In the past, the portable fighting game was little more than a novelty. With only a couple of exceptions, Game Boy and Game Gear fighting ports were dirty, ugly versions of their arcade and console counterparts, complete with poor control. But as handheld systems became more powerful, the quality of fighting games skyrocketed. Since then, we've seen games like Street Fighter Alpha on the Game Boy Color and SNK vs. Capcom for the NeoGeo Pocket Color, both of which proved that handhelds could handle a decent fighting game. The introduction of the Game Boy Advance gave another bump to the genre and gave us a close-enough-to-perfect rendition of Super Street Fighter II Turbo, and now the handheld features a surprising port of Tekken 3 in the form of Tekken Advance. Namco may have had to cut a few corners to fit the 3D fighter onto Nintendo's handheld, but the end product looks and feels enough like the original game to succeed.
The first thing you'll notice about Tekken Advance is its altered control scheme. The button configuration has been reduced to three buttons, one for kick, one for punch, and one for throws. Additionally, in the game's tag mode, the fourth button is used for tagging out. This downsized control setting is a little awkward at first, but after a few rounds, it quickly becomes second nature. The main thing the setup forces you to compensate for is how you accomplish some of your moves. If you have a character like Paul, who originally was designed to do two different moves that involve hitting forward twice and hitting one of your two kick buttons, you'll have to decide which move you want by either tapping forward twice and hitting kick or tapping forward twice, holding the second tap, and pressing kick. It's slightly confusing at first, but after an hour or so, you won't even notice. The majority of the characters' major moves are intact, though most of the move sets have been reduced quite a bit. For instance, there are no "hold back and hit two buttons" counters in the game.
The game features a decent-sized roster of Tekken 3 favorites but doesn't feature a lengthy list of unlockables. Additionally, some of the standards, such as Eddy and Lei, are absent. The default character roster consists of Xiaoyu, Yoshimitsu, Nina, Law, Gunjack, Hwoarang, Paul, King, and Jin. Heihachi serves as the game's boss. Aside from the main arcade mode, the game also features a link-cable versus mode, time attack, survival, tag battle, versus tag battle, and practice.
The polygonal look of the Tekken series is, for the most part, intact, but this is where most of the aforementioned corners were cut. Understandably, the game uses prerendered character models rather than trying to render the characters polygonally. The game's animation is fairly choppy as a result, which in turn changes the game's timing fairly significantly. Still, the game looks quite good for a portable game. The stage floors rotate around in the SNES-style Mode-7 fashion that has been repopularized by the GBA. The game has great sound too, retaining a lot of the effects from the original version of the game and delivering pretty faithful renditions of the original game's music, as well.
On its own merits, Tekken Advance is a solid fighting game. That said, some longtime fans of the series may find themselves stumbling over the game's timing changes or simplified move sets. But the differences aren't noticeable enough to keep Tekken Advance from being a game worth playing, and thankfully, it has more to offer than just the novelty of seeing yet another series favorably scaled down to handheld size.