Tekken 4 Updated Preview
We put the Japanese version of the game through its paces.
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Since its debut in arcades in 1994, the Tekken series has played a large part in bringing 3D fighters to the masses. Featuring a diverse roster of selectable characters, a solid storyline, accessible gameplay, and slick graphics, the Tekken games have made a strong impact in arcades. The subsequent home conversions of the games on the PlayStation and PlayStation 2 hardware have been as influential as their arcade counterparts thanks to the effort that Namco has put into providing a solid number of extras for the games. The games have come to set the standard by which home conversions of arcade titles have come to be judged. We've put the import version of the latest entry in the series, Tekken 4, through its paces and are pleased to report that it manages to stay true to the standards set by its predecessors.
The game's story picks up two years after the third Iron Fist tournament played out in Tekken 3 and finds perennial villain Heihachi back to stir up trouble. Failing in his quest to capture Ogre, he looks for an alternate method of achieving his goal: to create a new life-form by splicing Ogre's genome with his own. When his scientists discover that the merging is impossible without the presence of an additional gene, the devil gene, Heihachi, begins a search for Jin Kazama. Jin's transformation into a devil after being shot by Heihachi at the end of the third tournament was a dead giveaway to his demonic nature. When his search for Jin is unsuccessful, Heihachi shifts gears and opts to search for Kazuya--or rather his body, since Heihachi had to throw his son into a volcano 20 years earlier. Things go awry following the discovery that Kazuya was in fact resurrected by the G Corporation--a biotech firm specializing in biogenetic research. His forces decimated by his surly demonic offspring, Heihachi holds a fourth Iron Fist tournament in the hopes of drawing out Kazuya and capturing him.
Tekken 4's cast follows the standard mixing of old and new faces that fans have come to expect in the series. Veteran fighters Hwoarang, Yoshimitsu, Julia Chang, Lee Chaolan, Ling Xiaoyou, Lei Wulong, Jin Kazama, Paul Phoenix, Kazuya Mishima, Nina Williams, Bryan Fury, Marshall Law, King, Heihachi, Kuma, Panda, and the Combot are joined by three new newcomers, who bring a fresh assortment of fighting styles. Craig Marduk, schooled in the art of vale tudo, joins Christie Monteiro, daughter of the capoeira master who taught Eddy Gordo, and British boxer Steve Fox in the ring. As in every game, each character has his or her own particular motivation for entering the tournament, which ties into the game's main story in some way.
While the game's cast of characters sticks to the same formula seen in the previous entries in the series, Tekken 4's gameplay offers some significant tweaks to the fighting system. While the core four-button gameplay that fans have grown accustomed to is still at the heart of the game, there have been some definite changes. This time around, Namco has done more than simply go through and tweak returning characters to fine-tune the game's balance. Some characters, like Jin, have undergone some pretty hefty changes that will find players relearning the timing of some of their favorite moves and combos.
Beyond tweaks made to individual characters, the fighting system as a whole has undergone a bit of work as well. Unlike with the previous entries in the game, you'll find that the actual stages in which you fight play a pretty significant part of a battle now. Every stage is now enclosed, and you'll have to familiarize yourself with the boundaries of each area and how to best take advantage of them to fight effectively. While this isn't as big an issue in some of the larger stages, like the mall, which offer enough space to move around to accommodate the fighting style that most gamers have grown accustomed to using, the smaller stages require a bit of work. For example, in the garage stage, you'll find yourself in a small area enclosed by a cheering crowd and assorted crates. The space you have to fight in is a fraction of some of the other stages in the game. The close-quarters combat adds quite a bit of tension to fights and definitely keeps players on their toes. To be most effective in these smaller arenas, you'll have to become well acquainted with one
of the game's new additions to the fighting system: position changes. This move lets you get out of a tight spot by grabbing your opponent and swapping positions. Once you've gotten the timing down, the move will be invaluable if you get backed into a corner. Another feature in the game, the slide move--which has been used in previous Tekken games--has been tweaked to allow greater ease of movement. You'll find that the ability to move around your opponent a bit more easily proves quite useful in the smaller stages as well. The combination of walls, the position change, and tweaked slide moves definitely bring a new dimension to the fighting in the game. The new variety and changes to the fighting system keep things from getting stale, which is nice to see after five entries in the series.
