Yes, you read the title correctly - it's Tekken 2, on the NES.
Some time in (presumably) the Nineties, a crack squad of Chinese hackers called Hummer Team cobbled together a rough approximation of Namco's famous fighting title and released it as a bootleg Famicom game, proving that while pirates may be happy to utterly disregard the concepts of copyright and intellectual property they will at least do so with a little ambition.
They even managed to squeeze the original Tekken's intro in there! Well, a little bit of it, anyway. Alright, so it's just Kazuya glowering at the player and then doing a few kicks but I'll take it. You might be thinking it's a little rough and that Kazuya's ear looks like a flattened penny you'd get from those seaside coin-squashing machines, but I should remind you that the actual Tekken intro didn't look much better. Check out Nina's running animation - I don't think it'll be too difficult for Hummer Team to recreate that level of grace and fluidity.
Onto the game itself, and naturally the first thing to do is to select your character. On the top row you've got a choice between Wang, Heihachi, Michelle, Nina, King, Paul, Kazuya and Law. On the bottom row you've got... the same characters again. Identical to the characters on the top row in every way, just in a different order. Why? C'mon, this is a bootleg NES game, there's no point questioning these kind of decisions. Maybe there was extra space on the cart that needed padding out, maybe Tekken 2 was adapted from a different bootleg game that had sixteen character slots, maybe the programmers got distracted and accidentally copy-pasted all the fighters' information. All I can say for sure is that I'm disappointed that Yoshimitsu and Jack aren't included - especially Jack, because I have fond memories of playing the original Tekken with my younger brother and driving him into screaming fits of rage by spamming Jack's punch combo - but I shall struggle on and select Kazuya. It was the way he glared at me in the intro movie, I just can't get him out of my mind.
So, how can Tekken's combo-based, 3D gameplay be transferred to the NES?
Answer: it can't, and unsurprisingly Tekken 2 is a basic 2D one-one-one fighter. Kazuya and Michelle face off against each other inside a resolutely single-plane baseball stadium, and the early signs are encouraging - the stadium was an actual background from the first Tekken game and while the sprites are hardly fantastic they're certainly recognisable as the character they're supposed to represent. I know that sounds like damning with faint praise but remember, it's a bootleg game. I'm just amazed it hasn't crashed yet.
Unlike, say, Street Fighter 2 and it's six-button combat system, Tekken is a little easier to squash down for play on the NES controller, and I'm sure you won't be surprised to learn that the two punch and two kick buttons of the real Tekken games have been reduced to one punch button and one kick button for Tekken 2. You can press A to punch or B to kick, and you've got a jumping and a crouching version of each. Holding away on the D-pad makes you block, and double-tapping forward or back makes you dash in that direction. A simple system, but a fairly effective one none-the-less.
Still, it took me a little while to figure out and as a result the first round against Michelle ended in a Time Over. It's okay, I've got loads more health than she does. She even crumpled to the ground when the time ran out. Round one to Kazuya!
Or not. Despite what the game tries to make you believe by having your opponent slump to the ground when the clock runs down, you can't win a round through time out. I'd have been more annoyed about losing the round if it hadn't been immediately followed by this amazing picture of Michelle, mind you. Those short-shorts are so short that one of Michelle's legs has disappeared, the mass of that missing limb seemingly migrating into her upper body where it's given her enormous, Popeye-esque arms. Simply wonderful.
Back to the fighting, and some further pad-wrangling has revealed that performing a fireball motion and pressing one of the attack buttons will produce a special move! I've played a fair amount of Tekken over the years, but unlike with other fighting game series the move names have never stuck in my mind, so you'll have to bear with me as I describe Kazuya's moves as "that big jumping uppercut that he does" (pictured above) and "jumping spinning kick-sweep". You know, those iconic techniques of Mishima-style karate.
Well, I'm impressed. A bootleg brawler with special moves that not only look like the moves they're ripping off but which are actually easy to execute when you need them! No wrestling with the D-pad in the vain hope that something, anything might happen, as is so often the case with low-quality fighting games, be they official or piratical knock-offs: special moves are smooth and predictable, so Tekken 2 gets a big thumbs up on that front.
Now that I have a few more pugilistic tools at my disposal, Michelle doesn't stand a chance and the fight goes Kazuya's way.
To paraphrase one of The Simpsons' finest moments - I hate every Mishima I see, from Kazuy-A to Kazuy-Z.
