The early PlayStation rush of 3D games saw many developers trying their hands at new things. Yet it was Namco who were quick to stake their claim as the kings of PlayStation beat-em-ups. With Soul Blade and Tekken devouring all before them, the bar was set monumentally high right out the gate – a bar that arguably was never toppled on the console. Yet many skipped over the early days of these franchises, instead arriving when the polish had been well and truly applied. Soul Calibar is much more loved than Blade, while Tekken 1 is largely ignored in favour of its two much more loved sequels. Given that Tekken 1 arrived 22 years ago on this day, I figured it deserved some attention from someone who lost many, many days to its addictive gameplay.
Revisiting the original Tekken is like staring back in time at the state of early PlayStation gaming. It was the wild west for 3D games, with developers being pushed by Sony to make only 3D games for the new console. It meant that traditional 2D genres were stumbling to their feet in the third dimension – leading to some wildly varying results in the process. Beat-em-Ups had some of the hardest obstacles to overcome – as 3D changed the dynamics of the genre. Tekken 1 is one of the more solid examples of this transition – a game that had a great core but didn’t really have the variety in numbers to fully capitalize.
This isn’t to say it’s a bad game per-say, the core mechanics hold up relatively well considering its age. The big problem is that its sequels were so expansive and bold in the direction they took the series that the original almost feels comically short of things to do. The fact that Tekken 2 arrived in 1996, packing an almost exhaustive amount of content in the process, only serves to highlight how petite Tekken 1’s offerings were.
You see Tekken 1 only came packing a whopping two game modes – Arcade Mode and Versus Mode. While later games would go overboard with the sheer quantity of things to do, in the 1995 original you’re pretty much left to your own devices. No team modes. No survival options. This is one of the purest fighting game experiences you’ll find on a console, for better or worse.
Arcade Mode was where the games ‘story’ played out. If there’s one thing Tekken held on to for the longest time, it was a bare bones Arcade Mode. Here you pick from the roster of characters and play through a succession of fights, eventually coming up against your characters designated ‘rival’. In order to unlock this rival, you had to beat them and Arcade Mode. Once you’d completed this task, you were treated to an FMV cut scene depicting your characters triumph. That’s about as much story as you’re getting from this game without diving into the instruction manual.
Versus Mode was the arena of choice for those looking to take on friends. You get to choose your character and the stage you fight on… and that’s it really. You do also get the option of choosing how many rounds a fight goes for, as well as imposing a time limit.
Graphically the game looks pretty fine compared to a number of other early PlayStation 1 titles. The varied locales that make up stages, as well as the variety afforded in characters, work to help distract from the many rough edges that exist. Compared to Tekken 2 it’s a bit of a mess, but that’s not this games fault. It was at the bleeding edge of 3D console gaming and manages to admirably (if very jaggidly) pull off its intended feats.
The game does however lack the ability to sidestep, which returning to experience is about as friendly as slap in the face. This game plays very much like a traditional 2D fighter – taking place over a 2D plane with the background shifting around the player. It’s an interesting idea for sure, but it’s one that the game manages to get away with at this stage.
The original Tekken is a solid if unremarkable game looking back. In 1995, this game was hugely enjoyable and among the better of the PlayStation’s earlier entries. It lacks variety but hey, it’s still hugely enjoyable in small bursts. With its huge cast of characters