Possibly the most unlikely conversion of any game ever became a reality. No one ever thought that a Tekken game would ever make it on to a Nintendo system never mind the humble GBA, but it has happened, and in all its 3D glory (nearly).
Most people would be sceptical that such a graphically advanced game as Tekken could be possible on a system that is designed to play host to mainly 2D games, but thanks to a lot of fiddling and 2D Mode 7 trickery, Namco have managed to create a respectable looking hand-held representation of Tekken.
The backgrounds and characters are based around Tekken 3. The backgrounds in Tekken games were always 2D images with rotating 3D floors so this aspect was not difficult to implement on the GBA but the 3D characters were always going to a bit difficult on the GBA. Namco managed to get around this by using a similar method to that used in Tony Hawks Skateboarding, and it seems to have worked. A few frames of animation are missing but it is hard to notice on such a small screen; if you squint it's almost as if you are playing it on a Playstation. The overall effect is very similar to the very rare and obscure Mega drive version of Virtua Fighter 2 although Namco have managed to be more successful in their attempt.
The music is decent enough considering the music in Tekken has never really been very memorable in the first place. The renditions of the various tunes are well done and do sound more like 'real' music rather than the usual 'bleeps and blobs' you hear in many GBA games. The sound effects are very authentic. Characters yell and groan as they fight while the announcer sounds as good as he does on the Playstation, so overall the sound is well above average compared to many other hand-held games.
It plays very similarly to its 'full size' brothers, complete with rotating cameras and side stepping. The restriction imposed by the GBA's lack of buttons has not hampered the game as much as it has done to SSFX Revival. The two face buttons act as kick and punch, while the shoulder buttons are for grabbing and changing characters (yes tagging has been included… only this time with 3 players each). To access left or right limbs the player must now press back or forward and press punch or kick, this becomes second nature after a while and isn't as fiddly as it was in SSFX Revival.
The game includes only nine characters plus the hidden boss character which is considerably less than in other Tekken games, but the nine included are probably the more popular ones such as Paul, Law and Jin, so unless your favourite character is the Panda you will be happy. The characters do have fewer moves, so combat is not as complicated and 'deep' as it is on the home consoles. This relegates the game into a simple button basher; the fact that ten hit combos are very easy to perform makes this fact worse.
Despite its impressive use of the GBA's hardware, the game is more of a technical demo rather than a complete package. It lacks any kind of lastability. As soon as the idea of playing Tekken on the GBA gets old, there is very little to keep you playing. Without all the hidden features, gimmicks, large amount of characters and overall polish of the PSX version, all that is left is a very shallow fighting game.
To prolong the experience a two player link-up is included. The link-up feature requires two copies of the game but it's unlikely that you'll find another person who owns it, so you won't find a lot of use of this feature, but it plays much better with two players and fast paced tense fights are common.
Namco announced that they were going to release Tekken Advance 2 (in Japan at least), but it never happened.
If you need something to show off the capabilities of the GBA then Tekken Advance is the obvious choice to make your friends drool. But if you're looking for a good fighting game for your GBA then SSFX Revival may be a better choice as it relies less on technical gimmicks and more on gameplay.
Text by Kamran Tahzeeb