Although SNK vs. Capcom on the Neo Geo Pocket and Street Fighter Alpha 3 on the Game Boy Advance proved that portable punch-ups weren't just the fever dream of a studio gone mental, it wasn't until Tekken: Dark Resurrection that handheld fighting games finally matched the ambition of their console brethren. Of course, this was partly down to the processing power of the PSP and its workable analogue slider - but not to sell Katsuhiro Harada and his team short, the game also benefited from the engaging Tekken Dojo mode and a wealth of character customisation options.
In comparison, Tekken 3D: Prime Edition for 3DS is a bare-bones port that's less about single-player content - something which every portable fighting game needs in spades - and more about pimping the Tekken 6 system out to a Nintendo audience. This is a shame, as after the success of Dark Resurrection and the equally accomplished SoulCalibur: Broken Destiny, Namco has become synonymous with full-featured fighting games that lose little in the handheld transition. But comparing Tekken 3D to last year's Dead or Alive: Dimensions, it's clear that Team Ninja offers more for the backpacking brawler.
The good news, however, is that Tekken 3D features all 40 characters from Tekken 6 in a mammoth roster that includes old staples like the katana-abusing Yoshimitsu with his kangaroo kicks and the leopard-loving King with his chainable throws, as well as more recent additions like gypsy assassin Zafina with her spidery stances and the gut-barging Bob with his surprisingly dexterous footwork. It also seems that the Mishima Zaibatsu have been making advances in stem cell research, as Heihachi looks a tad younger than he did during the first King of Iron Fist Tournament.
The familiar fighting mechanics are pleasingly intact, with complete command lists across the board and the usual mix of breakable floors, juggle combos and a Rage mode that activates during your last sliver of health. But in terms of constructing multi-hit assaults with wall hits and bound extenders, the Tekken method of combo creation is rather fiddly on the 3DS, thanks to its dinky buttons and d-pad. That's not to say nimble fingers won't make the most of it, but I'd rather play Tekken on PSP as it's easier to stay consistent with my reasonably large digits.
Seemingly aware of this ergonomic issue, Namco has gone down the Capcom route by offering four touch-screen buttons that can be set to any command from the list. Purists may scoff at this type of pandering, but it's a well implemented system that gives beginners some easy-to-reach techniques while offering advanced players some assistance if they keep dropping a crucial combo component. And while Tekken has never really embraced the idea of combo trials, each character has seven sample strings that can be practised until perfect in the functional training room.
Aside from dedicated practise, though, the only other modes available for single players are Special Survival and Quick Battle. The speedier of these is essentially a 10-fight arcade gauntlet without any boss battles, as it seems Azazel and NANCY were scrapped to save on cartridge space. But while anyone who still hasn't seen the floor-cutting robot in action will have to play Tekken 6, one thing that has made the cut is the Tekken ranking system. This crops up in Quick Battle with promotion matches that let you climb from 9th Kyu to 4th Dan and beyond.
Special Survival mode, meanwhile, does exactly what it says on the Jin by challenging you to single-round marathons that range from five to 100 opponents. The "special" bit concerns the rounds where you face an opponent who can only be harmed while in a juggle state, or who starts off enraged. Doing well in this mode will also net you a handful of Tekken Cards that can be traded with other players in StreetPass as you try to complete the set of 765. Basically, it's Pokémon but without the cuddly cock-fighting.
Aside from the Versus Battle mode that offers link-up multiplayer in addition to online Ranked and Friendly Matches - both of which are reasonably stable when played against local competition - that's pretty much it. Or at least it would be if Namco hadn't bundled the game with Tekken: Blood Vengeance, a 3D CGI film, included on the cart [see left].
Still, the main area where Tekken 3D impresses is its consistent frame-rate, as even with the 3D dialled up to full whack, Hwoarang's high-flying Taekwondo kicks never skip a beat at 60fps. This is a solid achievement that, when combined with the four-year-old but still pitch-perfect Tekken 6 fighting system, makes for a handheld fighter that gets the most important factor down to a tee - and that's replicating the full range of martial arts moves that define the game.
But as a full-price package, Tekken 3D is more of a technical accomplishment than a portable innovator. If all you want to do is train while preparing for the next battle, then this is Tekken at its purest. But if you're looking for dynamic game types like the generous spread of Story, Legion and Abyss modes in the 3DS version of BlazBlue: Continuum Shift 2, then you'll be largely disappointed.
It's the equivalent of buying a new Mercedes without the heated massage seats, bass-pumping stereo and turbo-charged acceleration. The ride's still awesome, but you can't shake the feeling that something's missing.