When the PlayStation 2 launched in late 2000, Tekken Tag Tournament was one of the best games in the system's starting lineup. Actually, it's remained one of the finest fighting games for the system ever since, though given that fighting games are pretty scarce these days, maybe that isn't saying much. At any rate, Namco has dominated the 3D-fighting genre for years, between its Tekken games and Soul Calibur. So perhaps it's no great surprise that the company didn't exactly aim for the moon with its latest offering, Tekken 4.
Released months ago for Japanese PS2 owners and more than a year ago in arcades, Tekken 4 really isn't much different from Tekken Tag Tournament before it, which itself was very similar to 1997's Tekken 3. That's both the bad news and the good news: The similarities between this and previous Tekkens are obvious, but the changes are appreciable (though arguably not all for the best) and the new characters are cool. Beyond that, Tekken 4, like its predecessors, is an ideal fighting game both for those who've been playing fighting games for years, as well as for those who've never played a fighting game before. No, you couldn't call it ambitious. But you could still call it one of the better fighting games in years.
Tekken 4 offers a standard assortment of gameplay modes, all of which revolve around pitting two skilled martial artists against each other in elimination matches. You've got arcade, time attack, and survival mode where you'll fight progressively tougher computer opponents; versus mode for taking on a friend; training and practice mode for trying out all of your fighter's moves; and team battle mode where you can choose multiple fighters and you have to defeat opposing team members one at a time. However, the main attraction is the "story battle," which is basically a prettied-up arcade mode that gives each character a storyboard-style intro and epilogue, as well as a prerendered ending cutscene. It's nice that Namco put some effort into fleshing out each character's story, though none of the stories really figure into the gameplay--you'll still just take on one opponent after another, regardless of which character you chose. At any rate, that same effort would have probably been better spent on granting gamers the option to play Tekken 4 online, a feature that would have made Tekken 4 for the PS2 truly amazing.
Some previous home versions of Tekken games have included additional unlockable hidden modes, but not Tekken 4. The only extra worth noting is available right off the bat: Tekken Force, basically a side-scrolling beat-'em-up like Final Fight. The PlayStation version of Tekken 3 actually had a similar mode, though it's handled better here and makes for a good diversion as you take on droves of enemy grunts at a time. You'll be impressed at how the game manages to dump so many characters onscreen without compromising the silky-smooth frame rate.
Tekken 4 has fewer selectable characters overall than Tekken Tag Tournament, but Namco merely sought to remove the ones that had many identical fighting moves. The resulting game has nearly 20 distinctly different fighters, each with around 100 different moves. The majority of these will be familiar to series fans: guys like the burly American martial artist Paul Phoenix, the leopard-masked pro wrestler King, and the Bruce Lee look-alike Marshall Law; gals like the sprightly Ling Xiaoyu and the coldhearted assassin Nina Williams; and weirdos like the alien ninja Yoshimitsu and the kung fu-fighting bear Kuma. Of course, the most dysfunctional family in fighting games, old man Heihachi and his bitter son Kazuya Mishima, returns, as well as Kazuya's troubled son Jin, who boasts an almost entirely new set of moves. Most of the other returning fighters all look different than before yet have many of their old moves, though a number of useful new ones too.
The newcomers to Tekken 4 include British middleweight boxer Steve Fox, the huge vale tudo fighter Craig Marduk, and the buxom Brazilian capoeirista, Christie Monteiro. Christie is for the most part just an attractive female replacement for Tekken 3's Eddy Gordo, though Marduk and Steve are completely original. Steve is particularly interesting because he can use a wide variety of dodges and feints, in place of kicks.
By and large, though, this latest Tekken plays just like all its predecessors. The four face buttons on the DualShock 2 correspond to your fighter's four limbs, letting you execute left and right punches and kicks with perfect responsiveness and in various combinations. Most Tekken moves are accomplished simply by pushing these buttons in certain combinations or in certain sequences, sometimes while tapping the D-pad in a certain direction. Yet while relatively few moves in Tekken 4 are difficult to execute, remembering them all and knowing how best to use them will take a lot of time and practice. Then again, if you already practiced all that in Tekken 3 or Tekken Tag Tournament, then you'll be able to get into Tekken 4 effortlessly.