Once the PlayStation’s chief combatant against Sega’s revolutionary Virtua Fighter series, Tekken now grapples with its own history and prior success. After delivering two stellar installments with Tekken 3 and the PS2 launch title, Tekken Tag Tournament, Tekken 4 takes the series in a new direction. The result is a title that features needed improvements, but makes drastic changes that may or may not alienate hardcore fans of the series.
In all of the previous Tekken sequels, fans of the series have always known precisely what to expect. This is most certainly not the case with Tekken 4. While the "one button per limb" mechanics, throws, and combos will seem familiar, a great deal has changed. As mentioned before, Tekken 4 is the first in the series to feature full 3D arenas rather than the limitless, detached foregrounds that the series is known for. This literally adds a whole new dimension to the gameplay. Much like in Virtua Fighter 3, players must negotiate their surroundings, using them to their advantage while also avoiding the punishment of allowing your opponent to do the same. Statues, phone booths, railings, and everything else in the way can be broken with your opponent’s torso… or your own. In order to facilitate easy movement throughout these environments, the sidestepping from T3 and TTT has been expanded upon, and a universal "wall push" has been added. This ability allows any fighter to grab their opponent and instantaneously change position. A fighter who had their back to the wall can be the one who is dishing out the punishment within the blink of an eye. This makes nearing the limits of an arena a risky proposition, as the barriers can be used against you as quickly as they prove to be advantageous.
Another area where Tekken 4 makes a departure from its predecessors is that each character, even hidden ones, has their own unique fighting style. The only exception to the rule is COMBOT, who replaces T3 and TTT’s Mokujin as the fighter capable of emulating any combatants’ fighting style. These styles are emulated at random, with COMBOT being able to use one set of moves per fight. Christie Montiero practices the Brazilian Capoeira fighting style in the same way that Eddy Gordo did in the two previous installments of the series. Craig Marduk brings an entirely new Grecco Roman practice to the series, and it should not feel unfamiliar to those who have played as Jeffery McWild in the Virtua Fighter games. Marduk is strong, slow, and extremely large. Any player who enjoys inflicting massive amounts of damage on their opponent will enjoy using him, but his slow movement and considerable frame make him an easy target for those comfortable with smaller, fast moving fighters. Steve Fox is the most unique addition to the cast. As a professional boxer, he only lets his fists do the talking. Rather than being provided with the ability to kick opponents, he is equipped with faster parrying, dodging, and sidestepping maneuvers. While certainly an interesting twist, his inability to chick often limits his chances to hurt opponents using the environmental objects in the arenas. This unfortunate oversight makes Steve a poor addition to the cast overall, and hopefully his abilities will be altered in according to where the fights take place in future installments of the series.
While Tekken isn’t as deep as Virtua Fighter, it still provides an excellent 3D hand-to-hand fighting experience, and most gamers who are not long time fans of the genre should find it far more accessible. Stance changes and grappling are not very complex, but some of the fighters such as Lei and Law can be quite dangerous in the hands of an experienced player. Like any 3D fighter worth its salt, Tekken 4’s cast has move lists and fighting styles with varying degrees of difficulty in order for players to find the one that suits them best. The only wrench in the machinery is Jin Kazama, whose Mishima-ryu techniques have been replaced by strictly straightforward traditional karate. His attacks and ability to constantly link combos offsets the balance between himself and most other characters. Unfortunately, players lacking experience with the game will be able to "button mash" their way to victory using this character. Fortunately, Jin Kazama and Steve Fox are the only characters that interrupt the balance of the gameplay. The rest of the fighters are entirely unique, so there will be plenty of effort involved in mastering their abilities.
Namco has always been known for making near perfect, flawless, or even superior console versions of their smash hit arcade games. The first two Tekken games were flawless, Tekken 3 was near perfect, and Tekken Tag and Soul Calibur (Dreamcast) were both enormous improvements over their arcade counterparts. Tekken 4 falls comfortably in the middle as a flawless translation. Developed on the PS2-based System 246 arcade hardware, translating Tekken 4 to the console was a breeze. All of the arcade version’s visual flair is intact, running at a silky smooth sixty frames per second. High-end component owners will also be pleased to know that Tekken 4 fully supports progressive scan video output. Namco has never been known to be lazy with making faithful ports, and they have certainly maintained their stellar track record with this title.
The content and composition hold up terrifically as well. For the first time in the series, the backgrounds are not detached from the foreground. What this means is that the backgrounds themselves are the arena rather than just a setting. The brawling will take place on airport runways, in a shopping mall, on the roof of a skyscraper, and even in a well-done rendition of an underground "fight club." These arenas are fleshed out by some very impressive effects. The shopping mall, jungle, and beach levels feature photorealistic water that reacts to a player’s movements and can even hinder them if deep enough. Both the "Fight Club" and Octagon arenas have dozens of 3D bystanders, some of which can even be knocked to the ground in the former. The lighting, architecture, and character designs are all top notch as well.
Tekken 4’s only visual hiccup is that the character animation is lacking in comparison to titles such as Virtua Fighter 4 and Soul Calibur. This could be attributed to the fact that T4’s character models are actually comprised of fewer polygons than those in Tekken Tag. However, the attention to detail and overall distinct look of each fighter keeps this from being a major flaw in an otherwise impressive graphical package.
Aside from being technical showpieces and showing due respect to the martial arts they depict, Namco’s fighters have always delivered in the area that mattered most: they are extremely fun to play. I can gladly say that Tekken 4 keeps the streak intact.
The usual method of unlocking characters and CG endings is present, but players will also want to make rounds through the arcade mode simply to acclimate themselves with the new type of arenas and the possibilities they open up. The usual suspects of a VS. mode and team battle mode are also present and provide an extreme amount of multiplayer opportunities and long-term replay value. There is no ranking ladder mode akin to VF4’s Kumite mode, but as mentioned, the gameplay itself provides many fun experiences.
The new and improved Tekken Force mode is very well done. You’ll be able to beat and stomp on hordes of masked enemies while using the moves you’ve mastered in full 3D. Considering the hit or miss nature of most recent 3D "beat ’em up" titles, the Tekken Force mode compares favorably to some of the reduced price games collecting dust on the shelf. Not bad for extra feature that some may not even bother to play.
The absence of a tag mode may disappoint some, but much like VF4, it would not make a great deal of sense. Tekken 4’s emphasis on environmental interaction and using walls to inflict damage would not coincide well with a tag feature.
There are no breakthroughs in how the game will be played, but the quality of the game itself is sufficient in delivering a very fun fighting experience.
With Tekken 4, Namco bet large. They get to go home wiser and still have some change in their pocket. The new features such as the full 3D arenas and breakable obstacles are welcome indeed. While some of the complexities of 3D fighting such as character-specific wall evasion and stronger alternate stances elude Tekken 4, there is no doubting the fact that the series’ long awaited jump into the genuinely 3D world of 3D fighting has been admirable. Should Namco carry over this title’s strengths and improvements while instituting the necessary revisions to improve the overall gameplay experience as a whole, Tekken 5 should be able to compete with anything else at the arcade, or anything else on your local retailer’s shelf. As it stands, Tekken 4 simply delivers one of the better 3D fighting experiences on PS2, and is a game that should receive the strong consideration of any fighting game fan in general.
The owner and editor-in-chief of Darkstation.com. I've been apart of the website since 2002 and purchased the website in 2010. Owning and running Darkstation is a dream come true. I love video games and I love writing and talking about them even more.