Review by JPeeples

"Flawed, yet fun edition of the Tekken series."

The Tekken series has been one of my all-time favorite fighting game series’, directly behind the Virtua Fighter and World Heroes series. Each game in the Tekken series has given me many memories, with the lone exception of Tekken Tag Tournament for the PS2, which was kind of under whelming. Despite that, I looked forward to playing Tekken 4, but wanted to hold off until it hit the $20 mark, just in case it left me with a sour taste in my mouth like TTT. Thankfully, this isn’t the case, and the game exceeded my expectations for it in most cases.

The first thing that struck me with this installment was the addition of full 3D movement in the game, which adds a layer of realism and depth to the fighting that hadn’t been there before. The second thing that caught my eye were the structures surrounding some of the fighting areas, which allow you to hit your foes quite a bit while in the air, and vice versa. The former is a welcome addition to the series, and one that I would like to see again. The latter is okay in theory, but ends up doing more harm than good in the heat of battle, as it allows a single mistake to end a fight.

Luckily, the classic Tekken gameplay keeps things fun, even when you’re being juggled against a wall. The quick pacing of the fighting works really well with full 3D movement, as it allows you to have exciting back-and-forth matches, or you can add some strategy to the mix and methodically wear your foe until they succumb to your hand-to-hand superiority. The addition of being able to really control the pace of a battle is a welcome addition, since it adds yet another layer of realism to the mix.

You’ll be able to test your might in the usual arcade mode, which follows the arcade version’s fighting order, and the story mode, which allows you to see the events that led up to your chosen fighter’s entry into the fourth King of Iron Fist tournament. Thankfully, this installment deep sixes the in-game engine cinemas from TTT and uses the traditional CG cinemas of the Tekken home console ports. This change allows for more expression with the characters, which enables you to feel for their plight, also, artistic still images are now spliced in with the CG, which looks really nice and adds emphasis to the events in that character’s life.

The usual extra game modes are present in this title, with the Final Fight/Streets of Rage-esque Tekken Force mode being the most prominent. Ironically, while the core game benefits quite a bit from the new 3D movement, this mode suffers quite a bit because of it, since the camera can never seem to settle down, leading to some cheap beatings on the part of your adversaries. What’s worse, if you lose, you have to restart from the beginning of the level, and this mode just isn’t gripping enough in any one way to make it worth the time to redo. It’s a shame, really, since the original Tekken Force mode was a blast to play, and was essentially a 2D beat-em-up in 3D clothing, this one, much like full-fledged 3D beat-em-ups, just can’t come to terms with properly executing that style of gameplay in three dimensions, it’s a noble effort though, I’ll give them that.

The Tekken games have always controlled exceptionally well, and this one continues that trend. The usual button-for-limb control scheme adorns this game, and works as well as it ever has. I’m amazed at how well the d-pad is used, as you use it to execute moves, and to move your character around the battleground, despite the d-pad having to do multiple tasks at basically the same time, the controls never get clunky, and the d-pad is always responsive. The face buttons are just as responsive, which is a necessity for this series, as the inherently fast pacing of the gameplay would be ruined by unresponsive controls.

Much like the controls, the graphics have always been consistently good. This installment looks nice, it’s certainly not the most stunning fighting game on the market, but it gets the job done. Nothing looks bad, and everything has a solid, proportional look to it, which is a plus. The animation is nice and smooth as well, which is just another addition of realism to the game. The little light flashes after a blow connects detract from that realism ever-so-slightly, but since they’re done for emphasis, I don’t mind them all that much. Ideally, the blows would be able to speak for themselves, and wouldn’t need the flashes to help make something look effective, but since that isn’t the case, I’ll live with the flashes. The battlegrounds are one thing that have taken a real step up from previous installments of the game. Gone are the days of the backdrops wrapping around the battle area, now, you get nice-looking, lush surroundings when you fight. All of them feature a myriad of little touches, and most allow you to bounce your foes off of things. My favorite one is the pit fighting-ish area that is surrounded by a mob of people just chomping at the bit to be a part of the action. When you’re in this area, you can really sense some tension in the game, and that leads to a much more engrossing game on the whole.

The audio in the Tekken series has also been consistently good, with the music being memorable, and the sound effects being a bit exaggerated to add emphasis to blows, much like the light flashes I mentioned earlier. Thankfully, these traditions are present in this installment as well, although less so for the former than the latter. While the music is good, with a few of the songs being downright catchy, very few of them evoke the energy that past songs have. Still, the few songs that are memorable are done well. The sound effects are more or less the same as always, if you liked the slightly over-the-top nature of them in the past, you will probably like them here. Conversely, if you didn’t, I doubt this game will change your mind on them. As someone who has grown to love them, and enjoys seeing them in this series, I’m glad that Namco stuck with them this time around, the series would lose something without them.

Another common thread for the series has been that they can always be replayed quite a bit, whether or not you prefer single or multi-player fighting. Thankfully, the multi-player combat still has as much life as it ever did, but sadly, the singe-player fighting wasn’t so lucky. There are less characters in this game than in the last few installments of the series, and fewer extra modes as well. Thankfully, the 3D fighting does add a lot of replay value to the game, and if you don’t really care about the extra stuff, then this game will hold just as much replay value for you as the previous installments.

In the end, Tekken 4 is a fantastic fighting game, and a worthy edition to the series. Barring the flawed battleground elements that were added into the series, and the faulty camera in the Force mode, this is a top-notch effort all-around. I commend Namco for being able to keep the series’ standard gameplay alive while adding quite a bit of depth to it at the same time with minimal sacrifices to the final product. The graphics and sound stay the course of the series, again, things have been upgraded a bit for each aspect, no mind-blowing updates were done, and since none were needed, it works out well. If you’ve liked the series in the past, give this game a shot; if you haven’t, then try this one out, you might just find that the updates add just what you were looking for in the series.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 01/20/04

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