Some fighting games take themselves too seriously, but others? They put you in control of a giant panda, then let you square off against a demon on top of an active volcano.
The Tekken series has never been afraid to be a little bonkers, even in a world where every little disagreement can be solved with a few rib jabs and kicks to the face.
Now that it has made the leap to the latest console generation, though, it feels a bit like Tekken has lost its sense of humour. A convoluted story mode tries to tie up every loose end, but does it with too straight a face.
When the bell sounds, though, this punch-up brawler knows its audience. It’s for those who return home weary from work and want nothing but fist-flying action. And for that, Tekken 7 delivers.
MADE IN THE ARCADE
Tekken was built from the ground up for the PlayStation, so you’ll feel right at home with a DualShock controller in your mitts. Triangle and Square cover your punches, while X and Circle are used for thumping kicks.
All of the returning cast members have their signature moves, which can be pretty intimidating for series newcomers - there are literally hundreds of variations, combos and multi-stage throw techniques to get your head around. A few new additions make their series debut, too, but lots of familiar faces aren’t here - maybe Namco has DLC in the works to keep fans happy.
After that, you’ve got the Rage mechanic to digest. This first showed up in Tekken 6, but has been transformed for this new iteration with two new attributes - although both only kick in once you’ve dropped below a certain health threshold. The first, Rage Attacks, are more devastating versions of your regular arsenal - pull one out in the middle of a combo to really rack up the damage.
The other is “Rage Arts”, cinematic attacks that do huge burst damage and have the potential to turn a losing round back in your favour. They’re almost identical to Street Fighter’s Super attacks, but surprisingly don’t feel out of place here. You’re still only a few hits away from death, and most Rage Arts can be heavily punished if your opponent blocks them.
That’s not the only thing borrowed from traditional rival Capcom’s most famous series, either. Iconic villain Akuma also crosses over, making an appearance in the main story and representing the Satsui No Hado in the multiplayer mode.
His fireballs, uppercuts and spinning kicks are all present and correct, right down to the button combinations. He’s even got an EX meter for powering up his special moves. He’s a great starting point for any Street Fighter fans picking up Tekken for the first time - expect to see his face a lot when you first step online.
Everything looks spectacular in motion, with sparks flying whenever you land an attack. Namco has really put the Unreal Engine to good use, making this the best-looking game in the series by a mile.
YOU WON’T BELIEVE WHAT HAPPENS NEXT
As the seventh full entry in the series, you’d think Tekken 7’s story would have progressed further than a family spat between three generations of Mishima men, but here we are: Heihachi and Kazuya have pretty much decimated half the globe with their rival mega-corporations, and Jin is the walking equivalent of a WMD.
If you thought your family was bad, you should know that these guys have a history of throwing each other off of mountains.
Between each bout, everything unfolds through overly long CGI cutscenes. Most consist of evil scheming, cheesy dialogue and maniacal laughter, with plenty of character-hopping to show different points of view.
There’s a second kind of cut-scene, animated to look like a graphic novel and narrated by a faceless voiceover, which doesn’t really match the tone of the rest of the game. They’re awkward additions that try to rationalise character actions, but they’re told completely deadpan and just come across as boring. Thankfully there’s a “Skip” option for those only interested in break-neck walloping.
Not everyone makes the cut, either: finish a chapter of the main story and you’ll unlock two separate character “stories” - essentially a single fight, bookended by FMVs that explain why that fighter wasn’t included in the main plot. It’s odd to see series stalwarts like Yoshimitsu, Paul and Law given bit parts, while Street Fighter guest star Akuma gets a starring role. This is where all the comic relief has been hidden away, too - it’s an odd decision for a series so well known for such crazy concepts.
While the five-ish hour campaign answers a few of the questions Tekken fans have been pondering over for years, Namco just couldn’t help itself and managed to sneak a sequel-baiting post-credits cutscene in there for good measure. We probably haven’t seen the final chapter just yet.
A HELPING HAND
Even Tekken newbies should be able to make a dent in the plot, thanks to a helping hand that makes it easier to pull off each character’s more complex attacks. This “Story Assist” lets you hold down the L1 button to turn the X, Square, Circle and Triangle buttons into shortcuts, activating special moves instantly.
