Tekken 8 review: Back(dash), and better than ever
8 mins read

Tekken 8 review: Back(dash), and better than ever

I do my best to create a 1-to-1 recreation of Margaret Thatcher in the Tekken 8 avatar creator for 20 minutes, before giving up and heading into an online lobby at 11PM. There, I lounge at the beach and practice some combos before an American reviewer hops online and sits down at a cab. He buries me alive. I download each replay and pick them apart. I mess around with some other characters, and chuckle one of them transforms a salmon into a giant missile. Tekken is truly back.

Back, and arguably better than ever. Tekken 8 is the latest entry in the legendary 3D fighting game franchise and has gigantic shoes to fill. Tekken 7, while certainly flawed, slowly grew into a world-spanning competitive title that wrestled the hearts of many, even as newer and flashier games were released around it. There is an expectation that Tekken 8 must see the bar set by its predecessor and wall jump over it. Tekken 8 manages the feat.

Let’s break it down piece-by-piece, starting with the bits I always find most important when jumping into a new fighter. The online stability is fine in Tekken 8, but not genre-leading in any regard. Reviewers were given two days to try the game online, during which I played with various others from the UK, Europe, and America. Games against those in my own country (using wifi or otherwise) were smooth and frustration-free. The same goes with European matches, although a few brief hiccups here and there were noticeable.

In matches against Americans, it was a touch shakier. Tekken 8 does have online rollback settings you can adjust to favour performance or stability, but neither of these appeared to make a substantial improvement other than standard settings. Matches were choppy, but playable. Not quite the magic established by Street Fighter 6 and Guilty Gear: Strive, but workable. It’s worth noting that I and other testers work with games for a living, and as such likely have ethernet connections and above-average wifi setups. Your experience may vary if you lack either of these, leaving me wishing the game was able to reach the same bar as its direct competitors in this regard.

Tekken 8 King rage art animation
Even so, you should still be able to perform if you stick to your region. | Image credit: VG247

Now if we step back from the online games themselves, avatar lobbies provide a charming and workable online environment that’s fun for casuals and competitive players. This sort of feature isn’t exactly new – Arc System Works games have been recreating the arcades for years now, but the practice has seen a renaissance in recent years. I admit I enjoy Tekken 8’s lobby, and the silly looking avatars that populate them.

I think it’s fun that you can just sit down and practice matches, meet up with friends for friendly matches, or organise larger group battles. It’s a lot like Street Fighter 6’s Battle Hub, but you don’t get deformed freakazoids or giant walking dicks fist bumping you. This, depending on your personal taste, is either a non-factor or a major loss. Those uninterested – as I suspect I might be in a few months – can queue up for matches as normal from the main menu.

Moving onto the gameplay changes, I think the new Heat Dash system is a fantastic addition. Tekken 8 explosively shifts between moments of opportunistic poking and prodding, into these massive explosive combos and do-or-die defensive moments. Now, the mind games around neutral play has always been core in Tekken, but the Heat system does wonders to emphasize this dynamic. Matches are more aggressive than before, which is wonderful as a player, and spectator. For now I find this more engaging than Tekken 7, but this may very well be the day one gloss varnish. Time will tell whether these changes withstand constant testing from the world’s best and brightest.

Tekken 8 has a bulging cast of characters, all distinct gameplay-wise and with wonderful designs. There is a pick for everyone, with the new characters like Reina, Azucena, and Victor bringing their own refreshing styles. While a lot of characters have very similar move lists as prior games, 32 characters on launch is nothing to sneeze at. This has always been a strength of the series, and while your personal favourite may not be here, at least one is certain to fit snuggly within your personal tastes.

Reina in Tekken 8
I don’t think it’s controversial to say Reina is a fantastic addition to the series. | Image credit: VG247

When it comes to the single player modes, this is frankly where I was the most impressed with Tekken 8. And I’m a straight-to-multiplayer guy! Arcade Quest is a short but sweet side mode where you, a new player jumping into Tekken 8 on release day, find yourself arcade-hopping across the country in hopes of becoming the Tekken World Tour champion. It’s unironically a fantastic way to learn the basics of a character, as each new arcade you visit teaches you important attacks and combos unique to your chosen fighter. As such, even if you think the avatars are a bit scuffed, it’s worth jumping into. Especially if you’re new.

As for the main story mode, it’s a ridiculous, emotional rollercoaster that a concludes the bad daddy beatdown saga we’ve been following for decades in stunning form. This world-altering clash between the most multi-lingual cast in gaming really does go places, and the team uses nostalgia like a scalpel to slash at your heartstrings. A short but wonderful climax that brings elements from prior games back in meaningful ways constantly. For extra fun, take a shot every time Jin looks at his fist.

This kind of links to accessibility, which I think is tackled in an interesting fashion in Tekken 8. The game does have an easy combo mode of sorts, allowing you to switch on the fly to simplified inputs in any gameplay mode – including online matches! I do actually prefer Tekken 8’s approach to new player onboarding than the Street Fighter 6 – which many believe is the gold standard. The reason? I think Tekken 8 has an amazing boot-to-ranked pipeline.

Tekken 8 avatar Harada
Who can blame him for the self-insert? | Image credit: VG247

You start with the story, which through one way or another allows you to play with the majority of characters in the game. From there maybe you do a few character stories for the ones you really vibed with. Falling on a main, you then do the arcade quest, which slowly but surely teaches you the fundamentals of how they work. From there, you’re literally pushed into the online as the next frontier. It’s perhaps the best fighting game onboarding process I’ve seen, at least in terms of direction.

If this review appears glowing, frankly that’s how I feel about the game. It’s without a doubt my favourite fighting game out right now, and I’ve been fiending to get back online ever since they took the pre-release servers down. The one scratch on the game’s spotless form is online infrastructure that doesn’t quite live up to other games on the market right now, which makes it hard to recommend to those with seperated friend groups or subpar online connections. If neither of those apply to you, Tekken 8 is absolutely worth picking up at your earliest convenience.

Tekken 8 is out on January 26 for Xbox Series X/S, PS5, and PC. This review of Tekken 8 was conducted on PC, using a copy of the game provided by the publisher.

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