I hesitate to call Tekken 3D: Prime Edition for the Nintendo 3DS a watered down version of the beloved fighting franchise. I think 'condensed' is a better fit because, on paper, all the most important elements of Tekken are here; strong visuals, a huge roster of varied fighters, and addictively competitive multiplayer. What's missing are all the extras that have slowly become expected parts of recent Tekken titles. As it stands, there's nothing to make this version stand out other than the platform it's on.
Tekken 3D: Prime Edition is an excellent translation of Tekken 6’s core to the 3DS, including the complete roster of about 40 or so characters. Regrettably, there are no new additions (the only apparent change being a version of Heihachi that looks like he's been using too much black hair coloring). All of the move sets are the same as those in Tekken 6, and the character models still look great. The character customization aspect has disappointingly been reduced to a few different colored costumes and a unique username for your in-game profile.
The computer AI is strong and adapts to the way you play. If you suddenly start losing multiple fights against higher ranked opponents the game knows how to scale back by providing matches that are closer to your skill level. There are 5 difficulty settings, ranging from Easy to Ultra Hard, so the game accommodates both Tekken veterans and newcomers.
The 3DS button layout is not ideal for the time-sensitive combos necessary to compete in Tekken. With enough practice you'll definitely be able to execute multi-hit combos with your favorite characters about as well as you can with a console controller or fighting stick, but it may force you to find creative new ways to hold the 3DS. To make things easier you're able to program four different moves to buttons on the touchscreen, a control option that is nearly universal for 3DS fighters. I found the Circle Pad to be a tad bit unwieldy when it comes to movement; it serves its purpose, but the D-pad is definitely the more reliable option.
A story mode is just one of the most conspicuously absent game modes. All you have to do to see the credits roll is complete the familiar ten fight arcade formula found in the game’s Quick Battle mode. Aside from a Practice mode, the only other mode for solo play is the Special Survival mode where you can progressively fight against chains of 5, 10, 20, 40, or 100 AI controlled opponents with a single bar of health. Even though the fighting is excellent, these two modes feel completely barebones and obligatory. There is no attempt to shake up the formula of straight up 1-on-1 combat. The only reward for winning fights is the chance to improve your rank and earn Tekken Cards.
You can compete against real life players either locally or online. The online matchmaking is overly simple; there are too few options to tweak, so unless you have friends that are also online you will spend most of your time in single 1-on-1 fights with random opponents. The ranking system is still in place, so your record carries over from the singleplayer for the entire world to see. Lag is unfortunately a huge issue with the game, and even a small amount of lag throws off the timing of your attacks or blocks. Thankfully local play provides a comparably smoother multiplayer experience.
The only genuinely new addition to the franchise are the aforementioned Tekken Cards. There are several hundreds of these collect, but all they amount to are static still images taken from just about every Tekken game in the franchise. You can swap cards with other players through Street Pass, and exchange 10 Play Coins for 30 in-game Card Points which will allow you to unlock the cards others send to your 3DS. When it comes down to it, Tekken Cards are a poor substitute for a more traditional currency system. The game expects you to collect them just for the sake of collecting. Disappointingly, Tekken 3D also misses a real opportunity to allow the exchange of ghost data via Street Pass, a feature that the Tekken games on PSP encouraged.
Tekken on the 3DS is a technical marvel. The game runs at a consistent 60 fps even on the maximum 3D screen setting. The animation is impeccably fluid, which serves to accentuate each character's unique style of combat. My only gripe is that the character models can seem too glossy at times. The stages provide unobtrusive but varied environments in which you can pummel your opponent. A few even have collapsible floors that reveal new areas to house your brawls. The menu system is simple to navigate and makes very noticeable use of the 3D effect. Tekken 3D also sports quality sound design. The dialogue of the multi-lingual cast is well voiced and subtitled. With no story segments or cutscenes, the voice work mostly concerns the pre and post fight taunts of the fighters. The electronic and rock-heavy soundtrack is strong as well.
Bundled with Tekken 3D: Prime Edition is the CGI movie Tekken: Blood Vengeance. This is the same movie Namco-Bandai included on the Tekken Hybrid Blu-ray a few months back, only now available in 3D. The film, which lasts 100 minutes, is worth watching once to kill time but that's about it. The plot involves Xiaoyu and relative newcomer Alisa investigating a secret plot that revives the bitter Mishima family rivalry between Heihachi, Kazuya, and Jin. Some of the fighting scenes are well done but the story and dialogue are gratingly mediocre, and the 3D effect adds nothing. Overall, the quality of Tekken: Blood Vengeance should not factor in your decision of whether to pick up Tekken 3D: Prime Edition, but it certainly fails to compensate for the dire lack of additional playable content.
It's great to see the look and feel of Tekken translate well onto the 3DS. However, it's a shame that certain critical aspects of the series were compromised during the conversion process. With so few modes, and little to unlock besides Tekken Cards, the game quickly starts to feel repetitive. Tekken 3D: Prime Edition will only satisfy those who have been eagerly awaiting the opportunity to carry the Tekken experience with them on Nintendo’s latest portable; everyone else is better off sticking with previous iterations of the franchise, all of which offer more in the way of content.
This review is based on a retail copy of Tekken 3D: Prime Edition for the Nintendo 3DS.