Hit and miss with an Iron Fist.
Tekken Hybrid is pretty cool name, but it lacks a reasonable explanation of what its $40 asking price entails. It actually includes an on-disc blu-ray of the 3D CG film Tekken: Blood Vengeance, Tekken Tag Tournament HD, and a demo for its upcoming sequel, Tekken Tag Tournament 2 Prologue. Presently there doesn't appear to be any way to acquire any of this content in standalone form; Tag HD is strangely absent from either Live Arcade or PSN, Blood Vengeance is without a retail release, and anything related to Tag 2 is only available if your current location is on the other side of the planet. In theory $40 isn't so much to ask; Tag HD would probably run $15 and the blu-ray of Blood Vengeance might fetch $25, leaving the Tag 2 sample as a cherry on top. The question is whether the content merits any interest beyond the hardest of the Tekken core.
Blood Vengeance; man, where do I begin? The film kicks off with an impressive duel between sisters Anna and Nina Williams, and then jumps around to menacing shots Kazuya and Jin before finally settling down behind the perspective of Xiaoyu. At first I thought Blood Vengeance would jump behind the eyes of most of Tekken's cast, but the perspective is actually kept pretty tight. Beyond a handful of cameos here and there, most of Blood Vengeance focuses on the evolving dynamic between Xiaoyu and Alisa. Given Tekken's penchant for zoo animals, demons, dinosaurs, demigods, and cyborgs, selecting one of the more relatable characters from its cast wasn't a bad idea.
Unfortunately Xiaoyu's motivation and actions are pretty mindless. Transferring to a new school in Kyoto, Xiaoyu befriends secret robot girl Alisa and together they unravel the mystery of their apparently undying classmate, Shin. Shin's immortality, as one might expect, is heavily sought after by devil-gene practitioners Jin and Kazuya along with (why not) Hehachi. What follows is a lot of contrived melodrama centered on Xiaoyu and Alisa trying to get a hold of Shin before the Mishima Zaibatsu, G Corporation, or whatever other organizations Blood Vengeance is willing to name drop, gets their grimy mitts on Shin.
Tekken's narrative went off the rails shortly after Tekken 3 and I'll give the production team credit for not defaulting to another Enter the Dragon spinoff, but what's on the table isn't pretty. I mean, technically it is pretty, the CG is gorgeous and all of the fight scenes, especially the climactic three-way, are well choreographed, but the actual narrative is complete nonsense. I was in and out of sleep during the third act and later when I tried to remember Blood Vengeance’s climactic battle, I thought it was a dream because there was no way something so silly would have made it to the final scene. The next day I rewatched the entire film with the English dub and, sure enough, it was just as cheesy and absurd as I had remembered. One can make an argument for fan service and pass Blood Vengeance off as a narrative bridge between Tekken 5 and Tekken 6, but, from the perspective of someone who spent years arguing about whether or not Kazuya survived the volcano fall at the end of Tekken 2, I thought Blood Vengeance was pretty bad.
Anyway, the blu-ray also contains two special features. One is your typical behind the scenes featurette including cast interviews and some real life footage of the choreography behind the fight scenes. Regardless of the merits of the end product, a lot of work clearly went into Blood Vengeance and everyone, including Katsuhiro Harada himself, seemed proud. The other feature is a back-and-forth interview between Harada and Blood Vengeance writer Dai Sato, which seems to suggest Sato takes Tekken's narrative far more seriously than Harada himself.
Tekken Tag Tournament, on the other hand, is a personal classic. Destroying most of my freshman year of college, Tag was the first game I owned on PlayStation 2 and quite possibly the only fighting game I was ever any good at playing. Hundreds of hours were spent destroying controllers, screaming at friends, researching arcade sticks, memorizing combo inputs, perfecting parries, and making up words to all the music. It didn't matter that Tag was horribly unbalanced or that there were probably better games out there, Tag was our game, and while our actual skill was debatable we had years of fun playing it.
For Tekken Hybrid, Tag has received the gifts of additional resolution and a proper widescreen format - and little else. On one hand this makes Tag's age all the more apparent; the disconnected backgrounds stand out a bit more and characters like True Ogre look noticeably worse under a finer lens. On the other hand, the purity behind a game without all kinds of terrible filters or bland retextures is admirable. Namco may have done the bare minimum to get Tag HD out the door on and pressed to a disc, but the game as you remember it is no worse for wear.
Tag HD's also been opened up quite a bit. Back in 2000 fighting games still required you to beat them a dozen times in order to unlock every character or bonus mode. Tag HD skips that and unlocks everything right from the start. Every character and every mode, included the second best Tekken minigame ever, Tekken Bowl, are available right away. Unfortunately Tag HD isn't equipped with any sort of online versus mode. Considering both Dark Resurrection (not at launch but eventually) and Tekken 6 supported this feature, it's bit puzzling that it's left out of Tag HD. Hacking it into Tag's decade-old code probably wouldn't have been easy, but releasing a completive and cherish fighting game in 2011 and ignoring online functionality seems crazy.
Finally, Tekken Hybrid offers a taste of what's next with Tekken Tag Tournament 2 Prologue. Essentially a glorified demo, Tag 2 tosses out Blood Vengeance stars Alisa, Xiaoyu, Devil Jin, and Kazuya as playable characters. Kazuya is definitely in his devil form, making me wonder why his name doesn't indicate such absurdity, though his basic move set is well intact. Technically speaking I don't have the chops to tell you what's been done to the character's move sets since Tekken 6, other than to say a bit of googling has led me to believe Alisa has been toned down a bit, and I have no idea why they keep adding wings to characters when they seem good for nothing more than obscuring the screen.
Mechanically, Tag 2's most visible addition is its new Tag Assault feature. Rather than simply tag a partner in to finish off a juggle, Tag Assault builds off Tekken 6's bounding mechanic and swaps your partner in for a quick combo before they switch back out. Those heavily invested in Tekken's intricacies will take better to Tag Assaults than the layman, but isn't that who's buying Tekken Hybrid anyway?
In any case Tag 2 Prologue does its best to act like more than a demo. A sliver of a campaign masquerades under a series of four fights against random teams of the same four characters. Winning gets you a piece of art. More exciting, Tag 2 Prologue also has a bunch of trophies completely independent from those in Tag HD. They're fairly simple and geared toward pushing the player into exploring the newer assets, but they're a nice gesture for an otherwise limited demo.
Tekken Hybrid may be aimed squarely at fans of the series, but it still feels like one of those retailer bundle packages that makes you buy a whole bunch of extra stuff for the one thing you actually wanted. Playing a slice of Tekken Tournament Tag 2 early and marveling at the sheer lunacy of Blood Vengeance aren't adequate appetizers for Tekken Tag Tournament HD, and it's a bummer than $40 is required to feast on the main course.