There was no question of what to do first in Tekken 7. Straight to Arcade Mode and fight as Akuma, the demon-like Street Fighter II behemoth that we have used to make life a lot harder on so many players over the years. For those who grew up with Street Fighter II and followed the series thereafter, it is of course fascinating to see how he measures up against Bandai Namco's fearsome roster, headlined by fighters like Heihachi, Eddy Gordo, Marshall Law and King.
Our first encounter would take place on the aptly named Arctic Snowfall stage against the newcomer, Gigas, an absolutely terrible thing, who ranks among the best-designed power characters we've seen in a fighting game complete with tentacle-like cables hanging from the back.
Turns out there was good reason to be weary. Gigas is brutally strong and worryingly fast with his air juggles, but Akuma controls just as we'd hoped. It's really a Street Fighter character that has almost seamlessly been fitted over to the Tekken universe, and it actually works. Attacks where Gigas rushes against us are easily handled with Goshoryuken (dragon punches), combos are followed up by Tatsumaki Zankukyaku (tornado kicks) and there are even the ever trusty Gohadoken (fireballs) in his arsenal of attacks.
As if that wasn't enough, Akuma even has his EX meter from Street Fighter IV allowing him to perform more powerful attacks when needed, and his Rage attack is nothing less than Messatsu Gohadou. The first impression of Tekken 7 is very good, it feels smooth and has that fluid speed we associate with the series, and the graphics are a proper update since last time we saw the series, which was actually half a decade ago with Tekken Tag Tournament 2.
Something Bandai Namco always succeeds extremely well with compared to other developers of fighting games is making it fun to learn the game mechanics on your own. Creating entertaining training modes is clearly difficult and the only game that can really challenge this Practice Mode is Killer Instinct. But here there is a lot more than that. As usual, Tekken 7 offers a single-player mode that completely crushes everything the competition has to offer (with the possible exception being NetherRealm's most recent games). It's difficult not to draw parallels to the launch of the almost embarrassingly empty Street Fighter V; it's like comparing Doodle Jump with Super Mario 3D World. The difference really is that big.
The storyline allows us to play as and against the Tekken 7 gang and also many lifeless enemies who act as cannon fodder. The Story Mode doesn't include a stellar plot, but Bandai Namco is well aware of this and tells a cheesy and ultra-Japanese story with plot holes big enough for Bob to dance the jitterbug through them. It doesn't really matter, though, because it's still fun to see their excuses for beating each other up, and how cocky individuals seem to change during the course of a world war by delivering some roundhouse kicks. Sure, the cutscenes are sometimes way too long and often can't be paused, but still... it's an ambitious single-player mode that will definitely entertain Tekken veterans and teach beginners the game system and familiarise them with all the various characters.
However, as far as we are concerned there is nothing in a fighting game more important than regular versus multiplayer. Everything comes down to whether the game will be fun for years to come with friends and acquaintances, and that it offers nerve-shredding matches where the smallest of mistakes lead to nasty losses. That's why we invite over fellow fighting enthusiasts we've played fighting games with since the dawn of time. This way we get hard, but comparable opposition from people that know the genre.
The biggest news for the average player's in Tekken 7 is something called Rage Art. A tremendous attack that you can use when you are about to die, a bit like Critical Edge from Soul Calibur V for those who remember it. There, however, it often felt misplaced, but Bandai Namco has got it perfect this time. The attack is strong enough (taking less than a third of your opponent's life) that it often results in a clear loss ending up as a tight victory, a wonderful chance for a comeback, where the underdog and their opponent are down to the wire, and one good connection could settle the match either way. It works out great.
These Rage Art attacks are activated fairly quickly and are relatively easy to block, so preferably you put them in a combo when your opponent doesn't have a chance to recover. At a beginner's level or when panic sets in, however, it becomes easy to desperately try it out as a last attempt to win the battle. The system is intuitive, easy to understand, and does not require an extra meter/gauge that easily confuses those who are not so used to fighting games, and this is an addition that will likely be appreciated by the vast majority when they get the chance to try it out properly. Also, the attacks look spectacular, which helps give the game some extra shine.