When done properly, a mashup can become a massive success. The seemingly simple yet very complex concept of pushing together two completely distinct ideas has the ability to become a huge hit. That’s what happens when you take two different fan bases, discover a nice middle ground, and then appeal to both. Marvel vs. Capcom 2 took this concept to unbelievable heights and became a fan favorite, while Super Smash Bros. became one of Nintendo’s biggest franchises by combining its diverse cast. Of course, if a mashup is done without deference to the source materials, it can have the opposite impact of alienating both fan groups. Thankfully we have yet to encounter any of these major disasters, but it’s bound to happen sooner or later.
No one really knows if Pokkén Tournament will fit that bill or not. Announced earlier this week, Pokkén Tournament is a joint effort between the Pokémon Company and Namco Bandai. It’s to be the very first Pokémon arcade fighter, and it completely obliterates any preconceived notion of the most popular video game franchise that’s not Mario. Currently Pokkén Tournament only has a Japanese release, but people in North America and Europe are incredibly excited about the idea. Not only is Pokémon unbelievably popular, the creators of Tekken are developing this game. That alone is cause for praise. Tekken is the most successful fighting game franchise on the market, which means that Pokkén Tournament is in some very good hands.
To really understand why Tekken is so popular, you need to look back at when the series first began. It came during an extremely transformative time within the industry. The fifth-generation had already begun and there was a rapidly growing interest in games with polygonal sprites. Though both Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat re-defined what a fighting game was, their graphics were an obvious sign of the times. Mortal Kombat even created their characters with digitally rendered actors. Tekken, first released in 1994 for Arcade cabinets, took cues from 1993’s Virtua Fighter and boasted an impressive cast of entirely three-dimensional characters. The characters and the combat was steeped in realism too, such as Marshall Law being modeled after superstar Bruce Lee and his fighting style. Gone were the energy projectiles of Street Fighter and over-the-top fatalities like Mortal Kombat. In were distinct combat techniques between the participants of the King of Iron Fist Tournament. Granted, the game did tap into some strange territory with a fighting bear and the Devil, so not everything was realistic.
The successful changes Tekken brought to fighting was enough to warrant its release on the PlayStation in 1995. It was here that the series flourished. Tekken wasn’t the first fighter to come to Sony’s inaugural console, but it was the one to give Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat legitimate competition. Tekken sold like hot cakes and moved the PlayStation off store shelves, further increasing the popularity of both items. This eventually brought us Tekken 2 which became an even bigger critical and commercial success. It was incredibly similar to the first release in style but contained enough tweaks to make it vastly superior. To put it simply, it was harder, better, faster, and stronger. And then 1997 came around, and nothing was ever the same.
1997 was a big year for a lot of reasons. RPG aficionados especially remember it as the year Final Fantasy VII completely upended all expectations to become one of the most influential games in history. Longtime fighting game fans likely remember it as when Tekken 3 first came to arcades, only to come to the PlayStation one year later. It was at this moment that Tekken really cemented itself as a premier fighting franchise. The character list was quite sizable and the gameplay was as smooth as butter. This, of course, was because the PlayStation was a stronger system compared to its competitors and was able to render its content that much faster. Tekken 3 was incredibly user friendly, featuring several characters that can turn even the most inept player into a real star. The most notable of them all was Eddy Gordo. If you ever need an example of how combo heavy and fluid the Tekken franchise is, Gordo is the one you look at. His capoeira fighting style was completely unmatched at the time and he quickly became a favorite.
From Tekken 3 onward, the franchise’s popular grew exponentially. A spin-off called Tekken Tag Tournament came in 1999, to extremely positive reviews and success, and the main line continued on with Tekken 4 on the PlayStation 2, which brought the franchise to even greater heights of gameplay. Namco Bandai had proven themselves real fighting game masters who fully understood what the public wanted. With their excessive special attacks, Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat actually required some extra knowledge to do well. Sometimes their button combinations can get insanely complicated. Tekken in contrast wasn’t complicated at all, and it welcomed new players with open arms. When Tekken 7 was announced at EVO this year, people were rightfully excited. The top fighting franchise is coming back for more, and it’s bound to be amazing.
Even though my own library of fighting games has always been sparse, the Tekken franchise has had a special place in my personal history. It was probably one of the first fighters I ever really got into. Sure, I played Street Fighter II before that, but I was absolutely terrible at that game. Tekken 3 was a different story. Though my memory is a bit fuzzy on which Tekken I played first, I do recall playing Tekken 3 pretty extensively. My first experience with it was a demo where only two characters were available. For whatever reason, I had convinced myself that beating the game enough times would unlock everyone else. Yep! I did not understand what a demo was. It didn’t matter though. I played that demo more than I played other, non-demo games. Once I got the full version, I was ecstatic. It was amazing. Of course, Eddy Gordo was my go-to fighter. He’s the best when all you can do is button mash.
Pokkén Tournament is an extremely interesting idea. No one was asking for a Pokémon fighting game before, but now people are upset it’s only coming to Japan. The trailer for the game, featuring a fight between Lucario and Machamp, looks pretty damn awesome after all. And when you consider how many character there are in Pokémon’s extensive history that can fit this fighting game bill, the possibilities are nearly boundless. Tekken even has a history with putting assorted animals and robots into its roster. I know as much about Pokkén Tournament as the next guy, but if it’s anything even remotely like Tekken, it could become a really awesome sleeper hit that will hopefully (probably) get released overseas.
Luke Kalamar is Pop-Break.com’s television editor and every Saturday afternoon you can read his retro video game column, Remembering the Classics. He covers Game of Thrones, Saturday Night Live and The Walking Dead (amongst others) every week. As for as his career and literary standing goes — take the best parts of Spider-man, Captain America and Luke Skywalker and you will fully understand his origin story.