In that at least, Tekken's debut on the 3DS scores highly.
Tekken's always had some of the most flawless visuals in the genre and never needed to adopt the increasingly cartoon expressionism of Street Fighter nor the jiggling motion of Dead or Alive, but Tekken's was just icing on a hearty cake filled with great character animation and fight styles with precise timing. Foundations that leave the franchise in good stead come its 3DS debut.
The 3DS visual footprint might fall short of the work Capcom and Tecmo put into their franchise conversions, but if you're an old hand at Namco's premier fighting series, you'll be able to cue combos and timings fine. Even if the fighters' textures are downscaled, their animations aren't, and the game runs silkily smooth, whatever dimension you choose.
Likewise Tekken's four-limbed control discipline is of benefit. Going handheld with a fighting game has its issues dependent on the console design: focus on the front four face buttons means that, whilst you've got to adapt to the smaller space on each, you're not hindered in bludgeoning the L and R buttons to death.
Namco has followed its peers by adopting touch screen shortcuts, customisable for specific moves, but given the evenly-divided setup only the two right-hand side commands will be comfortably reachable mid-fight. Your left hand will be too violently spasming due to the death grip needed on the stick/D-Pad combo, thumb cramp a forgone conclusion come a quarter hour or more of fighting sessions - a hardware, rather than game, issue. Note though that while the D-Pad is always preferable for move sets, even the 3DS's feels spongy here.
Given the franchise's usual aversion for sparse fillings, 3D Prime Edition is an oddly mixed bag. Last time Tekken hit a Nintendo handheld, it brought with it a roster barely touching the double figures. Prime Edition clocks forty from the off: veterans entering their eighteenth year on the Character Select lists, as well as additions debuting in Tekken 6.
Shame then that for the solo player 3D Prime Edition lacks the meaty trimmings we've come to expect. A multitiered Survival is more slog than gruelling test as you see how far your technical process can carry both you and a single energy bar through multiple opponents. Quick Battle's Arcade without the gloriously bizarre endings, but keeps the quick-switch difficulty. We're still waiting for a time when a developer manages to provide a smoothly scaling difficulty in the classic SP Arcade modes. Lastly Practice is as it's always been.
Namco has tried to elongate the single player experience through two elements. One, the collectable Tekken Card game, a 765-piece colossus with new cards randomly unlocked through winning matches, all of which can be exchanged with other players through 3DS StreetPass. Second's a ranking system with promotion chances offered through the game, and which funnels into multiplayer.
It's still arguable that SP is just a training dojo for the 'real' core of any fighting game - facing off against human opponents. Prime Edition offers the standard setups of Online or Local Play. The former's split into Ranked or Friendly fights, and it'd have been great to have seen a single cart option for Local, even if it was only same-character match-ups In Ranked you can customise your opponents to those of similar rank rather than random - a boon for those stepping into the aggressive fighting culture for the first time.
As expected pre-launch, the online lobbies were, when we attempted to connect, empty, so we're unable to test out online matches - nor the theory that your online character is locked to your initial main character choice on the game's opening menus. While you can change that in a sub-menu (and as each character carries a separate ranking and win/lose ratio, opens up an entirely different challenge in itself), it feels more oversight than streamlining if so. We'll be returning to Tekken's online features in a future article.
Other things of note? The cart comes with a copy of the 3D flick Blood Vengeance, which offers an interesting diversion but loses points due to need to restart the film any time you flip between it and the game - surely an issue expected given the system's portability. Also worth noting is the franchise's ever-brilliant soundtrack, if only to point out the background music to the Alpine stage - a mix of hardcore beats...and yodelling.
Namco has done a great job transferring the core Tekken experience to the 3DS, with character numbers and visuals proving that it's less of a downgrade in going portable than you'd think. However, multiplayer-focused arguments aside, it'd have been great to see a healthier and more diverse list of single player modes to buff up the package. As such it's not an essential purchase as the home console versions of the franchise would be. It pips Dead or Alive but looses out to Super Street Fighter IV as the 3DS's fighting champ.