Also - and don't take this the wrong way - I think you should take a good look at Kazuyz's crotch. Go on, try to figure out how his legs are attached to his body. My current leading theory is that they aren't, it's just that his trousers are so tight (and so high-waisted, c'mon man, you look like my grandad) that his legs have nowhere else to go.
From here we follow the standard "Arcade Mode" route of two-round battles against each fighter in turn, and next up is cryogenically-frozen Irish super assassin Nina. Did I mention that she's an Irish super assassin who was once cryogenically frozen? Because I feel it bears repeating.
Nina didn't come out so well after the polygons-to-pixels conversion, her deadly combat skills somewhat dulled now that she's wearing oven gloves and has developed an intense fascination with Kazuya's groin. She's as mystified by the arrangement of his hips as I am, it seems. She also suffers from having lacklustre special moves, namely a double-fisted punch with no range and a set combo. A lot of characters have combos as one or both of their special moves, and they're almost always useless - easy to avoid and never getting the full allocation of hits in even when the first blow does connect.
Do you want to see Nina's win portrait? Of course you do.
You too can lose pound, pounds, pounds with the Tekken 2 Diet (warning: Tekken 2 Diet may lead to irreversible organ failure and poor fashion choices)!
Now a battle with my deadliest foe - myself! Wait, never mind, myself keeps running into my own fist. That'll hamper his chances of victory. The AI in Tekken 2 could be generously described as "variable," with some fighters showing much more intelligence than others, although a common thread is that they're all very gung-ho and not much for the art of defence.
I used this to my advantage in the fight against Michelle, and things went much more smoothly once I realised that the computer doesn't seem to have much defence against being kicked in the knees until they fall over and then subjected to a constant stream of jumping uppercuts. For all the flak I've been giving to Kazuya's pelvis, the guy has some serious lower body stamina.
"But didn't you already beat Michelle?" I hear you cry. Good, glad to see you've been paying attention. Yes, I did beat Michelle, but it turns out that the second row of duplicate characters wasn't just there for show and you have to beat each opponent twice to complete the game. No, there are no differences that I could see between Michelle and Michelle Strikes Back and yes, it is very aggravating to have to battle her again.
Ha ha, Wang. An immature reaction, yes, but need I remind you about the cryogenically-frozen Irish super assassin? I'm just treating the Tekken series with the same amount of maturity and restrain it's showing me.
Wang is an elderly Chinese man in a videogame and therefore it seems likely he'll be able to kick your ass with little effort, but unfortunately for him he's been saddled with the same problems as Nina regarding special moves, coupled with an overall shorter range. You know what's got good range? Kazuya's crouching kick and jumping uppercut.
And still polite enough to bow. What a charming fellow. Even the saucepan on his head doesn't detract from his overall air of class.
Kazuya's dad and pointy-haired series mainstay Heihachi comes next, determined to thrash out his paternal issues in the only manner he knows how - fisticuffs. Well, there's that and throwing his kids off cliffs. Those are his go-to parenting moves, but given how much of a dick Kazuya grew up to be it's fair to say he won't be winning any Father of the Year awards. That and, you know, he threw his son off a cliff.
Heihachi is rather well-represented in Tekken 2, and aside from the unfortunate decision to shade his legs using the same colour as the background so that he seems to be suffering from a horrible wasting disease, his animations and moves make him very recognisable.
Not so sharp in his win portrait, where he's squatting in a pose that's difficult to describe without using the words "straining" and "lavatory". Also, Hummer Team? I know you copied these images directly from the actual Tekken games, but you could have at least rounded Heihachi's corners off a bit. He's got the shoulders of a Final Fantasy VII character.
Hey, it's King! Everyone's favourite luchador enters the fray, and I'm very pleased that they developers went with his alternate shirt-and-tie outfit rather than taking the obvious path and dressing him as a wrestler. It's a good look for the sophisticated jaguar-headed grappler-about-town.
Now, Tekken 2 doesn't feature throws, which is unfortunate for King, what with him being a wrestler and all and throws making up a considerable part of his repertoire. He doesn't suffer too much, though, because Hummer Team thought it would be nice to give him the power of flight to compensate.
