Tekken 5 review

The King of Iron Fist is back but PSM2 wants to know if Tekken is as good as ever...

Heihachi Mishima is dead. No, not really. Yes, it says that in the intro. Yes, it's true that the scrotal-necked megalomaniac starts Tekken 5 being cuddled by exploding-faced death-borgs.

But nobody really thought that was enough to take him down, did they? He's crawling from the wreckage by the time the opening credits roll, he's stronger than ever - and he's even ditched that ridiculous nappy.

The good news is, the Tekken series is just as resilient as leathery old pops Mishima - and even more willing to admit it was wrong.

The fiddly position-change throw system that marred Tekken 4? That's gone. Those annoyingly uneven playing fields? They're gone too. The destructible scenery? That stays, albeit without stupid big pillars in the middle of the arenas - now fighters simply take chunks out of the floor and walls.

In fact, the scenery's one of the most instantly impressive things about Tekken 5, with a huge array of environments that shame even the mighty Soul Calibur 2.

Okay, so there's no saying exactly why you're fighting on an ice floe surrounded by penguins or smashing someone's face into a pile of doubloons in a pirate cave, but when it looks this good, who's arguing?

The more conventional environments are just as picturesque, from a looming cathedral (breakable stained-glass windows, natch), to a field full of flowers - lovely. The retina-pleasing touches extend to the characters, too, with meatier and weightier characters beefing up the fighting beautifully.

Jack looks less like an Action Man and more like an imposing kill-bot, Bruce Irvin's less like a perma-tanned vagrant and more of a chiselled kickboxer and Nina... just... jiggles.

The one turd on the visual carpet's the final boss, who looks like a cross between Sean Connery and a Stegosaurus (and, incidentally, cheats like an Argentinian midfielder), but Christie Monteiro more than makes up for him. Mmm... dancing.

On a similar theme, Tekken's eager-to-please designers have been swiping ideas from other games like fat kids in an understaffed cake shop.

The improved breastometry's a clear nod to Dead or Alive's joypad-moistening followers, but so is Raven, the new ninja bloke who looks a lot like Ryu Hayabusa.

In Tekken terms, he's a bit like a cross between Christie, Lei and Yoshimitsu - lots of improbable kicks topped off by some neat teleports and a couple of cheap poke attacks. He's a welcome addition to the fray.

Of the other new characters, Asuka Kazama's basically a complete copy of Jun Kazama, who last appeared in Tekken Tag Tournament (and Tekken 2). She's a bit of an acquired taste, but at least she completes the set - every classic Tekken character's represented in one form or another, with the only omissions being obvious costume-swaps like Marshall Law.

Best new combatant, though, is Feng Wei - or the Virtua Fighter character. He's your classic kung-fu badass with vicious rapid-fire strikes, and very similar to Lei Fei, the Shaolin monk from VF4.

Also nicked from Virtua Fighter is the idea of fighter customisation - although here it's much less extensive and not quite as well done. Barring the chance to restyle Lee with a matched set of pistols and an electric guitar, the most exciting thing you can do is buy Anna Williams a flappy miniskirt. Yes, DOA players, do try to keep it civilised at the back.

There's also the option to increase your character's rank by fighting progressively tougher computer opponents, but the key word here's 'computer' - though the AI's good, skipping up the levels to black belt isn't going to be a struggle.

The biggest change, though, is the violence. It's faster. It's nastier. It's more gruesome. It's wince-when-you're-hit, blink-and-you'll-miss-it stuff where one mistake can cost half a life bar.

The juggles, toned down for Tekken 4, return with a vengeance - and with the ability to tech-roll out of it when you're pinned against a wall, they can be lethal. Combo timing's a touch more forgiving, too, in what looks like an attempt to appeal to people who've never played Tekken before.

Of course, it's quite possible that you're currently bleating about how the series reached its pinnacle in Tekken 2, before chicken-buffering and counter-reversals were invented.

If that's the case - you witless oaf - just go back and play it. Tekken History lets you play the original arcade versions of the first three games - all the unlockable characters included - with virtually no loading times between bouts.

As a historical fumble, it's fine - it shows how far the series has come, to the extent that you'll be massively frustrated by the huge, floaty jumps and slow recovery times. But seriously, why wouldn't you just play the big, shiny new one?

The other oversight is that the minigames haven't been included, so instead of playing Tekken Volleyball, you're stuck with the dreadful new Devil Inside - a tedious platformer starring Jin Kazama.

Scoot! Between bland, Lego-brick rooms, punching doors, switches and faceless robo-guards.

Fire! Lasers out of your eyes as Devil Jin, until you realise it's draining more of your energy than the twenty goons you've just killed could've managed between them.

And wonder! Why they didn't just leave Tekken Force mode in, considering that you're essentially restricted to using the same three combos from one character in a game that no-one would play. Hmph.

Still. This is Tekken, only even more so, and it's the best version yet. It's terrific, and a vital purchase for Tekken fans, for beat-'em-up fans... hell, for just about everyone.

Tekken 5 is out now for PS2

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