special ways. The game also offers the option to collect and review Tekken Cards, which are collectable cards featuring 3D scenes from the Tekken universe. You can collect these by plowing through Special Survival mode as well as by buying them through StreetPass with CP that can be earned in a number of ways. There’s nothing really special beyond the Special Survival mode, modes-wise, in the game, however, which is a shame. Given that we’ve already seen fairly well enhanced versions of Street Fighter IV and Dead or Alive Dimensions on the 3DS, the lackluster mode variety here is a letdown. It’s interesting that the game manages to include a full-length film on the card as well, but considering the film that’s included, that’s not exactly a great gift, so the less said about that, the better.

On a visual level, Tekken 3D looks excellent, mostly. The game sports a large roster, and every character looks exactly as one would expect when compared to their console counterparts. Obviously the visuals don’t match up in comparison, but the character textures here are very clean and scaled down well, and the animations are excellent and retain all of the personality of the characters they’re attached to. The backgrounds are a little less spectacular and suffer some loss of detail in comparison, but this isn’t a big deal given the circumstances, and for the most part they look acceptable. The 3D effect is solid and generally usable in combat, as it splits the characters onto one plane and the backgrounds onto another, and while it’s not exceptionally useful, so to say, it looks pretty solid. Tekken: Blood Vengeance also gets a 3D overlay that’s also perfectly fine, and while it’s not always noticeable and doesn’t add much to the film outside of a few instances during fight scenes, it’s fine for what it is. Aurally, both the film and the game sound great on the 3DS, and the transfer in both cases is excellent. The music in the game matches the tone of its console counterparts and is great to fight to, the voice acting is carried over for combat and taunting speech, and the combat effects are excellent and as powerful as ever. Sadly, Tekken: Blood Vengeance only retains the English dialogue track, so fans of the Japanese voice over for the film will be disappointed to a point… though, again, the fact that it’s here at all is a feat in and of itself, so that disappointment only goes so far.

If you’ve played a Tekken game at some point, a lot of the basics from the series are easy to get, and if you’ve played Tekken 6 specifically you can jump right in here with minimal effort. For the rest of you, however, here’s the deal: the battles you fight take place on a pseudo-3D plane. Pressing forward and backward on the D-pad/analog stick moves your character in those directions, while holding up jumps and holding down ducks. Tapping up or down allows your character to step into the background or foreground, holding back allows you to block (which you’ll also do if you remain stationary), and double-tapping allows you to dash. Combat works with the four face buttons, and their placement and layout are relative to the arms and legs of the characters. In short: the buttons are mapped to the arms and legs of the character, with the top buttons acting as the left and right arm of the character, and the bottom buttons acting as the left and right legs, by default. Pressing both of the left or right side buttons initiates a grab against an opponent, and you can chain various different presses of these buttons, with or without directions, into combinations to destroy your opponents. This is basically how Tekken has worked for almost its entire existence, and this remains intact with Tekken 3D, so fans of the franchise should be able to jump right into the game with little difficulty and know how things work. More serious players will be happy to know that many of the tactics from the prior games, such as jacking up opponents on walls, Ukemi and fall recovery actions and the Tekken standard ten-hit combos make their return in this game as well.

Being as this is essentially a handheld build off of Tekken 6, it also retains the systems added to that game. For example, when characters get low in health, they now enter a Rage mode, which allows the player to do additional damage per hit, which can allow them to turn the tide of battle if they’re lucky. There’s also the Bound system, which allows players to use moves on airborne enemies that smash them into the ground, allowing the player using the Bound attack to heap on the punishment with more combos or attacks. Both of these systems have transitioned more or less wholly intact, by all indications, so fans of Tekken 6 will find the systems to be as functional here as on the consoles. For this release, however, the game also adds in four digital buttons to the touch screen as hotkey buttons, more or less. You can assign move combinations to these buttons and, as in Super Street Fighter IV, press the screen buttons when you want to perform the moves in question. The game also assigns the triggers to a “switch” function that swaps the functions of the touch screen buttons to the face buttons while held, allowing you to perform the moves from the face buttons, which is considerably more useful than reaching over to the touch screen to pull off a move. You can’t program your own moves to the buttons or set the ten hit combos to them, mind you, so this isn’t really an exploitable mechanic, but it does offer assistance to less gifted players and makes it easier to work with the controls if they’re problematic for you.

