Fighting games finally overcame the limitations of portable hardware on the PSP, and Tekken helped lead the charge. With a pair of stellar iterations, the series established itself as the preeminent genre leader on the system, delivering robust, near-console-quality fighting experiences that rarely felt like the compromised ports we'd been playing on handhelds in the past.
Street Fighter and Dead or Alive have worked similar magic on the Nintendo 3DS thus far, but curiously, Tekken 3D Prime Edition falls flat on the dual-screened device. It feels much less like a thick, scaled-down console release than something akin to the recent Tekken Hybrid on PlayStation 3: one last, half-hearted attempt to squeeze another release out of a series that's losing momentum with each lackluster offering.
No doubt, Tekken 3D has a few things going its way. As a portable take on the latest core entry (2009's Tekken 6), Prime Edition contains all of the familiar faces from the franchise – 40 in total, including a younger-looking Heihachi Mishima modeled after his earlier incarnations. Like the 3DS' other fighters, Tekken 3D feels a little cramped with the tiny buttons, d-pad, and circle pad of the Nintendo 3DS, but as a four-button fighter, it's quite playable, and all the familiar moves and combos remain intact. And much like we've seen before, the touch screen is used to offer easy access to a few commands in battle via virtual buttons.
Moreover, the game looks quite nice on the Nintendo 3DS screen, with crisply modeled fighters and only slightly simplified (but still partially destructible) stages. Tekken 3D's big headline feature is its ability to maintain 60 frames per second with or without the 3D effect enabled, and sure enough, it rings true: pushing up the slider at any time results in zero frame loss, unlike in Super Street Fighter IV: 3D Edition and Dead or Alive: Dimensions. It's the first time a fighting game has been able to run at full rate in 3D without degradation, but that said, it was hard to focus on the fighters with 3D at full blast. Our eyes kept pulling towards the backgrounds instead, but with the slider set halfway, the illusion significantly improved.
It's tempting to wonder if this is precisely where Arika and Namco Bandai drew a line on the design document and noted, "That'll do." Tekken 3D Prime Edition packs in all of the fighters and looks pretty good doing it, but in terms of actual worthwhile content, this is a strangely barren 3DS release. On the single-player side, the options are highlighted by a narrative-free 10-round battle against computer opponents, which ends not with an epic boss showdown or cheeky CG ending, but simply the staff credits.
Otherwise, you're limited to a practice mode and a few Special Survival gauntlets, in which you face between five and 30 opponents with a single life bar that lightly regenerates between rounds. Playing through this mode – as well as picking up StreetPass tags from other players – earns you access to Tekken Cards, which are 3D-viewable images that sadly serve no other purpose, and thus cease to offer any real incentive to collect the several hundred held within.
Tekken 3D Prime Edition also includes online play, in addition to local multi-card wireless battles, though the execution was spotty in practice. We encountered several lag-free battles that flowed beautifully start to finish, but also notched a near-equal amount of sluggish skirmishes, plus the game offers no indication of an opponent's connection quality. And it's not due to the 3D, as the effect is disabled for online battles. Frustratingly, with ranked matches, you have to pick your favorite fighter from the main menu and stick with him/her, or otherwise quit out to make a change. Since nobody seems to be playing friendly matches, it's sure to be a recurring annoyance for most.
And that's everything: a couple of shallow single-player modes and quick-hit online or local multiplayer fights, plus a persistent fighter ranking system throughout. Rounding out the package is last year's CG movie, Tekken: Blood Vengeance, a 92-minute heap of fluff that details the backstory behind Tekken 6. It looks fairly good on the 3DS screen, without distracting visual artifacts from the compression process – and were it included on the cartridge alongside a fully featured fighter, we'd be thrilled to have it handy for a rainy day.
But here, the film seems like a peace offering for a lightweight and narrative-free game, and in that capacity, it comes off as a crass and cynical addition. Tekken 3D Prime Edition may be technically proficient, but with little interesting solo content and a clunky online experience, we struggled to stay interested. Kudos to Namco Bandai for raising the bar on 3D fighters' frame rates, but beyond that, it's tough to get excited about a game that seems content with the bare minimum.