Friday, March 17, 2017

PART 1: The death of a Revolution

A few days before Christmas of 2016, game developer Namco announced that their free to play fighter, Tekken Revolution, would be shutting down on March 20, 2017. I suppose that after a nearly four year run on now ailing last gen equipment, it only makes sense that they’d pull the plug.

I understand why this has to happen, but it doesn’t mean I like it.

During the days leading up to Tekken Revolution’s surprise release on June 11, 2013, I remember thinking that I was really hankering for a new Tekken game. Tekken Tag Tournament 2 wasn’t even two years old at that point and the time between Tekken games – at least in the post-PlayStation 1 era – can be measured in half decades. So you can imagine my utter glee when Namco announced in June 2013 that they’d be releasing a new Tekken game, for free, in just days.

Sure enough, Namco delivered a (nearly) full featured Tekken, as promised. Basically, the PlayStation 3 exclusive game was a stripped down Tekken Tag 2, ripping most assets directly from the older game but adding new, dubsteppy tunes.

Players were rewarded with experience points after each battle, and upon leveling up, they could upgrade their fighter’s power, endurance, and vigor. This was the most controversial aspect of the game, allowing some players to win simply because they were able to purchase more coins and thus, gain more experience points.

Though a lot of hardcore Tekken players bashed Revolution for its simplified gameplay and emphasis on attracting new and inexperienced players, it felt fresh to me. It distilled the Tekken formula to its core, forcing people out of their arcade mode comfort zone and into player vs. player via the unique token system.

Each player started with two arcade tokens and five PvP tokens, and as they burned though them, the tokens would slowly regenerate. If you ran out, no problem: just watch other people fight it out for a while until you regenerate some tokens, or spend a few bucks to get some premium coins. Reportedly, this mechanic was supposed to emulate an arcade-style, “I got next!” atmosphere. I’m not sure how well it succeeded in that, but it sure was fun. I know I ponied up at least $20 over the years, hungry for “just one more match.”

Tekken Revolution came at a time when I sorely needed it. In early 2013, I had left home for the first time since college, trading my parent’s rent free house for a single room in a shady neighborhood, the other bedroom occupied by my cousin-turned-roommate and his wife-to-be. The first week I lived there, the cops towed my car because, they claimed, the snowplow couldn’t get past it, despite there being no snow the night before. My ex-fiancĂ© had left only a few months ago, and my new girlfriend lived three or four hours away by train. And by day, I suffered through a new job that kept me hours late most days, doing the work of two people with the patience of three.

Despite unopened copies of great retail games sitting on my shelf, I’d come home after work lock myself in my room with Tekken Revolution and a half pint of vodka. When the tokens ran out, I’d watch other people fight in battle/chat rooms I created with titles like “Sell You Children” and “Baby Stabbin’ Dudes.” And when the liquor ran out, sometimes I’d stumble down the street to the local saloon for a nightcap or three. One time on the way to the bar, I watched a kid, maybe 16 years old, get wailed on by at least four other teenagers. He wasn’t hurt too bad, but he seriously had no idea why they were hitting him. I went inside the adjacent convenience store (we called it “Skeevymart”) and bought him a cold ice tea to hold on his injuries, but when I came back out, he and his assailants had disappeared into the night.

Now it’s four years later, and the crumby apartment in the shady town is lightyears in the past. I married that girlfriend of mine, and now instead of spending my weekends going back and forth on the Long Island Rail Road, I spend them on the couch watching my ten month old son. And when I do get a chance to play video games, it’s not vodka I’m swigging, but diet cola. In a companywide reorganization about two years ago, my director title was lost in the shuffle. But my paygrade is the same and my responsibilities are much more reasonable.

And yet, hearing that Tekken Revolution theme song thrusts me into that small, poorly ventilated bedroom, and jumping online with my powered up Kazuya brings back the little bit of happiness I felt during a difficult time. I remember the sights and smells of that low rent neighborhood, and the summer sun setting to the sounds of victory and defeat on the small screen. I remember that kid who kept asking why he was being beaten, and the voice of a girl behind me yelling, “You KNOW why!” I remember the guilt of ignoring my roommates, the burn of the vodka in my throat, and the numb joy of just me and the game.

I guess four years isn’t a lot of time in the scheme of things, but I regret that I never got all the characters or had a chance to power up most of the ones I did. I regret that I never unlocked Eliza the narcoleptic vampire, earning about a quarter of the 20,000 “blood seals” required to get her. And I regret that after this weekend, I’ll never irk out another tough victory in a tense Revolution match, the way I did so many nights back in the day, before passing out with the television on and the controller haphazardly tossed next to me on the bed.

Like Namco’s other free to play fighting game, Soulcalibur: Lost Swords, Tekken Revolution is another causality in the ageing world of the PlayStation 3. Last year I bought copies of Resistance 1 and 2 because they were only a buck each at GameStop, and found them to be fun. But out of the box, the online components to both games (and Resistance 3 as well) had already been shut down. That’s dozens of trophy opportunities, game modes, and hours of playtime gone forever.

I guess it’s just in my nature to morn lost games like Tekken Revolution, the ones most people moved on from years ago, the ones I can’t just pluck off my shelf when I’m feeling nostalgic. Reader(s) of this blog might remember my multipart series on the curiosity that was PlayStation Home. And like PlayStation Home, I hope to be there when Tekken Revolution breathes its last.

I owe that much to my old friend. 

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