Late last month, I took a quick trip to Sydney to play Tekken 8.
Tekken is a series I’ve got a long history with. Tekken was a series that arrived in a formative time in my life. When I was around 15 or 16, a guy in my town started a mobile video store. He basically bought a Toyota Hi-Ace, filled it with movies and games, and then drove around renting them out. He would be in different towns on different days, and if you called him to let him know to come by on your town’s allotted day, he would.
We rented Tekken 2 from this man so many times that, eventually, he simply let us keep the disc. We played a LOT of that game, carefully selecting our characters and burning their movesets into our memories.
I went into this Tekken 8 demo wondering how much of that ancient muscle memory I still had. Quite a bit, as it turned out.
One of the things that Bandai Namco has been keen to get across with Tekken 8 is the more ‘explosive’ nature of its fighting. Moves, damage and animations have been tweaked slightly to accentuate the power behind every strike. You can feel this from the jump — though the game felt like it moved at the same deliberate pace, the hits felt harder. The biggest change this seemed to make to match-to-match play against the AI was that aggressive strategies paid off.
The commitment to come out swinging never steered me wrong once in the three or four hours I had with the game. This feels like it might be the biggest change for long-time players, a tacit demand that you defy the game’s naturally slower heart rate and attack with fury. Failure to put an opponent on their heels will see you put swiftly on yours. Punishes and juggles are still extremely powerful and an effective way to keep your foe from easily opening the door on you.
In an attempt to balance this, Tekken 8 has upped the power of its special moves. Some specials do an absolutely comical amount of damage, and will instantly end the round if deployed at the right moment.
A new Special Switch on the L1 bumper also changes the control scheme from the normal mode to a more accessible version for those new to fighting games. This mode makes it so much easier to get basic combos and specials off and is useful for those who button-mash their way through fighters without knowing the specific moves.
Before the die-hards leap in to scream that this gives players who use it an unfair advantage, BNE has limited the Special Switch to just a few select moves. More experienced players will quickly learn which moves are coming and be ready to read and counter them. The legitimate worry is that it might not encourage new players to learn and grow. Time will tell if those fears are founded, but for now, it represents a good way to get someone into the action quickly.
Tapping R1 during a fight activates an immediate special and functions as something of a Fuck You button. Want to express your frustration with the way a given fight is going? Give ’em a bit of R1.
For those interested in the campaign, I can’t say all that much about the story other than a reassurance that it remains insane.
Other modes I got to try included Arcade Quest, an adorable paean to the arcade scene. There is an ache in the heart of the Tekken team for the arcade fighting culture of years past, and you can feel it keenly in this mode. Pick a cabinet, face off against foes, gain bragging rights. It’s a good, straightforward time. Tekken Ball is back as well — PS1-era players like me will remember it well. The game mode remains unchanged — dumb, hilarious, and endlessly exploitable.
Super Ghost Battle was probably the most interesting feature for me. This feature allows you to play against the computer and train the game to battle you. It will learn your favoured techniques and start to counter them, forcing you to adapt. The better you get, the better it gets. Further, you can save and upload your ghost online, opening the door to pro players building detailed ghosts for others to test their mettle against online.
There’s also a new replay feature that will offer tips and advice while you watch your fights back, giving you ideas for areas of play you can work on. I think that’s really cool — clear, concise feedback is how we grow and improve. It’s cool to see Namco looking for ways to improve the game in this regard.
So, final thoughts: I like the shape that Tekken 8 is in right now. I’m still very interested to see how the pro field will fare with the changes it makes, and how new players respond to its renewed focus on lowering the barrier for entry and training. I look forward to spending more time with it next month.
Tekken 8 launches January 26, 2024 for PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X|S and Windows PC.
The author was flown to Sydney for this preview as a guest of Bandai Namco Entertainment.
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