Tekken 3D Prime Edition is a joint effort between Namco and Arika, with the latter being responsible for the Street Fighter EX series, as well as the 3D revivals like 3D Classics: Excitebike. It's abundantly clear that the technical performance was a top priority during development, but overall, the amount of content seems to have suffered as a result. The inclusion of the Tekken Blood Vengeance film is a fleeting curiosity at best and doesn't even come close to making up for the lack of variety in gameplay.
Prime's greatest triumph is its smooth frame rate, which does the game's hard-hitting nature proper justice. You don't have to sacrifice speed for 3D, for the most part. Multiplayer is the one exception, in that the 3D mode is automatically disabled. Regardless, the fact that the single-player modes support the full frame rate with 3D enabled is an outstanding achievement. It absolutely sets the bar for any future fighting games on the system.
Most of the character models look exactly like their counterparts found in the PSP version of Tekken 6, which is a good thing; both games share the same roster. The 3DS has a slightly lower resolution, but the smaller screen diminishes any discernible differences in the end. The one major exception is Heihachi, who has been given an overhaul from the waist up, similar to Tekken Tag Tournament 2. Character models are large, detailed, and crisp. Screenshots do not reflect the excellent work that's gone into rendering the characters on the 3DS, and they truly stand out with 3D turned to the max.
If you've played a Tekken game before, you can expect to feel right at home with Prime. The move lists are on par with recent entries in the series and it's easy to get lost in the heat of combat. Sadly, the 3DS's small D-pad and buttons make it hard to input a lot of your favorite moves. Using the circle pad makes more ergonomic sense, but Tekken is a game where commands are heavily dependent on directional inputs. Without defined directions, the circle pad is just the lesser of two evils. This is a hardware problem, and the developers tried to remedy this by allowing you to program inputs, or combinations thereof, to large buttons on the lower screen. It works in theory, but true competitors often shy away from these types of shortcuts. That said, if you want to play Tekken on the 3DS, the limitations and solutions provided might be a necessary evil you have to endure.
Stage design took a bit of a hit. There are few transparencies, little to no animation in any given stage, and depth is often handled through the use of parallax to presumably minimize polygon counts. Overall, the stage design feels secondary to the characters, which sounds bad, but it makes perfect sense in a Tekken game where the stages usually have little practical impact on gameplay.
Beyond design, there is a lack of variety that really stands out in a negative way. There's no story to speak of, and character customization is limited to palette swaps. The various items available in previous games didn't bolster the gameplay experience much, but they were omitted from this release. After all, an entire movie fit on the card, so clearly memory wasn't the issue.
Arcade mode has been replaced with Quick Battle, a series of 10 rounds with increasingly difficult opponents. It sounds similar to what you'd expect from an Arcade mode, but there isn't a final battle with an iconic boss, so it's not traditional in that respect. Because there's no story, the only ending cutscene available is the credits, which might not fit most people's definition of an ending in a Tekken game.
Local multiplayer performs well, showing no signs of lag. Online multiplayer is a slightly different story. In the matches we were able to find from the small sample size of users who actually have the game, we experienced a range of results. The game lets you specify whether you want to search locally or not, but regardless of our choice, lag would pop up now and again. This feature is heavily dependent on a user's individual connection, obviously, so it's disappointing to see there is no indication of signal strength when choosing matches from the lobby. Another limitation of multiplayer is the inability to switch characters when playing online. If you want to rematch outside of local multiplayer, you have no choice but to continue using the same character.
The Practice and Survival modes are fundamentally bare bones as well. Special Survival mode is pretty much what it sounds like: you face off against a series of opponents using a single bar of health that regenerates slightly between rounds. The "Special" designation comes into play when you face off against opponents that only incur damage in a specific manner, such as being hit in midair. The Survival mode is challenging at best and frustrating at worst. There's nothing like proving your worth through 39 rounds, just to lose the final battle because you can't juggle your opponent properly.
The truth is that the only rewards the game provides are in the form of cards, static images of Tekken characters from throughout the series. Generally speaking, the cards are nothing more than a distraction. There are 765 cards to collect, which are earned in numerous ways during the course of the Quick Battle and Survival modes. They consist of static images with varying degrees of depth when viewed in 3D mode, but that's it. You can select three cards to trade during StreetPass interactions in the wild, but unless you're the most diehard Tekken fan, why bother? It's the wrong kind of motivation, considering the entire game is based on Tekken characters represented in 3D.
Perhaps the missing costume augmentations could have been utilized as a means to boost the combat and social experience, if only in a superficial way. At least you would get something out of random interactions in the real world. Though it may be asking too much, why not have the hypothetical customizable characters transferable over StreetPass as well? Talk about missed opportunities. Having a pair of aviators to slap on Roger Jr. is preferable to a picture of Heihachi's scalp. The keyword is scalp, which is not a comment on a particular feature of Heihachi but a criticism of the entire contents of card number 665.
Last, and justifiably least, is the inclusion of the Tekken: Blood Vengeance movie. The film is really tailored for the most diehard Tekken fans. The one upside is that the encode was done incredibly well and does a good job of showing off the potential for 3D movies on the system. Some people may see the film as a bonus, but considering the gaps in content of the actual game, it's easy to imagine it was intended to fill in those holes, rather than to provide a cool bonus.
Tekken 3D Prime Edition is an inconsistent package. On the one hand, it sets technical milestones for future fighting games on the 3DS to meet. Apart from these achievements, the game leaves a lot to be desired. If you love Tekken and don't mind the inherent control limitations of the 3DS, the portable multiplayer experience may be reason enough to justify your purchase. If you're looking for a portable fighting game that mimics the content found in console titles, however, you should look elsewhere.