The wild sideshows that helped define console editions of Tekken were conspicuously absent from Tekken 7. Tekken Bowl, resurrected from Tekken Tag Tournament’s PlayStation 2 port in 2000, returns as Ultimate Tekken Bowl in the first installment of Tekken 7’s season pass.
Ultimate Tekken Bowl is bowling, only it replaces rock hurling professionals with men, women, bears, demons, time-bending apparitions, and cyborgs capable of prolific violence. The rules of the game, however, are still respected; each participant must complete a full 10-frame round of the ancient Egyptian pin-knocking-over contest. One has to appreciate the non-discriminatory practice of bowling, as Tekken’s interpretation permits equal competition from literally anything with two hands that can walk upright (apologies, Dr. Boskonovich).
Fighting skills and bowling skills are directly interchangeable. Ultimate Tekken Bowl seeks to prove this thesis by granting each member of the Tekken 7 squad a distinct letter rating, C to S, for spin and power. Power measures the maximum force of which the ball can be heaved. Spin measures the ability to curve the ball in relation to its launching point. In addition to basic proficiency, each rating seems to control how quickly the spin and power meters fluctuate when attempting to line up a shot.
Basic operation falls in line with decades of previous bowling videogames. A launching point on the lane, from left to right, is selected. The spin meter, which shifts rapidly from left to right, requires extraordinary feats to timing to select the intended spin direction. Finally, a power meter, represented by an emptying and refilling vertical bar, must be stopped to indicate the desired level or power. Skill is derived from developing the necessary reaction times and the bowling acumen required to wipe out all/any remaining pins.
Ultimate Tekken Bowl doesn’t really put too much of a spin (ha!) on the formula. For some reason Yoshimitsu, Gigas, and Alisha—whom are all cyborgs or robots—have an additional targeting mechanic that may be cheating or may be nothing (I can’t tell). It’s also possible to accidentally throw yourself down the lane with the ball still attached to your hand, resulting in a fault. From my experience that hilarious but ineffective feat is achieved by perfectly topping out the power meter, which seems like it should be rewarded instead of punished. Tekken 7’s slow-down mechanic, where it slows down time to zoom in on a critical, matching-ending hit, is also sometimes applied to critical pin wobbling.
Flickers of life are visible around Ultimate Tekken Bowl’s edges. When a strike is achieved, the bowling alley receives a makeover for the next frame. In place of its daytime bowling alley depression is a neon-lit disco party synonymous with midnight bowling promotions across the globe (it goes away if your next roll is not a strike). Additionally, each character performs their respective winning and losing pose in correspondence with their performance on the previous frame. Heihachi pins, which replace traditional bowling pins with trophies of Tekken’s resident cantankerous geriatric, are also an option.
Striker is Ultimate Tekken Bowl’s signature mode. It challenges the player to complete a series of shots, some with different pin counts, and limits the number of balls available. Playing a normal solo game is good for practice, but I got the most mileage out of a two player mode with my wife. I defeated her 148 to 35 because it was her first time playing Ultimate Tekken Bowl and I had been practicing for an hour (she said it was, “fun, I guess,” and has since vowed revenge).
Ultimate Tekken Bowl is mechanically indistinguishable from the versions of bowling that complimented Tekken Tag Tournament in 2000 and the PSP’s and PlayStation 3’s versions of Tekken 5: Dark Resurrection in 2006 and 2007, respectively. It also came to iPad. I understand beloved Tekken modes skipping a few generations—the wonderful Tekken Ball, for example, only appeared in Tekken 3 and the Wii U version of Tekken Tag Tournament 2—but another iteration of bowling in favor of a different, marginally creative endeavor is slightly disappointing.
The value proposition elevates Ultimate Tekken Bowl’s level of dissatisfaction. It’s either $14 by itself or part of the $25 season pass. Tekken 7, while a competent fighter and likely the best Tekken has ever performed, was lacking any sort of meaningful sideshow. A metric ton of costumes were assumed to be a suitable replacement—and maybe it was in the customization-dependent online landscape of 2017—but content as light and recycled as Ultimate Tekken Bowl feels like it should have been included in the basic retail package.
Reactions to Ultimate Tekken Bowl’s level of discontent are best observed in dissonance inside of its own content. Included in its bundle is a suite of costumes; male and female bathing suits, school uniforms for Alisa and Xiaoyu, and some Idolmaster costumes. For whatever reason you can’t employ these, or any customized costumes, inside of Ultimate Tekken Bowl. This seems like either a massive oversight or regrettable indifference to the notion that players might want their customized costumes—the same costumes in which Tekken 7 has placed a huge bet on players earning, unlocking, and appreciating—as part of its bowling apparatus.
In my review of Tekken 7 I criticized the lack of extraneous modes that historically complimented Tekken’s home releases. Coming down the line as a natural update, as so many games feel compelled to do when they’re maybe released too early, seemed like a good fit. That Tekken Bowl, which is not particularly novel take on bowling, Tekken, or Tekken Bowling, comes at a cost is disappointing. That it’s part of a $25 package that promised an additional game mode (which, here, Tekken Bowl) two more characters (one of which is Geese Howard), and a boatload of costumes is shocking. Tekken 7’s season pass does not appear to be living up to expectations.
Ultimate Tekken Bowl is a dispiriting headliner for Tekken 7’s first round of downloadable content. Its brand of bowling is dependable, if nothing else, but it’s also a slightly different version of what was included on the side in PlayStation 2 launch game. After Tekken Ball, Tekken Bowling, and different versions of Tekken Force, I don’t know how else you can add value to a modern Tekken package, but I know it doesn’t feel like this.