Ah, Tekken. For 22 years the respected four-button fighting franchise has touted tactile, accessible, serious brawling. It’s also been steadfastly crazy, with its insane collection of lovestruck bear bodyguards, trees with cleavage, and homicidal grandads. True to form, Katsuhiro Harada’s latest boasts new ideas so crazy, they just happen to work.
The looniness plays out under the sheen of Unreal 4-powered graphics. Half-shattered destructible arenas are showered with the orange sparks of our landed blows. Crisp button-taps transform smoothly into meaty swings and sweeps. Whether it’s the cinematic-heavy showboating of Story mode (where we play as Street Fighter’s Akuma and batter old favorite Heihachi) or sumptuous slo-mo KOs in versus, everything feels as huge as it looks – no matter how experienced you are.
Tekken 7’s designed for all levels of experience. The proof? A new mechanic called Rage Art, which can completely change the flow of a match. When your health bar drops to life-threatening it pulses a nasty shade of crimson, telling you it’s time to go all Hulk on your opponent with a huge-damage attack. Execution’s easy. Many fighters’ Rage Arts are as easy as pressing two punch or kick buttons together. No meter to charge; no flashy input to pull off. It’s a vast departure from Tekken Tag Tournament 2’s tricky technicality.
Feats of rage
This new weapon doesn’t distort the game, or feel cheap. A Rage Art can easily be blocked, ducked, or side-stepped. The uncomplicated input means we can focus on fundamentals: waiting to time our Rage Art correctly and opening up opponents with well-placed jabs to make sure the super-move hits.
The tense fake-outs that come when both health bars are glowing red are electrifying. Who’ll hit a Rage Art first? When? Will it be blocked, so the inflictor can have the embarrassing fate of being destroyed by an adorable pink catgirl? Will the move be used at all? It makes for classic brawling mind games, and the risks feel sky high.
“When your health bar turns red, it’s time to go all Hulk on your opponent”
Once you’ve recovered your breath/ sanity, Tekken 7’s parry system takes it right back. Everyone has a normal move that’s also a Power Crush, which you can use when getting comboed. You still take injury from high- and mid-level attacks, but you’re able to attack back to turn the tide of battle. But they’re dangerous, as they can be countered by low attacks and throws. When it does pay off, it can make for a devastating comeback, keeping match-ups on a knife edge.
It’s hard to stay too nervous when the Mishima clan queen’s pirouetting tiger smacks you upside the head. These things happen in Tekken. And with a hyperbolic Story mode, a roster stuffed to the squid-ninja gills with personality, and one of the most solid and friendly combat systems since Killer Instinct, they’re happening more often than ever. There’s a fine line amid genius and madness, and Tekken 7 stares you dead in the eyes as it smashes it in two. We couldn’t look away even if we wanted to.
Old Tekken favorites return: Law (Bruce Lee lookalike), Paul (the one with the hair) and even Nina Williams (in a wedding dress, for reasons as yet mysterious). New characters like cosplayer Lucky Chloe and beginner-friendly Saudi warrior Shaheen impress, as does Street Fighter guest Akuma.