17 years on and Tekken 3 still evokes memories like few other fighters

Eddy. Friggin’. Gordo. How can one of PlayStation’s finest, most influential scrappers be home to such a despicably cheaty toerag? 12 years before 'q to Jason' was ever a thing, legions of PS1 fight fans were chugging at the goblet of 32-bit Capoeira success through shameful spamming of q and e. Doesn’t anyone have the merest smidgen of respect for an expertly timed 12-hit juggle combo anymore? Of course, that was Tekken 3’s greatest gift to PS1 – just as Final Fantasy 7 re-energised the JPRG for western audiences a year before in 1997, Namco’s frisky fighter took the beat-‘em-up out of the arcade and ignited a passion for the genre not seen since Street Fighter II.

This is a game that falls into a tiny cabal of genuine masterpieces that truly sum up what PlayStation stood for in the late ‘90s. WipEout. Metal Gear Solid. Resident Evil 2. Tekken 3. It’s in a group that popularised video games like never before, stretching the boundaries of what the medium could mean in a way Sony couldn’t comprehend when it launched PS1 with Battle Arena Toshinden and Rapid Reload. Not bad for a game that padded its roster with a tiny manga velociraptor, eh?

Built on Namco System 12 – the same platform that powered the mighty SoulCalibur and uh… UmJammer Lammy – Tekken 3 was immediately bigger, bolder and more brazen than its predecessors. A sledgehammer rather than a scalpel, Namco ported a dirty great smörgåsbord of a fighter from the fanatical arcade floors of Akihabara to your PS1’s disc tray. Next to their great contemporary Virtua Fighter, Jin Kazama and co knew they lacked the piano wire precision of Sega’s effort. However, finesse is overrated when you’ve got a mode that lets you play beach volleyball with a leopard-headed wrestler simply by pounding the inflatable sphere with a suplex.

Not that Tekken 3 isn’t a supremely crafted combatant. Where previous games had been firmly rooted on 2D ground, this round of the King Of Iron Fist Tournament expanded its fisticuff horizons by focusing on the third axis. Fret not: we’re not talking phoned-in, dragon-steering motion controls here. Rather, the game opens up the boundaries of the fighting planes, enabling players to circle each other or swiftly dodge Paul Phoenix’s ultra cheap Deathfist with a double tap of up or down on the D-pad. In evolutionary terms, this was as significant for Tekken as Leon instructing Resi’s cam to shift behind his shoulder for entry number four.

A sense of progression was also tied with a knowing sense of absurdity – there’s no other PS1 fighter that so wilfully makes fun of itself. A quick look at the greatly expanded roster shows Namco’s propensity for levity, be it a giant panda shoeing a walking tree trunk in the wooden shins or a professor, so sauced up he can barely stand, battling a miffed ogre. This magnificently silly sensibility is furthered bolstered by Tekken Force, a side-scrolling mini-game that rekindled a love for a forgotten curio that had been lost since Streets Of Rage. And as much as we love Axel’s pixelated karate kick, he’s no match for Lei Wulong and his full suite of Jackie Chan chops. A good 16 years on and Tekken 3 still has power to evoke memories like few other titles.

Our own news ed Meiks ‘might’ have walked over to his PS1 and calmly popped it open before proceeding to snap his disc in two with all the glass-eyed lunacy of an axe murderer following 19 straight losses to Mr Phoenix – damn that Deathfist! Yet despite tiny dinosaurs, red mist tales and bouts of volleyball… actually, because of them, this undoubtedly remains the king of fighters.

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