One of King's special moves is a drop-kick: a very powerful drop-kick that's fast and travels the length of the bloody screen. No projectile attacks? No problem! Just turn yourself into a living artillery shell and blast your opponents aside! The amount of challenge you get from King is directly proportional to how often he does his drop-kick, and unfortunately he only varies between "a lot" and "constantly." He's also got a lunging dive (which I could not for the life of me figure out how to perform when I played as King) that's almost as useful, and for once I had to think about what I was doing. This lead to the revelation that there's a decent game lurking somewhere deep inside Tekken 2, especially one on an 8-bit console. The collision detection is above average, movement and control are smooth and fluid and while the game does go mental every now and then - sometimes it'll drag your characters around the stage in a manner that has nothing to do with what's going on on the screen - it's generally pretty consistent. I've played worse one-on-one fighting games that were released legitimately, I can tell you that much.
King wins, and to celebrate he swaps his usual jaguar mask for the half-melted head of a really angry mole.
There's not much to say about judo master Paul Phoenix, he of the Vanilla Ice hairdo and bear rivalry, other than it's kind of hard to see him against the desert background. Good camouflage work, Paul, that'll really give you the edge.
The fight itself may have been unremarkable, but there was one thing that I noticed when I was playing this stage. Up until now Tekken 2's music had been unremarkable - I think it's reworked tracks from the actual Tekken games, but I don't know enough about Tekken's music to confirm that. Paul's theme, though... it sounded familiar. I started humming along, even. Here, check it out:
After some time spent racking my enfeebled brain, it finally came to me: it's the bloody Fear Factory music from Donkey Kong Country!
Well, that's that mystery solved. Fair play to Hummer Team, they picked a pretty great track to shoehorn into their pirated fighting game. I would have gone with Ice Cave Chant myself, but it's definitely better than the music that has come before.
Perhaps as recompense, Paul gets one of the better victory portrait. Sure, he still looks like someone grabbed his bottom half and squeezed really hard, and each club-like hand is bigger than his head, and his hair makes it look as though his balancing a log up there, but... nope, sorry, I guess Paul looks just as wonky as everyone else.
The final character we've yet to see is Law. Is it possible to talk about Law without mentioning Bruce Lee? Well, I just did so apparently not. Law has perhaps fallen the furthest of all the Tekken 2 characters, with both his special moves being easily-avoided combos and his trademark speed reduced in keeping with the game's slower pace. His kicks don't seem to connect as often as they should, either, which is a real shame for a Bruce Lee clone. See, there, I mentioned him again.
Don't worry, Law, it's nothing for you to worry your little head over. Your teeny-tiny little head.
Once you've beaten the eight fighters and their eight identical clones, you might expect to be finally granted a respite from this thumb-pummelling marathon, but Tekken 2 decides you haven't had enough yet and chucks in a couple more fights. These work like a mini endurance round, where you have to defeat two different characters with only one health bar.
I was a bit worried about having to fight King again, but as the screenshot above shows I was ready for him this time. Also, he barely did any drop-kicks. I never did find out what happens if Kazuya's uppercut collides with King's drop-kick, and that's probably for the best. I also figured out, sadly much too late, that repeatedly using Kazuya's spinning kick special against an opponent who's standing in the corner will pretty much trap them in place, allowing you to finish fights quickly and with minimum effort. Normally I'd raise this as a negative point but c'mon, sixteen normal battles and then some survival fights? Frankly, I was glad of the break.
As for the ending, you've already seen it - it's just a slideshow of all the victory portraits, so you get to enjoy King's melty head and Heihachi's cuboid arms all over again. It's more than I was expecting.
In fact, this whole game has turned out to be more than I expected. It's a competent enough 2D fighter - an unpolished, rough fighter but one that has a decent core to it, far above the quality you'd expect from a bootleg Famicom port of a 3D Playstation game. Perhaps the most impressive thing is the characters themselves, which don't look great when they're still but in motion they're immediately recognisable to anyone with even a passing knowledge of Tekken. Plus, you can't go wrong with Donkey Kong Country music.
Even the game's wonkier moments are strangely endearing, probably because they don't often impinge on the gameplay too often - sometimes the little things can raise a smile, like the font they chose for the Game Over message:
"Howdy, partners, and welcome to the King of the Old West Tournament!"
There's also the fact that if you reset the game, it starts back up with a different title screen: a title screen that says "Battle Arena Toshinden," in fact. Chinese pirates like to keep their options open.
Tekken 2 is a pleasant surprise, then. Unless you're one of Namco's lawyers. If you're looking for a one-vs-one fighting game for the NES then honestly, you could do a lot worse than this. Who would have believed it, eh?