Review: 'Tekken Hybrid' (PS3)

Namco Bandai Bundles a feature film, an HD remake of one of their classic fighters, and a demo for its sequel in one package. Sounds like a good deal, right?

The 12 months stretching between this past November and the next represents, I believe, the period with the most Tekken media releases ever. Between the title under discussion today, as well as Street Fighter x Tekken, Tekken 3D Prime Edition, and next year's Tekken Tag Tournament 2, Namco Bandai is apparently intent on giving you as much Panda-on-cyborg-ninja violence as possible. And given that traditionally, this has been my favorite fighting game franchise (the series took some lumps with Tekken 6), you can imagine I'm pretty okay with that.

The release of Tekken Hybrid seemed like one of those things tailor-made for me. A collection featuring the recent CG feature film, Tekken: Blood Vengeance, as well as an HD remake of the franchise's first tag-team game, Tekken Tag Tournament and a demo for Tekken Tag Tournament 2 (they're calling it a "Prologue"), there's a lot here to like, hampered by one absolutely fatal, baffling flaw: Namco Bandai doesn't think you want to play the games included here online.

Tekken Tag Tournament HD

My instinct with a lot of older 3D fighting games is that you really don't want to revisit them. The evolution that they've gone through in terms of speed, counters, and what's now the simple act of circling your opponent were rougher back in the day. If you've gone back and played Virtua Fighter 2 or Dead or Alive, you'll know what I'm talking about.

So it says a lot about Tekken Tag Tournament and the series as a whole that it wasn't too difficult jumping back into that game. Sometime around Tekken 3, Namco's designers figured out a series of systems for the game—from how your character moves to how the juggle system works—that's really just gone through a series of small evolutionary leaps over the last decade. I'll reserve the merits and drawbacks of that level (or lack) of innovation for another time, but if you've played Tekken in some form in the last few years, this won't feel totally unfamiliar. Although, there were no walls in the arenas for this entry, so you won't be able to bully your opponent in a corner like you've been able to since Tekken 4.

The two on two fighter is about what you'd expect, gathering the character roster up to that point in tag team matches. My memory of the original game in its PS2 and Arcade incarnations is imperfect, but the experience feels pretty close to what I remember. You can swap out your fighters mid-match, allowing them to recover some of the damage that they've taken, and swap them back in for tag attacks. The game still bases losses on just one of your characters going down, and after being spoiled by Marvel vs. Capcom, this makes the matches feel much quicker than they should be.

The HD remake includes the bowling mode from the PS2 version as well as Arcade and Survival modes, with an update that's smoothed out the chunkiness of the polygons from the 2000 release, while still retaining the sort of stiff animation from the original, which oddly gives it some extra charm. Namco continues their recent trend of starting their fighting games with all characters unlocked, so this is a bonus for all of you who don't care for beating the game multiple times or under specific conditions to see special characters in the lineup.

So, taken on the merits of a perfect recreation of an 11-year-old game, it's, well, perfect. The problem is that it's 2011 and there's no reason to have a fighting game without even a basic online fighting component. Philosophically, I can't think of a reason for Namco Bandai to have omitted this feature, so it had to have been either a matter of time, money, or both. But the end result is that the game feels incomplete. Of course the home release of the original didn't include online multiplayer, but there are so many other compelling fighting games right now that to skip out on one of the features that's taken for granted in nearly every recent title in the last five years really hampers the experience.

Tekken Tag Tournament 2 Prologue

Serving as essentially a glorified demo (which isn't necessarily a bad thing), Prologue is your best bet at getting your Tekken Tag Tournament 2 fix in advance of its release next winter. It's a nice little peek at that game featuring just four characters, sort of tying into the included movie: Devil Jin, Devil Kazuya, Alisa, and Xiaoyu. There's not a whole lot here besides an arcade and versus mode, but you do get to check out the new engine the sequel will be running under and mess around with what feels like a slightly tighter experience than the one we got for Tekken 6. The combat feels satisfyingly closer than the last numbered game in the series—you simply have to get toe-to-toe with your opponent and at least with the character presented here, it seems like it's not as easy to start combos from about a character length or more away.

It's a demo, so no other features are included, and no, you don't get multiplayer here, either. Still, it did a good job of getting me psyched for the sequel, so there's that.

Tekken: Blood Vengeance

I reviewed this movie during its limited 3D run and don't have much more to add, but here's the core of my thoughts on the film:

For the uninitiated, what remains are some bone-crunching action scenes and a vein of absurd comedy (wait until you see teacher Lee Chaolan's house, which is the definition of "swag") over the movie's relatively brisk running time. Even as an admittedly huge fan of the narrative excesses of the series, I sometimes felt on the outside of Blood Vengeance, but never so much that I wanted to stop watching. Of the three movies bearing the Tekken name (including a simply awful traditional animated version from 1997), I'm going to call it now and say it's probably the best.

I do think I enjoyed it a little more without 3D hampering the experience, but the option is available if you've got a 3D TV and glasses. The movie is rich, colorful, and in patches nicely-textured on the Blu-ray, and includes a couple of making-of docs and trailers.

Tekken Hybrid could be considered an attractive package if you look at is as a copy of Tekken Blood Vengeance that happens to include an HD copy of Tekken Tag and a demo for its sequel. But I—erroneously, it seems—approached it from the other direction: an HD remake of Tekken Tag with all that other stuff as a bonus. As a result, it felt like I got the short shrift on the HD remake. So, this is very much a case of "your mileage will vary": you'll get a pretty much perfect remake of a game you might have enjoyed 11 years ago, but you're not going to get to enjoy it like you would any current-gen fighter.

Tekken Hybrid is available now for the PS3.

SDCC 11: Tekken Hybrid Trailer

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