As noted, the game has a few different options for play for those who want to spend some time with the game. Special Survival mode starts you off with a simple “survive five rounds on one life bar” sequence before slowly transitioning you into twenty plus round fights where enemies have to be juggled or hit in the air or what have you to progress, adding to the challenge a bit and forcing you to adapt. Versus mode allows you to play locally or online against others, depending on your situation. Quick Battle works like a ten round Arcade mode, but with the benefit of allowing you to rank up after so many battles, which, if you go high enough, unlocks alternate color schemes for your chosen fighter. There are also a mess of Tekken Cards to unlock, if you’re into that sort of thing, and with the unlockable alternate colors you’ll have a good amount of content to aim for by unlocking the colors for your favorite characters, if not for all of the forty or so characters in the game. Even beyond that, there’s always the online play to fool around with and a full film on the card to watch, so there are certainly options available to you should you want to acquire this, and hey, it’s Tekken handheld, so fans should have fun with it.

Having said that, however, speaking as a pretty big Tekken fan, this still isn’t a particularly appealing port for a few reasons. The single biggest reason this release is problematic is because, frankly, the controls don’t feel particularly friendly. Now, granted, handheld systems don’t always make for the best systems to port fighting games to, but Dead or Alive Dimensions turned out fine, and the various Soul Calibur and Tekken games don’t HAVE to deal with too many roll motions and such that might hurt the experience. However, the game has odd responsiveness issues in some instances, making the timing for some moves feel awkward, and if grapples work on their own in this game I have yet to figure out how to do this, as every time I tried to pull one off the character would just pull off a strike combination. Even beyond that, though, there’s not a lot to do with the game. Yes, you can play it locally assuming you have friends who have it, but the 3D is disabled when playing against others, which removes the novelty factor of the experience outright in that case, and if you want to play online, the only reason to do so here is if you don’t own a console to play Tekken 6 on. The offline modes are bog-standard, and the only “special” mode, Special Survival, is unexciting at best and frustrating at worst, and that mode doesn’t even allow you to rank up to earn new costume colors, so the only reason to go through it is to earn Tekken Cards, which do nothing to add to the experience, either. Finally, the only other notable addition to the game, the inclusion of Tekken: Blood Vengeance, is mitigated somewhat by the fact that this is a pretty terrible film, and even if you wanted to see it, it’s fifteen dollars on Amazon, there’s no reason to buy a hobbled handheld fighting game to watch it on a tiny screen.

Look, if you have to have a handheld version of Tekken, Tekken 3D: Prime Edition is a fine way to go, as it’s basically a fully functional version of the game to fool with. There are enough modes to play with, the game looks and sounds fine, the 3D effects are serviceable, the roster is massive and basically complete, and the game offers just enough single and multiplayer action to be entertaining for someone who wants Tekken on the go. Frankly, however, if you don’t need a handheld Tekken experience, there’s not a lot of reason to pay money for this one, because it’s limited, underdeveloped and, when compared to things like Super Street Fighter IV: 3D Edition and Dead or Alive Dimensions, feels weak. The single player modes are bare bones save for Special Survival, which is unrewarding, frustrating, and doesn’t really teach you anything useful for fighting against players. The game has mechanical issues with timing and moves that make it frustrating at times, and while the online is adequate, it kills the 3D functionality, which removes some of the novelty of the game in the long run. There’s nothing exciting to the game, like character customization or novel modes, and the collectible Tekken Cards are basically pointless at the best of times. Further, the fact that there’s an entire movie on the card is cancelled out almost entirely by the fact that the movie isn’t very good and is hard to watch on such a small screen. Basically. Tekken 3D is going to be for big Tekken fans, and for them, it will be a fun portable version of a game they love, but for everyone else, it’s a game to acquire on the cheap, if at all.

The Scores:
Game Modes: POOR
Graphics: GREAT
Control/Gameplay: ABOVE AVERAGE
Replayability: POOR
Balance: GOOD
Originality: DREADFUL
Addictiveness: MEDIOCRE
Miscellaneous: ABOVE AVERAGE


Short Attention Span Summary:
Tekken 3D: Prime Edition can be considered a decent game only due to the strong mechanics of its parent franchise, make no mistake; while the core game is mostly solid and technically impressive, it’s also shallow to a level that only the most dedicated fans will have anything to be joyful about here. There are enough game modes to be engaging for the serious franchise fan, and the game has translated well to the 3DS on a presentation level. Further, the game plays generally well on the handheld, retaining the mechanics that make the franchise fun for the most part, and there’s a decent amount of content in the game, along with the film Tekken: Blood Vengeance, giving serious fans a decent amount of content on the go. Having said that, however, the single player modes are minimal save for Special Survival, which is unrewarding and frustrating in most cases, and the game has mechanical timing issues that can make it harder to play than it should be. Further, the game basically has nothing but the barest of options to offer, lacking anything of merit outside of the Tekken Cards, which really don’t add to the experience… and the fact that there’s a full movie on the card is mitigated by the fact that the film is mediocre at best AND not worth watching on such a small screen. If you’re a diehard Tekken fan, maybe Tekken 3D: Prime Edition has enough to offer you, as it is a Tekken game, but everyone else can wait for a price drop if they even bother at all, as there’s simply not enough here to justify.



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