I've never been good at fighting games. My positive experiences with brawlers (read: winning) begin and end with the arcade version of Sonic the Fighters back in the 1990s. But I don't hate them. I'd be lying if I said I haven't played any fighting game since then, doubly so if I said it was out of hatred. I've pummelled my way through instalments in most of the major franchises - Tekken, Soul Calibur, Dead or Alive, Street Fighter. I just tend to lose. Horribly. I lack the dexterity and timing for elaborate combos and last-minute dodges and sneaky counters. I am dextrously incapable of doing well in this genre.
So when I tell you that Tekken 3D: Prime Edition is Namco's way of saying they don't really care what you, the Tekken fan who somehow only owns a 3DS, think about whatever they offer you, I want you to know that that doesn't come from someone who hates fighting games or from someone with an irrational grudge against the Tekken series. This is someone who cares about your next purchase. This is someone who is being honest when he says that Namco knows you, the avid Tekken fan, are probably going to buy this game anyway because, let's face it, you need your fix and you weren't exactly on the ball about getting a PS3 or an Xbox 360. This is someone who wants you to understand that this is every Tekken game you've played before, just less of it.
I'm just here to help you make an informed decision.
The first instalment for the series on the Nintendo 3DS, Tekken 3D isn't everything we’ve come to expect and more from Namco's flagship brawling series; indeed, if Tekken 6 is everything we’ve come to expect from the series, then prepare to get less. A lot less.
There are two singleplayer modes on offer for the solitary gamer - Quick Battle mode, which mashes Tekken 5's Arcade Mode up with the structure of a typical Story Mode and presents a series of increasingly difficult fights; and Special Survival, a new mode that pits the player’s fighter and a solitary health meter against a set number of opponents - and both local and internet multiplayer options, for those more inclined to play with others. All up, that's not a lot of options - no Time Attack, no Gold Rush, no Survival, no Team Battle, not even any character customisation to mess around with. Forty-one characters return from Tekken 6, but hey, you liked their costumes anyway, right?
Tekken 3D's no-frills presentation extends to the ring itself - with a diminished number of stages and no Rage Mode or Item Moves, for example, the nuances are restricted to the classic combos and whatever uses are intended for the touchpad commands (commands that are helpful and fun, but don't add a lot to the dynamic of any given fight). Namco has gone to extensive lengths to ensure that the Tekken 3D is as fundamentally similar to its console and arcade kin as possible, while cutting down significantly on the pomp and circumstance that its kin is wont to indulge in.
Avid Tekken players, then, are sold. Namco has distilled Tekken to its essence - the combos are smooth and rewarding to master, the fights aren't too slow and aren't too fast, the characters are all varied and just a little ridiculous. This is a Tekken fix; no more, no less. Sure, it's in pointless, irritating 3D, but even that isn’t necessary – it can be switched off if you find the depth of field isn't a sufficient trade-off for being able to move the console as you fight. This is what you've played for, it's what you'll play again.
But enough for the avid Tekken fan. There's also the Nintendo 3DS owner who has seen the Tekken logo around, and understands it's a popular series, but doesn't really get it.
There aren't many fighting games on the Nintendo 3DS, and the low-key absurdity of the Tekken universe, with its fighting pandas, senile old kung fu masters, boxing kangaroos and anime schoolgirl robots, gives it a certain appeal that, say, Dead or Alive 3D doesn't have (and it's not like this game's short on the objectification of women, either, so those who look for that in their gaming purchases are in luck).
However, it's hard to deny that there's not that much here, and what is here isn't exactly top-shelf stuff. Special Survival and Quick Battle are entertaining but limited, and Quick Battle can be incredibly frustrating for those without some fighting game experience. The multiplayer component should be more promising, but lag is frequent enough to be frustrating and it can be difficult to find match-ups at any given time. It looks good and the fundamentals are solid, nothing more.
Tekken 3DS enters a largely empty market, one only previously occupied by a Street Fighter instalment and the 3DS edition of that series that makes a selling point out of 'jiggle physics'. Unfortunately, despite the over-the-top character roster (and the hilariously po-faced way it's presented), solid graphics, and unwavering adherence to basic fighting conventions, there's nothing here that really commands attention. It's a Tekken game, but stripped bare. That's all anyone ever really needs to know.