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How to smash Tekken 7 without mashing buttons

Want to up your Tekken game but don't know your pokes from your punishers? This guide will help.

Tekken 7 came out last week, which is good news for fans of the latest fighting game to go from arcade to console. Unfortunately, online play hasn't worked for everyone. The game's developer, Bandai Namco, released a patch on Thursday for the PS4, with another coming for the PC and Xbox One ($300.46 at Amazon.com) next week. So you've got a bit of time to level up your game before online business picks up.

Tekken is renowned for being accessible and fun for newbies, but deep enough for fighting-game nerds. That means players usually fall into two categories: those who press buttons and hope for the best, and those who understand how the game works.

Mostly, people are closer to the first category than the second. It's not their fault, as Tekken games have never tried to teach players the intricacies of the game. Series director and executive producer Katsuhiro Harada, talking to CNET in April, said players who really wanted to learn would figure it out for themselves on the internet using YouTube and Twitch. 

Well, here we are, on the internet. So lemme learn ya some King of Iron Fist! 

(Before we begin, a note on notation: 1, 2, 3 and 4 correspond to left punch, right punch, left kick and right kick -- or, for the PlayStation generation, they correspond to square, triangle, X and circle. Also, u, d, l and r are up, down, left and right.) 

bryan

Bandai Namco 

Practice makes perfect

The first thing you'll need to do is pick a character and learn the character's moves. That first part can be tough. It's like starting Pokemon all over again, but instead of choosing between water, fire and grass (fire, every time), you're choosing between over 30 characters.

Characters in Tekken feel distinct from one another (other than obvious exceptions like Panda and Kuma, who are palette swaps), and have different attack and movement styles. There are aggressive pit bulls (Law and Steve); slower heavies (Jack-7, Gigas); and everything in between.  

Once you've picked your poison, head into practice mode and run through your character's move list. It won't take too long, and you'll get a feel of what he or she is about. And don't be confounded. Each character may have 80-plus moves, but you'll only need to remember a dozen or two (maybe three).

After you have a feel for your character, it's time to take it to the sky. 

Juggling act

Among players of fighting games, Tekken is known for one thing: juggles. That's when you launch an opponent into the air and hit them with an extended air combo. Each character has a few different juggles you'll need to remember, and you can perform them using different launchers

Most characters have default launchers (d/f+2, u/f+4) that give you opportunity to do some gnarly strings. Each character will also have special moves that launch your opponent into the air, including sweeping low attacks that you can get combos off.

Most basic juggles will take about 30 percent of your opponent's health, so they're a key part of the game. Bandai Namco offers a helping hand here, as in each character's move list you'll find some sample combos.

For more specialised and intricate juggles -- which can include critical hits, wall attacks and even floor breaks -- you'll have to do some experimenting. Or just head over to Tekken Zaibatsu

Safety first 

If juggling does so much damage, why not just spend the whole game doing launch attacks until one hits? Well, this is where things get technical.

Most of the time, if you block an attack, your opponent will be left at minus frames. If you then do an attack that is under that amount of frames, they won't be able to block it. This is what's called a punisher. Each character has at least a 10-frame, 12-frame and 15-frame punisher that you'll use after blocking different attacks.

So let's take the hopkick (u/f+4). This is a standard jumping kick that most characters have and that launches your opponent into the sky. If your opponent blocks this, you'll be left at -13 frames -- so if they do their 10- or 12-frame punisher, you won't be able to block. Anything that leaves you at more than -14 frames is referred to as launch punishable, since generic launchers start at 14 frames. 

As scary as the term "frame data" is, it's useful to know some so you know when to attack and when not to attack.

Generally, the stronger the attack the more minus frames you'll be left at if it's blocked. Plus, most characters have moves designed to be whiff punishers, which are attacks you use if your opponent misses (whiffs) an attack. Again, you can find out what your character's punishers are and when to use them at sites like Tekken Zaibatsu. You can also find a repository of frame data for every character here

Poke the beast 

Moves that leave you at less than -10 frames when blocked are referred to as safe because no attacks are 9 frames or less, so your opponent can't punish them. You should use safe moves often, and use them to set up riskier, more powerful attacks or launchers. Key in the game are pokes. Most pokes will be something like d/f+1, f+3 or 4, d/b+3 or f+2 -- imagine the quick strikes you'd use if your opponent had 1 percent health left. 

Many of these attacks are not only safe, but will leave you at plus frames. In non-nerd terms, you'll force your opponent to defend against subsequent attacks and be less able to respond with one of their own. This is where characters like Steve, Law and Hwoarang can be so dangerous.

Hold on

If you're playing a particularly defensive player, sometimes pokes and low attacks aren't enough. You're going to have to throw some grabs into the equation. 

Each character has generic left and right grabs (1+3, 2+4 respectively) as well as some kind of middle grab (Lars' u/f+1+2, Kazuya's f,f+1+2, so on), and they'll all do a good chunk of damage. 

You can defend against grabs in one of two ways: You can anticipate them and duck (grabs are all high attacks) or you can break them. Breaking them is much harder. If they throw a left or right grab (the character will grab you from different sides of their body), you break by pressing either punch buttons. If they throw a middle grab, press both punch buttons at the same time.

Rage on

Once your health gets low, you'll enter rage mode. You'll know this happens because your character and its health bar will start emanating red fury. You know, just like in real life.

This is important for two reasons. First, your attacks will do more damage, making a comeback possible. Second, each character has a few attacks they can only do in rage mode.

There's the Rage Art attack, which is like an Ultra attack from Street Fighter. The camera will do a dramatic close-up on your character, who will then attack. If you hit your opponent, you'll do a spectacular attack that deals a huge chunk of damage -- but if you miss, you're as good as dead. Then there are Rage Drives, which are sweet-looking attacks that are mostly used to either start or continue a juggle. You'll know one when you see one, because a character will glow blue while they hit a Rage Drive.

Other things you need to know

  • Sidesteps: If you lightly tap up or down while standing, your character will sidestep one way or the other. These are key to defense, especially if you're fighting an aggressive player. The counter to sidesteps are homing attacks. These strike across the X-axis and are identified by the trail of light they leave behind them (Lars' b+1, Jin's 4). 
  • Walls: Many stages have walls, and these are important to factor into your game. Each character has a wall splat (an attack that presses your opponent up against a wall) and a wall carry (for use mid-juggle, these carry your opponent from the air to a wall). Once your opponent is against the wall, you can unleash damage-heavy wall combos. 
  • Crushes: They say the best defense is a good offense, and that's where crush attacks help. There are some moves that are either high or low crushes -- that is, they bypass either low or high attacks. A jumping kick, for instance, will bypass a low attack from an opponent. Law's d+2, 3 is an example of a combo that crushes high attacks (but at a cost -- it's launch-punishable).  
  • Specialties: Many characters have certain moves that make them stand out. Make sure to try and find out if your character has a special trick up their sleeve. For instance, King's Giant Swing grab looks like a 1+2 grab-break, but it's actually a 1 break. Lars' u/f+3 is a launcher that crushes both high and low attacks. Asuka and Dragunov have really, really annoying parries. The list goes on and on. 
  • Don't play the computer too much: Playing CPU-controlled opponents is fun, but it can teach you some bad habits. For instance, many characters have "unseeable" low attacks -- they're so fast you have to anticipate them to block rather than react to an onscreen animation -- that are effective against a person but that the computer will routinely block, which may discourage you from using them. Also, I've found the CPU to never block Rage Arts -- real people most definitely do. 

Have some Tekken tips of your own? Leave them in the comment section below! 

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