new challenger

I make games. I also play them. I talk about both activities here.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

It Snowed in Osaka Today

Before I start, I'd like to mention that listening to Feist's "I Feel it All" over a laptop speaker makes it just about the most bittersweet song ever made. This makes me absolutely obsessed with it, of course. Also regarding the title of this post: it's not meant to be metaphorical - it really snowed in Osaka today. Put the 2 and 2 of me listening to music on a laptop and me knowing it snowed in Osaka today together...

So I've been spending time in arcades recently (well, one in particular). I must admit, despite my established love for Virtua Fighter, this new incarnation, for a number of reasons, didn't click with me. This hasn't stopped me from purchasing both the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions of VF5, but when I'm in the arcade, I'll do an obligatory drive-by past the block of Version D machines (six of them in total, just in case some ultra-elite player is there worth pausing for), and then I head straight for the Tekken 6 machines.

Tekken is something of an interesting phenomenon. For reasons frequently debated, the series, created to capitalize on the popularity of 3d fighting games as a genre (at the time wholly monopolized by Virtua Fighter), rocketed to popularity in the Western world, while always maintaining something of a second-class status in Japan, duking it out with the likes of Dead or Alive in a sort of 3d-fighting ghetto. I admit that my introduction to the world of high-level fighting game play was through the Tekken series - it wasn't until deep into my "study" of fighting games that I began to develop disdain for Tekken. In the West, it is the standard by which all 3d fighting games are judged.

But then something happened. Virtua Fighter 4 sparked a movement to reposition the series as the preeminent fighting game in the world, not just Japan. For whatever reason, the Western media that had always shrugged its collective shoulders at VF, preferring Namco's forays into the genre, decided to anoint Virtua Fighter 4 as "The Greatest Fighting Game Ever Made." And for a while, it seems like people begrudgingly agreed. And yet VF has never, and I predict will never, capture the West in the same way that Tekken did on the PS1 and PS2, but it has come a long way from the dark days of the Saturn and Dreamcast.

But Sega couldn't capitalize on this in any meaningful way. Subsequent iterations of Vf4 never really gained traction in the West, and even in the East, attention started to wane. The latest version, Vf5, hasn't exactly set the console world on fire. It was in this interest vacuum that Namco released Tekken 5.

Tekken 2, 3, and Tag Tournament represented a block of dominance on the level today's Halos of Call of Dutys - they were really that big. But like the Street Fighter community before them, the Tekken community developed a tendency to dislike anything not immediately familiar. Tekken 4, while in my opinion being just as broken as all the Tekkens that had come before it, was broken in a different way than previous Tekkens. This did not sit well with the community at large, and the series' popularity waned. I'm still not exactly sure why the series decided to make the changes it did. Maybe there was a change in the talent at Namco. Maybe they got tired of making the same broken game - I'm not sure. But for Tekken 5, Namco listened to the people and got back to the business of being broken yet familiar. Capitalizing on a weak moment in the Virtua Fighter series, Tekken reasserted its popularity both in the West and carved out a new popularity in Japan. The newest iteration, Tekken 6, looks poised to continue the Tekken renaissance.

The bottom line is that Tekken feels good. Attacks have cool sounds associated with them. Characters look flashy and neat and virtually every combination of directional input and button press yields a result that borders on sensory overload. It almost universally pats everyone on their heads and says, "Hey man, you're alright with me." And that's a very comforting feeling. That Tekken is almost more fun when playing against the AI, doing the same three juggles over and over is very telling, in my view. Broken or not, the designer in me believes there's something to be learned there.

Today the old men came out for a Super Turbo tournament at the arcade, so I ended up not playing anything. But I've reached a point in life where I don't mind sitting down to a Tekken machine and just pushing buttons - even if it's just for a little audio-visual overdose.

I should mention that this entire post was inspired by a fantasic review of Tekken 6 over at Action Button dot Net. It is to date, my favorite review that Tim Rogers has ever done. Reading over that sentence again, it may appear that I'm being sarcastic. Please trust me when I say that I'm not! I agree with everything Tim says in his review, and I enjoyed reading it so much that it prompted me to bring my blog out of the mothballs. Tekken just got lucky and found me at a point in my life where I don't mind so much anymore.

Thanks for reading.