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PS1 at 20: Tekken and a devastating counter in a Dulwich living room


My nineties best friend lived in Dulwich. He had a lovely, big house, and a lovely, big living room with a lovely, big telly on the wall. And he had a PS1.

And Tekken 3.

We used to fight - in the game, not in real life (although once we did have a real life fight just before we went into Religious Education one time) - for hours on end. Hours and hours and hours over lazy summer holiday days that seemed to go on as long as a Tekken 10-string combo before crashing to a halt when I'd notice the time and have to run home, hopping on the bus to the dreary doom of my PS1-less room.

I'd be Paul Phoenix, the American with the ridiculous stick up blonde hair and a punch that hit harder than a meteor crashing into the earth. He'd be everyone - anyone - else, but it didn't matter who, because I'd always win, and he'd always accuse me of cheating.

My Tekken bible. It's in a box with my Smashing Pumpkins guitar tab books.

He used an arcade stick, I used the controller. He was a purist, I was a charlatan. I mapped the two punches for Paul's counter to a shoulder button, which made executing a counter a lot easier. I would frustrate the hell out of my nineties best friend from Dulwich, countering everything he threw at me. He couldn't chicken (counter my counter) because, well, we weren't that good. And so I'd counter him to death. For hours on end.

Grumpy grandad Heihachi would come and go. Bruce Lee rip-off Marshall Law, with those telegraphed flip kicks, would come and go. Bonkers cyber samurai Yoshimitsu would come and go. Jack-2 and his ogre arms would come and go. Lei Wulong, the best video game version of Jackie Chan ever created, would come and go. That kangaroo with the boxing gloves would come and go. Even that douchbag Jin, with the scowl and emo haircut and overpowered punches, would come and go. All challengers would fall to the might of Paul's counter, the vein in my nineties best friend's temple throbbing ever harder with each K.O.

I realise, now, nearly 20 years later, I was being a dick. My nineties best friend had the moral high ground and I didn't give a shit. He'd pick a healthy range of characters in an attempt to defeat me, demonstrating, as if there were any doubt, that he was the good guy and I was very much the bad guy in our never ending virtual duel. And I didn't care. Paul, Paul and more Paul. Counter, counter and more counter. And, just for a laugh, that big old punch move Paul used to do that would take off half their life. I'd smirk and, once or twice, after he'd smash his buttons, laugh. In his face. Osu!

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"It's not fair!" he'd cry. "You have the option to use a pad," I'd counter. We were both as stubborn as the other, he refusing to ditch his fancy pants arcade stick for the easier to use PS1 pad, me refusing to try any other character, any other strategy, while on the greatest video game winning streak of my life.

This is my enduring memory of Tekken. I've played most of the Tekken games and loved them. I played hours and hours of Tekken Bowl, the wonderful bowling mini-game on PS2 launch title Tekken Tag Tournament. I even dabbled in Tekken Force, the crap 3D Double Dragon meets Tekken spin-off mini-game. But it was smashing my nineties best friend into oblivion on his own PS1, in his own house, that has stuck with me.

As gaming moved into the 3D era with the PlayStation, so did fighting games, and I gleefully followed suit. As I fell out of love with the 16-bit, 2D Street Fighter 2 and into love with the 32-bit, 3D fighting games that emerged, Tekken came to the fore. There was something fresh about the way Tekken broke its characters' bones. Back then, I thought the game realistic, its grapples and complex multi-part throws somehow like real life. There's nothing realistic about Tekken, of course, but back then, coming off the back of the cartooney Street Fighter 2, Tekken was more grown up, more serious, and cooler.

Which is what the PS1 was for me. It was WipEout and Resident Evil and Final Fantasy 7 and ISS Pro Evolution and, most of all, Tekken. It was Paul and his counter and being the King of Iron Fist in a living room in Dulwich.

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