Tekken 8 – you’ll feel the Heat (Picture: Bandai Namco)
Legendary fighter Tekken finally returns, in what is the most accessible and fully featured entry in the series so far.
Since they aren’t released on any kind of regular schedule fighting games are rarely talked about in terms of generations, but it is always interesting to compare the big three when they all have a new sequel out at roughly the same time. Street Fighter 6 was a triumph but although Mortal Kombat 1 reviewed well its story reboot had a relatively lukewarm response from fans. Tekken 8 is the last to arrive to the party, but fans are certain to welcome it as one of the best entries in the entire franchise.
Mortal Kombat never commands the same respect at tournament level as the other two, especially compared to other beloved, but less mainstream, franchises such as The King Of Fighters and Guilty Gear (as ever, Smash Bros. exists in its own pocket universe of fandom, especially as Nintendo refuses to let it be part of most tournaments).
Although the two games are not very similar (Tekken is nominally a 3D fighter, while Capcom’s game works solely on a 2D plane) Tekken has always been Street Fighter’s natural rival. And yet while it was a perfectly competent game, Tekken 7 was never able to take full advantage of Street Fighter 5’s rocky first few years. That’s unsurprising when its main selling points were merely better graphics and more characters, but Tekken 8 has a lot more going for it than just that.
Innovation is almost unheard of in the fighting game genre, at least for those titles that stick to the traditional formulas laid down in the early 90s. It’s not a failing of imagination but simply the reality of working with such a specific concept. Iteration and refinement are the watchwords for fighting games, not evolution, and Tekken 8’s priorities are very similar to Street Fighter 6: accessibility and meaningful single-player content.
Multiplayer may be the lifeblood of the fighting game community, but the mere concept can be very off-putting for new players and both Capcom and Bandai Namco seem to have realised that all the talk of online competition scares off as many players as it attracts. And since Tekken has one of the longest running narratives in all gaming, with no reboots in 30 years (its pearl anniversary is September 21), Tekken 8 leans into that with a particularly bombastic story mode.
We still don’t think anyone but hardcore fans is going to have a clue what’s going on but it’s easy enough to grasp the basics, with a family feud between heroic but demonically-tainted son Jin Kazama and his father Kazuya Mishima, who is both an evil corporate overlord and a supernaturally powerful martial artist. There’s a lot, lot more to it than that but while we quickly started to lose a grip on who was doing what and why the wonderfully over-the-top cut scenes are consistently entertaining and a fine reward for persevering.
Importantly, story mode also does a good job of introducing the basics of combat, complete with an optional alternative control system that makes it simpler to pull off combos and special attacks. However, the Special Style mode inevitably locks out a lot of options because, unlike Street Fighter 6’s Modern mode, Tekken characters have a lot more moves than anyone in Capcom’s games.
Special Style is optional though, to the point where it can be turned on and off mid-battle. Instead, the main new feature, no matter what controls you’re using, is the Heat system. It’s different for each character, in terms of what additional options it grants you, but it’s basically a one shot powered-up state where you’re not just stronger but gain new perks and abilities, from causing chip damage to brand new moves.
You can use it from the very start of a round but only once, and it doesn’t last long (although some characters can extend that time slightly), so while it’s up to you, it’s tempting to hold off and use it as a last resort or to try and ensure you get that last extra attack needed to score a win.
There are similar systems in other games but the tactical decision of when to initiate Heat mode adds a welcome extra flavour to matches. Plus, it factors into other new elements, such as the ability for any character to recover health from a quick counterattack. It’s only possible in certain circumstances, indicated by a portion of your health bar turning grey, but quickly retaliating can regain that whole section.
Again, that’s not a new idea – apart from anything, it’s very similar to the Rally system in Bloodborne – but none of the numbered Tekken games have ever had anything similar before.
As with Bloodborne, the goal is to encourage aggressive play, rather than relying on blocking and evasion, and together with the Heat system it works very well in doing so. The mechanics might not be original, but the way they discourage overly defensive play is very much against the traditional tenets of Tekken. So, in its way, Tekken 8 is quite the change of place.
Azucena’s taunting is going to upset some people (Picture: Bandai Namco)
We would’ve liked to have seen a bit more emphasis on 3D movement though, as while it’s still possible to sidestep left and right, to circle round your opponent, it feels very much like a legacy feature that the developer is only keeping in for older fans. Which is a shame as Tekken is one of the few 3D fighters left standing, now that it’s been so long since the last Virtua Fighter or Soulcalibur.
It’s also a shame that despite having 32 players on the initial roster, which is an impressive number, very few of them are brand new. That’s a mistake Mortal Kombat 1 made as well and having only three new faces can’t help but be disappointing.
We like Peruvian fighter Azucena and her ‘Coffee Queen’ persona but she’s just a MMA fighter; while Reina is yet another branch on the Mishima family tree, even if she’s more acrobatic than usual. Victor Chevalier is perhaps the most interesting, from a gameplay perspective, as he uses both a sword and Solid Snake style close quarters combat, but we wanted more.
In most other regards Tekken 8 barely puts a foot wrong. The story mode is a great way to learn how to play but there’s also a fully featured practice mode and the brand new Arcade Quest, which simulates playing other people online. However, rather than just throw you up against a bunch of anonymous bots it creates a whole meta story about becoming king of the game’s virtual arcade.
The equally new Super Ghost Battle mode isn’t quite as involved but it is another useful training tool, as you battle ghost opponents based on the play style of other online players. It’s basically Drivatars from Froza but for a fighting game, with a splash of Smash Bros. on top – as you train up your own ghost to send out to challenge other players.
Tekken 8 – there are plenty of modes online as well as offline (Picture: Bandai Namco)
Another great feature for both new and old players is the ability to replay any match at any time, either yours or other online players. Not only can you use this to examine exactly what went right or wrong you can immediately replay the match at any moment, as either character.
There’s only so much we can say about the online mode pre-launch, as it was only available at specific times during the review period, but it seems very solid, with a variety of rollback options. The main online mode is Tekken Fight Lounge, where you can create a custom avatar for yourself and choose to fight in either ranked or unranked matches, or your own custom matches.
There’s also the return of volleyball mini-game Tekken Ball, although we can’t say we’ve ever enjoyed that and much prefer Tekken Bowl.
We imagine the lack of new fighters will be addressed with subsequent DLC but beyond that the game’s flaws are impressively minor, in what is almost certain to end up as our favourite Tekken game since the PS1 era. This is a sequel that’s been designed with purpose and ambition and while it’s been keen to boast about its improved graphics (which are very good) it’s the training options and huge range of solo and multiplayer modes that impresses the most.
Tekken 8 doesn’t have any groundbreaking new ideas but it’s debatable whether any fighting game ever has in the modern era. It’s one of the reasons why the genre seems so off-putting to non-fans, but Tekken 8 does everything it can to tempt you into giving it a chance and once you do, you’ll likely never want to leave.
Tekken 8 review summary
In Short: The best Tekken game of the modern era, with a vastly improved range of game modes and the most accessible and aggressive action the series has ever seen.
Pros: Hugely entertaining action that’s easy to get into and yet full of depth, with very distinctive characters and play styles. Excellent single-player modes that make learning the game’s systems fun. Great multiplayer and graphics.
Cons: Only three new characters out of a roster of 32 is disappointing. Simplified controls are only useful up to a point and the lack of emphasis on 3D movement is a shame.
Formats: PlayStation 5 (reviewed), Xbox Series X/S, and PC
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Developer: Bandai Namco Studios and Arika
Release Date: 25th January 2024
Age Rating: 16
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