Graphically, Tekken 4 looks quite sharp. Historically, the home versions of the series have always benefited from the fact that their arcade counterparts have run on PlayStation arcade hardware, and Tekken 4 is no exception. Developed on Namco's System 246 arcade board, which is essentially PlayStation 2 hardware, the game has been brought home beautifully. The characters all feature a nice amount of detail that ranges from the patterns on their clothing to their accessories. Animation is slick as ever, thanks to fluid movement for the characters' fighting moves, as well as their hair, clothing, and accessories. In terms of design, it's nice to see some of the veteran characters, whose look has changed to reflect the passage of time. Well, except for Nina and the bears, who continue to defy
age and, in Nina's case, gravity in each installment of the series. The stages in the game actually feature detail that's equally impressive as that found on the characters. The various areas feature slick water effects and a host of other little touches, like a variety of interactive elements. You'll be able to break glass and objects in many stages and take out certain members of the crowd cheering you on if your blow lands on the right spot. While the interactivity doesn't effect combat, it's a nice touch that keeps the levels visually interesting. One of the most impressive aspects of the visuals in the game also quietly marks a first for a PlayStation 2 game: Tekken 4 is the first PS2 title to feature a 525p progressive scan mode. Holding the triangle and X buttons after putting the game in will call up a screen that gives you the option of toggling progressive scan mode on. Videophiles who own progressive scan televisions will marvel at the game running through component cables in this mode--the image clarity is stunning. Hopefully, more developers will support this feature.
In terms of extras, Tekken 4 shouldn't disappoint fans of the series who have come to expect a lot out of Namco's home conversions. You'll find eight modes: arcade/time attack, versus, team battle, survival, practice, training, story battle, and Tekken force, and there's a "theater" that lets you watch the ending of every character you've completed the game with to choose from. Arcade/time attack is obviously the conversion of the arcade game. As you complete the game with each character, you'll unlock an assortment of extra characters, as well as ending sequences you can watch in the theater mode. Versus is your standard two-player mode. Team battle lets
you choose an assortment of fighters and fight your way to the top. Survival is your typical test of skill against a barrage of fighters with a single life bar. Practice lets you hone your skill in one of three ways--a freestyle match, a match against the CPU, or defensive training. Alternately, training challenges you to match onscreen controller inputs to master a character's moves. Story battle lets you take one character through a series of matches that are interspersed with still-screen sequences that offer some insight into that character's background. Finally, Tekken force mode offers a new 3D take on the side-scrolling fighting minigame seen in Tekken 3 on the PlayStation. You'll take a character through a series of areas littered with enemies. At the end of each area, you'll find a boss character in the form of one of the fighters from the game, who must be defeated to proceed. You'll collect a bizarre assortment of eggs, chicks, and chickens to increase your health, as well as drinks that charge your attacks along the way. The various modes offer an always appreciated bit of replay value that ensures that players will be going through the game for some time. The story mode is a solid new addition to Namco's standard assortment of extras, while the force mode is a mixed blessing due to its camera system and difficulty.
As you can imagine, the Japanese version of Tekken 4 didn't fail to please. It offers an excellent assortment of extras that should keep players engaged for some time. The inclusion of a progressive scan mode is also a small but noteworthy extra that lets the game's visuals shine. We also think the opportunity to sit down and spend some time exploring the refinements and additions to the gameplay system will let players appreciate the changes and the game as a whole, which may be difficult to do in an arcade setting. While the Tekken series has never been quite as technically oriented as the Virtua Fighter series, it's nice to see Tekken 4 make some strides in that direction while still maintaining its accessibility. Sadly, it's going to be a while before US gamers have the opportunity to play the game--Tekken 4 is currently set for a fall release.