There is no entertainment product more feared by the uninitiated than video games.
I know this because I’ve spent a lifetime trying to get other people to play them. Whenever I hand a controller over to a video game virgin (who isn’t a child), the reaction is inevitably the same. A broad shake of the head, a widening of the eyes and two outstretched arms doing their best to keep the controller away from them.
As someone who’s barely tech savvy enough to play video games and watch streaming content, I sympathize. The first time I saw adults huddled around an Atari 2600 while playing “Pac-Man,” (my earliest video game memory), I didn’t even want to play. I was mesmerized by the flickering images on the screen, and intimidated by the ability the adults had to make those images move.
Considering the Atari had a one button controller and “Pac-Man” is so easy to pick up and play, I should have given it a shot. A standard controller has about a dozen buttons these days, and for the uninitiated, it looks like a nightmare of complexity.
Ironically enough, video games are easier now than they ever have been. Selectable difficulty levels started getting popular way back in the 1990s, and a lot of fighting games (including one I’m reviewing this week) have options to combine complicated, multiple hit combination attacks into a few simple button presses. Newer driving games, such as “Mario Kart 8 Deluxe,” even have an option to help steer you away from the sides of the track.
Gaming is more accessible now than it’s ever been, and the proof is in two recent releases that update notoriously difficult franchises — “Tekken” and “Wipeout.” I’m horrible at fighting and racing games, and I spent plenty of time getting my butt kicked at both in the mid 1990s.
Now I’m the one kicking virtual butt.
As long as I don’t play against someone who knows what they’re doing
While the “Street Fighter” series will always be the one-on-one fighting franchise closest to my heart, I’ll never forget the endless hours my friends and I spent playing Tekken 2 (1996) for the original PlayStation.
We never played the original “Tekken,” and out of all the sequels that followed it, I played a little bit of “Tekken 5.” The button combos have stayed the same, though, and I was amazed by how easily it came back to me 20 years later. The harder to learn combos have been simplified with an “assist” button, and I certainly wasn’t afraid to use it.
Back in the 90s, I watched a friend of mine spend three straight hours trying to learn a 10-hit combo in “Tekken 2.” It was a horrible experience for both of us.
Like most modern fighting titles, this latest “Tekken” game features a story mode — a ludicrous, nonsense tale that makes a modicum of sense to those who have played one of the previous games. It has something to do with evil corporations trying to take over the world, which means you’ll be fighting a lot of identical goons, as well as some of the 16 fighters who make up the roster.
There’s unintentionally hilarious (i.e. poorly acted) voice-over narration from a reporter looking into the case, but since he isn’t a playable character, his inclusion makes even less sense than the plot.
The goofy story doesn’t really matter much, though. “Tekken 7” is all about the fighting, and unlike a lot of its competitors, that fighting take place on a three-dimensional playing field. Rushing an opponent simply doesn’t work when they can step to the side, and the toned down combos and semi-realistic fighting styles lend “Tekken 7” a more strategic feel than some of its over-the-top brethren. You certainly won’t be confusing this with the zany, tag team action of “Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3.”
Unfortunately, “Tekken 7” isn’t quite as pretty as I thought it would it be. It’s a nice looking game, but the resolution looks blurrier than its competitors, and the character models are a bit more simplistic. This is a port of a two-year-old arcade game, though, so a few deficiencies are to be expected.
One thing this port has the arcade version doesn’t is a plethora of cinematic scenes from the previous games. Looking back at the blocky, unattractive character models from 20-year-old games is a real hoot, and I’m never one to shy away from nostalgia. It’s a welcome addition that gives “Tekken 7” a real anniversary feel.
While not nearly as robust and shiny as the recently released DC Comics one-on-one fighting game “Injustice 2,” “Tekken 7” makes a fun weekend rental for everyday gamers like me, and should be an automatic purchase for fans of the franchise.
Three out of Four Stars
Wipeout: Omega Collection
Unlike “Tekken 7,” “Wipeout: Omega Collection” isn’t brand new. It’s a remaster of two previous racing titles in the Wipeout series — “Wipeout HD” and its “Wipeout HD Fury” expansion, as well as “Wipeout 2048.”
I’m not enough enough of a “Wipeout” nerd to tell the difference, mostly because I could never make it past the opening races in any of the games. But I have nothing but respect for the futuristic racing series.
I played the first one for the original PlayStation back in 1995, and Sony gifted me (as well as thousands of other players) a similar compilation of “Wipeout” games for the PlayStation 3. It was an apology gift after hackers took down the PSN network for a couple of months in 2011.
Thankfully, this latest collection is catered to casual fans like me. Just like the previously mentioned “Mario Kart” game, this iteration of “Wipeout” offers an option that helps stop you from running into the edges of the track. Without it, I wouldn’t have made it past the second race.
This isn’t your typical racing game, either. Players take control of anti-gravity ships on a series of flat tracks that wind through gorgeous futuristic cities that pop with graphical enhancement. The ships look awfully similar to the racing pods in “Star Wars: Episode 1: The Phantom Menace,” but the original “Wipeout” came out a good four years before the movie.
Other than the extreme difficulty that has defined the racing series over the past two decades, that’s about all there is to it. All the “Wipeout” games are sleek and efficient, and this one features a bumpin’ electronic soundtrack that perfectly compliments the action. There are a variety of low impact weapons that can be picked up “Mario Kart” style, but this is a series that has always favored racing over combat. The weapons provide just enough of an advantage to slip ahead of your competitors.
If you’ve played these games before, there’s not much extra here to make you want to play them again. But for racing dunces like me who only got a taste of the previous games, vegging out with the race assist turned on is the perfect way to recover from a stressful day.
Nobody else makes racing games quite like this anymore.
Three-and-a-half out of Four Stars
Will Smith is a reporter for The Hawk Eye, a GateHouse Media Company in Burlington, Iowa. His column is printed each week in the Sunday edition of The Hawk Eye.