Game of the Month: March 2016
Hang around the internet long enough and the subject of originality will absolutely always rear it’s head, it’s just one of those silly conversations that appears out of nowhere at times, sort of like Wild Pokemon but almost always not as welcome, wanted or cool. It’s been said numerous times (sometimes by me) that one can never re-invent the wheel and whilst this is true in principal it’s not impossible to either have a real good go at trying or pimp the absolute shit out of it!!!
For the month of March in the year 2016 the magnificent Tekken 3 for the Sony Playstation has been selected as the website’s Game Of The Month and whilst some of you may be scratching your head wondering why let me put on some comfortable clothes, slap on a funky LP, turn the fire up toasty warm and lay some smooth Barry White style grooves on you…
For the gamers of the 1970’s, 1980’s and 1990’s the Arcade halls were king. Standing in a low lit, loud noise arena of neon lights, insanely crazy carpets and more flashing screens than an acid fuelled raver could handle, more long lasting memories were made than most of us can ever truly count. In the throne room of the Kings several games designers stood out, Gods if you will, with the power to both control and define every single step of your journey with a flick of their wrist or in most cases a franchise that stood out from everything else. The name of ’Namco’ was legendary in these circles and whilst many will point to the fact that they seemed to copy anything Sega did and just ramp up the graphics there was so much more to it than that. Namco were for a lot of the time not the most original developer but boy oh boy could they re-invent that wheel. Tekken was at one point in time one of the biggest draws to these arcade halls and it was one of theirs, at heart a Virtua Fighter clone, it was, easily, refined to have a better story, presentation and wow impact than anything else in it’s class. Not a revolution but a total evolution.
From the moment the Playstation was conceived, Namco were deliberately brought on board as an exclusive developer to show the power of Sony’s new 32-Bit machine. They had the known arcade games outside of Sega to really put some weight behind the project and with Ridge Racer and Tekken selling the console inside the first few months Sony and Namco never looked back. Whilst the home versions, especially the terrible PAL conversions, were slow and clunky they still sold like hot cakes however it would take a few years and three tries to finally get Namco’s finest 3D fighter to the promised land. In 1997 a monster was born, Tekken had finally become design perfection as Tekken 3 hit the arcade halls of the world. A newly refined fighting system, brand new hardware (System 12) and a massive amount of new fighters were unleashed onto a gaming public who mostly took one look and fell in love. This was, for some, as good as it could ever get in the 3D fighting genre. If only we could have this kind of masterpiece game development for the consoles in our front rooms and bedrooms, one year later the Gods answered the call. Tekken 3 was released for the Sony Playstation and finally arcade hall gaming came home!
The moment the CD hit the machine you knew you were in for something very special indeed, most considered the Playstation at the absolute peak of it’s graphical output and by September 1998 when Europe finally got it we were all starting to be distracted by this new console Sega were making (Dreamcast). As per usual by this point an intro kicked in that took the previous attempt on Tekken 2 and nicely roundhouse kicked it to the face. Great start, but things would only get better and better. Not just happy to be yet another sequel this entry in the franchise introduced two new modes to play with. One being a very fun option to kick a beach ball around in order to inflict damage on the other fighter. Whilst on the surface a fun novelty it was in fact a very cleverly disguised way of helping you master each characters move sets without openly having to click on a practice mode. The ball moving all over the place challenged players to learn both low and high attacks quickly in order to avoid the other player mastering first then sending you to oblivion via the medium of the seaside…
Tekken 3 was also the very first franchise entry to introduce a side scrolling mode called ‘Tekken Force’ which was a lovely change of pace and style. In this mini game you had to move in a different field of vision to a normal 3D fighting experience in order to defeat the waves of enemies, defeat everyone and complete this mode. The real genius here was not allowing players to take a break to try something fresh and new but a superb way of unlocking one of the games coolest characters to play as, after completing the mode 4 times, Dr Bosconovitch then appeared on your character selection screen for the main game. An optional mini game that gave more main game content and best of all it was all free with none of that pesky DLC… Ahh my how games have now changed.
All of this however would be meaningless if the main experience was either the same as before or changed to a point where it became broken, thankfully Namco managed to get absolutely everything spot on perfect. Gameplay was faster, much faster in fact, with a complete overhaul to both jumping and mid air combat which was now vastly better with more gravity correct limitations of the characters ability to leap. The days of floaty battles were over and the time for weight balanced fights were in, it may sound trivial but it helped change how fights took place to the point where it just felt like a mixture of new coupled with the feeling of ‘Why aren’t all 3D fighters like this?’ When a videogame changes how you perceive ever other game in it’s genre you know it’s done the important things right.
Graphically everything was better, the sprites were way more detailed and colourful not to mention larger in size. Animation was superb with multiple attacks all based around positioning of you to your opponent and that’s where the biggest and most telling aspect of this game comes in… Depth!
Rather than just looking 3D because of small movements designed to play with the camera more than allow for complex structure Tekken 3 introduced a third axis to the party. Now every single character could, with the flick of the controller D-Pad move in and out of the foreground / background which transformed every single round of play. Coupled with extremely fluid animation and a camera that was a dream everything now looked, felt and most importantly played like a Jackie Chan movie! It’s hard to put into words but put Tekken 3 against Tekken 1 & 2 and it doesn’t just look better, it plays 100% better.
The hype surrounding the game was massive, every single magazine fell over themselves to talk about it and share whatever pictures they could find. When the game finally hit the streets it was given maximum scores and 90% + marks across the board with everyone saying the same things, it was perfect! In the UK a special edition demo disc was given out resulting in the magazine selling out instantly on day of release in most towns and cities in the country. A simple demo attached to the front cover was even more fuel for the fire and the game itself went on to sell incredibly well. It resulted in one of the biggest selling single issue magazines of all time for the region.
And so we come back to re-inventing the wheel. Like I said before it’s impossible yet its not the end of the conversation as some may think, the best thing about humans is our capacity and desire to constantly evolve and change and in so doing grow to become better, more than what we once were. It may be a simplification of the statement but Tekken 3 is one of the finest examples of all time of evolution and becoming better. In every single possible way this game is better than what came before, it looks better, it plays better… It’s just better!
It’s not original, but it doesn’t have to be, the door was opened years before it was even thought of, Namco just looked around, took stock of the situation and then created a masterpiece with all the existing building blocks sitting on the floor. Like children with Lego they picked up different pieces and with imagination, love, care and the power of the Playstation gave the world a classic home 3D fighting game every bit as fantastic as the arcade game it was based on.
A third entry in a series most thought had already peaked that would go on to sell just under 9 million copies worldwide and be part of a new wave of Namco games that would clearly show that they were not quite done with making memories for us all, not by a long shot! Long live the King of The Iron Fist Tournament, long live Tekken but mostly Thank You Namco, you truly do have the keys to the treasure chest of my heart. I suspect many others feel the exact same way.