For certain characters, this completely breaks their moveset - you simply shouldn’t be able to juggle your opponent with four Electric Wind Godfist punches when playing as Kazuya. If you’re struggling with a certain fight, it’s an easy way to cheese yourself to a cheap victory.
You don’t have to use ‘em, of course, but the story switches characters in and out at such a pace that you’ll rarely have time to master one move-set before you’re handed someone else to play as, or fight against.
Jin, Heihachi and Kazuya naturally show up the most, but challenging other fighters from the roster are the real highlights here. Newcomer Claudio appears near the outset, showing off Tekken 7’s new affinity for ranged attacks. At least the multiple waves of G-Corp henchmen that show up every few fights act as a breather - they only have a basic moveset, but teach you the importance of side-stepping to avoid those nasty long-range hits.
The difficulty really ramps up towards the final few fights, too. I haven’t fought fighting game bosses this cheap since Street Fighter III: Third Strike’s Gill and his resurrection abilities. It’ll take real skill (and patience) to beat everyone, especially when you pump things up to the “King of Iron Fist” difficulty.
You can take a break from the family drama in the other game modes, which still see you throwing punches and kicks, but this time with any member of the roster - not just whoever the story calls for you to play as.
Treasure Battle is a never-ending wave of progressively stronger AI opponents, with each subsequent win unlocking new gear and accessories to customise your character with. Think new hairstyles and new outfits - plus a whole host of goofy wearables like witches hats, traffic signs and toilet plungers.
Po-faced brawlers like Kazuya instantly lose their intimidation factor once they’re wearing a traffic cone on their bonce, but Panda looks surprisingly suave in a flat cap and sunglasses. There’s a huge amount of customisation here, so spend a little time on your chosen fighter and you’ll have something unique to take online and prove your strength with.
Why these items aren’t drip-fed through the multiplayer modes, or even the story, is a mystery though. You’ve got to grind your way through this one specific mode just to unlock everything.
The Jukebox and Gallery modes add some welcome Tekken nostalgia, too. You can pick music tracks or play back movies from every game in the series (once you’ve unlocked them using the in-game currency, that is) and remind yourself just what the heck is actually going on between the crazy cast of combatants.
I was hoping for some trademark Tekken insanity here too, but there’s no Tekken Bowl, Tekken Ball or Tekken Force to keep casual players coming back for more. It’s fighting or nothing, son, so lace up your gloves and step in the ring.
TAKE IT TO THE CLOUD
It’s the 1v1 multiplayer that will decide if Tekken 7 lives a long and healthy life, not its single player story. At launch, it’s difficult to judge - I’m still waiting for a day one patch to land and for the servers to fill up with challengers.
Things look good on paper - especially with an online tournament mode ready right from the off. You can set up single- and double-elimination brackets, which are the mainstay of offline tournaments. A spectator mode will let viewers tune in to watch the action, with voice and text chat built-in for good measure, but the eight-participant player limit could be a bit small.
Otherwise, it’s the usual mix of ranked and unranked matches, with points earned and lost based on your performance. Earn enough and you’ll rise through the ranks to claim a spot on the global leaderboards.
It’s standard stuff, but there aren’t any other incentives to keep on playing. Whereas Injustice rewards players with constant loot drops, here you’re just playing for pride. It’s properly old-school, which will either be refreshing or boring depending on how many other fighting games you’ve currently got on the go.
Tekken 7 verdict
Fighting fans have been spoiled rotten this month, no matter what their system of choice. Street Fighter II has been resurrected on the Nintendo Switch, Guilty Gear has a new, cut-price update and Injustice 2 is cementing its place as the king of single-player brawlers thanks to its unique gear system.
Where does Tekken 7 slot into all that? It might add a few new characters to the mix, gain those momentum-shifting Rage Art special moves, and give things a visual spit polish courtesy of the Unreal Engine, but the basic game remains the same.
If you bash out 10 hit combos for breakfast, there’s plenty to like - Tekken is just as fun to play as it’s ever been, and the new slow-motion effects that kick in towards the end of a round really ramp up the tension when you’re on that last sliver of life bar.
Tekken 7 is happy doing what it does best: letting you pummel the hell out of your opponents, either online or face-to-face. Sticking to its roots might not convert fighting sim sceptics, but for those who love the Tekken series inside out, it breathes new life into the series as it looks for a place in an increasingly crowded scene of fighting games.