The original Tekken was not only the first PlayStation game to sell a million copies, but it was also the first title in a series that for more than twelve years has helped define Sony's PlayStation brand. Later this year, the seventh instalment - Tekken 6 - will be released for the PlayStation 3, a console that would arguably benefit from some sort of definition.
The Tekken series may have found worldwide success due to its home console versions, but its origin and home is in the arcades. Tekken 6 was released in Japan in November last year, and has quickly amassed a hardcore following. But what if you don't live in Japan and are desperate to play the latest instalment of the hugely popular brawler?
Well, there appears to be a shortage of cabinets for the US and Europe, and as of right now Tekken 6 is only available in select Namco operated sites. Fortunately for yours truly, I happen to live less than 2 miles away from a Namco Station in the UK, which recently took delivery of four brand spanking new Tekken 6 cabinets. The cabinets themselves feature 720p displays and are powered by a unique PlayStation 3 based arcade board, meaning that the home console port should be the truest and most faithful home port of a Tekken game yet.
Those hoping for a complete re-invention will be disappointed, while those just wanting more of the same but better will be very happy. These games are designed from the ground up to appeal to two distinct demographics; the hardcore and the casuals. They have to be accessible to newcomers and still have enough depth and lasting appeal to keep the more experienced gamers and veteran series fans hooked. After spending a lot of hours and a lot of hard earned cash playing the game, I'm happy to report that the game is everything Dark Resurrection was, and more.
The formula hasn't changed much, but it's a formula that's been tried and tested by hardcore and casual gamers alike. It isn't broken, so Namco haven't gone out of their way to fix it. There are some minor gameplay changes, but it still feels very much like the last game, with all of the components that were well received making the transition.
Apparently believing that imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, Namco added character customization and ranks to the series in Tekken 5 after seeing how well received the features had been in SEGA's Virtua Fighter 4. Tekken: Dark Resurrection expanded on the idea and they are indeed present in even more advanced forms in Tekken 6. With 39 playable characters, it also has the largest character roster of any Tekken game, and while an argument could be made about their lack of balance - the majority will appreciate the variety.
New to the series are multi-tiered stages akin to those in the Dead or Alive or Mortal Kombat games. It's very cool to knock somebody through the floor and into the level below, but it doesn't really add anything meaningful to the gameplay. Every character has completely re-done animations for their every move, something which has admittedly been sorely needed. Tekken 6 also features day/night cycles, and a larger health bar, but the most important and gameplay affecting changes are the introductions of "item moves" and a "rage" system.
The item moves are self explanatory. Enhancing on the character customization possibilities found in Dark Resurrection, items bought can now be used during gameplay meaning that dramatic finishes should now be ever more common. The new "rage" however is probably the most gameplay affecting feature and allows your character to deal more damage once your health bar starts flashing red. Essentially what this means is that your enemy will potentially be at their most dangerous just as you going in for the finish and it should, in the higher skill level matches at least, allow for some spectacular comebacks. How these changes will impact competition play is yet to be seen, but from my hands on experience I found them to be very welcome.
There are four proper new playable characters and they all bring something new to the table. Leo, a 19 year old practitioner of Hakkyoku-Ken Kung Fu excells at close range with explosive fist, elbow and shoulder strikes and hip checks. He's very fast and should be relatively easy to use fior newcomers to the series, but appears to have a deep enough move set to appeal to more advanced veterans too.
Miguel, who looks like a Mexican mariachi, uses a strange foot boxing fighting style and has a wealth of powerful throws, kicks and torso level hooks. His moves aren't very flashy, but much like boxer Steve Fox who was introduced in Tekken 4, he'll no doubt generate a sizable following.
Zafina, the only female addition apparently has moves that Game Director Katsuhiro Harada has likened to that of a spider, but I'm unable to comment at this time as I haven't actually played as her, and the reason for that being that the vast majority of my playtime with the new characters has been with obese 27 year old Free Style Karate practicing Bob.
I was initially put off by the Bob's size, fully expecting his to be a slow and powerful character like Jack or Marduk, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that he's actually as fast and agile as Raven, Tekken's Ninjitsu practioner. Bob has a large variety of spin kicks and ariel moves, and is easily my favourite addition to the series since Jin Kazama, way back in Tekken 3. Bob, who's fun to play is also fun to watch. He defies the laws of physics with almost every other move - and I may be alone in this - but watching a really fat guy perform a spinning flying scissor kick is hilarious, even within the confines of Tekken's already over-the-top nature.
The rest of the cast are pretty much how we left them in the last game. Their new animations and frames make a couple of them easier to use, and a couple of them harder to use. Kazuya, a character generally reserved for more advanced players - is now a little easier to wield. He's no less potent and still devastatingly deadly in the right hands, but he's now more button mashing friendly.
I personally wouldn't dream of playing a game like Tekken with a gamepad, but it will be interesting to see whether these changes make performing more advanced combos and specials any easier with a DualShock controller whent the game is released on PS3 later in the year.
Graphically the game impresses. It's clear that a lot of care and effort has gone into the game, and you can instantly see the gererational leap from Dark Resurrection. The character models don't look as realistic as say Fight Night Round 3, but they're certainly at the same level as the super gorgeous Virtua Fighter 5. The new animations mean clipping is far less frequent and the game runs at a constant 60fps.
The stages all look fantastic, featuring far more detail than ever before, complete with their own unique colour palette and lighting scheme. The characters don't look as realistic as those in SEGA's fighter, but they're no less detailed. All in all, from my playtime so far I've been suitably impressed and the concerns I had last year after seeing the terrible announcement trailer and less than flattering initial screenshots have been completely alieviated.
It doesn't have the depth to be found in VF5 (a game I consider to the the gold standard of beat em ups), but it is easily the best Tekken game yet. It's blatantly clear that Namco have taken the key strengths from their previous games, improved on all of them and re-arranged them into a tight new package. Tekken 6 is penned for a Q3 release on PlayStation 3 this year, so be sure to check back for our review closer to the time.