Tekken 3D Prime Edition is only the second Nintendo appearance for the King of Iron Fist tournament, the last being 2002's dodgy Tekken Advance on Game Boy Advance. With fighting games enjoying a resurgence on 3DS, does Namco Bandai's second hit strike a knockout blow?
It's up against stiff competition: Dead or Alive: Dimensions and Super Street Fighter IV: 3D Edition both hit hard and fast, releasing within months of the console itself, but Tekken 3D's taken time to compose itself, and it shows. With 41 characters in its roster it dwarfs its opponents, but that's only half the story.
The most impressive achievement by far is the solid 60 frames per second game engine, staying fast and smooth even with 3D turned on. While the 3D display is disabled in multiplayer, it's a small loss to maintain the 60fps, arguably a more important component to a fighting game. Character models look great and animate fluently, with glistening muscle and the impressively solid polygon modelling we've come to expect from Tekken. Some small sacrifices have been made to maintain this refresh rate — some stage backgrounds slide around instead of rotating, resulting in a peculiar visual effect that diminishes the depth provided by 3D. Its bare stages are unambitious compared to DoA's more populated arenas, but they're balanced and fulfil their function well.
Also unlike DoA, there's no overt story mode to complete. Some may lament this, but when was the last time you felt your fighting game notably enhanced by its story? Tekken 3D has an arcade mode of sorts, inexplicably named Quick Battle mode, that puts you against ten opponents in best-of-three matches; win them and you watch the credits. A ranking system promotes repeat play: you start off as a beginner but by winning matches advance to numbered kyu ranks and above. Your ranking is character-locked too, so there's potentially an enormous number of playthroughs if you want to get all 41 characters to the top rank.
If you're the sort of person for whom clocking ten opponents won't even make you break a sweat, Special Survival mode is for you. Here you take on a set number of opponents — 5, 10, 20, 40 — in one-round battles with a single life bar to your name. At set points you'll face a special battle where the rules are slightly different: your opponent only takes damage in juggle combos, or is only vulnerable while attacking. These occasional shifts in focus keep things interesting, though with just one health bar you're likely to curse them for spoiling your winning streak.
Progression through all modes is rewarded with cards and card points, the most substantial reason to return. The 765 cards depict characters, cut scenes and stills from the included Tekken: Blood Vengeance movie, though they have no further purpose as DoA's dioramas do, for instance. Cards can be traded via StreetPass, but to unlock a card collected this way you'll need to spend some of your accumulated card points.
If single-player isn't your thing there's online multiplayer in ranked or unranked play, though we were unable to test this during our time with the game. Those who fancy a local brawl can take part in one-on-one battles, though there's no Download Play so it's multi-cart all the way. As previously mentioned, there's no 3D during multiplayer.
However you play, if you're a little ring rusty there's a practice mode to get you back up to speed. Here you can try out moves and recommended combos, seeing them demonstrated from the command list. In any mode, the touch screen is used more like SSFIV: you have four hot keys to which you can assign almost any move, though the longer combos — generally six or more hits — cannot be set to these shortcuts, maintaining some balance. You can turn them off if you want, or set them to standard LP, RP or any simultaneous combination for when you just haven't got enough fingers or thumbs.
Tekken straddles the accessibility line between DoA and SSFIV, and with predictably mixed results. While DoA's Chronicles mode holds your hand through many battles, Tekken throws you right in at the deep end, and while easy at first it'll take some considerable practice to beat the Special Survival mode and conquer Quick Battle without using a continue. You can access a moves list in-game at any time, but it lacks the flow of DoA's scrolling list, though nabbing the four touch buttons from SSFIV makes it far easier to pull off key combos. More than either game, Tekken suffers from the 3DS console's dodgy D-Pad: trying to pull off a move that involves double diagonal presses, such as Jin's Thrusting Uppercut, is practically impossible and makes use of the touch buttons almost mandatory. Single taps of cardinal directions are usually recognised without issue, but double diagonals are a real sticking point.
Yet despite its mild input troubles Tekken 3D Prime Edition is recognisably Tekken through and through; combat has an unmistakable fluidity, with punches and kicks rolling off the thumbs and juggle combos aplenty. It may not be the most balanced fighter around but that's never stopped it reaching a wide and appreciative audience, and it translates well to the small screen. It lacks the spectacle of its two main competitors on the format, but it's as accessible and arguably every bit as entertaining.
The final mode to mention isn't really a mode at all: included on the cartridge is Tekken: Blood Vengeance, a CGI animated movie reproduced here in very subtle 3D. The compression quality is decent, you can turn on subtitles and fast-forward, pause, rewind and so on, but the 3D is barely noticeable in most scenes. There's also no bookmark feature, so if you stop halfway through the movie, quit out and return you can't automatically resume. With the 3DS's sleep function it's not a major problem, granted. We won't review the movie, but suffice to say it's about as good as you'd expect a CGI animated movie based on Tekken to be.
Tekken 3D Prime Edition is a good if unspectacular Tekken transition. Its 41 characters and 60fps frame rate is unmatched on 3DS, and while it arguably lacks a truly meaty challenge for a single player it's enjoyable enough that you won't really mind. It won't set the world alight, but it's another strong addition to 3DS's array of big name scrappers.