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Balance is a delicate thing, so easily lost. Tekken is a series that thrives on it – on striking a balance between fulfilling its remit as the ‘accessible’ 3D fighting game (button-mashing will get you further here than in most fighters) and offering a system substantial and even enough to allow the hardcore fans to battle at a competitive level. Tekken 5 managed this balance with aplomb, but while Tekken 6 is ostensibly little more than a high-def update, its revisions (of which, to its credit, there are many) are likely to result in it receiving a rather lukewarm reception, from players both old and new.
With 42 selectable characters, this is the most expansive Tekken yet. It’s a roster size that nears Marvel vs Capcom territory, and although lapsed fans will find a number of familiar faces to cling to, newcomers might find the whole process a bit daunting. Doubly so, in fact, when they pause a fight to check out the command list expecting two flashy kicks and a dragon punch variant, only to be greeted with over 150 different moves of varying complexity.
Now, if you’re not familiar with Tekken, you might be a bit thrown off by its mix of serious-toned, awesome dudes with crazy hair, and the, um, more “flamboyant” characters. For instance, series veteran Roger Jr.:
Above: We love how the baby is striking the exact same pose. Also, who’s the “Jr.”?
If that’s not weird enough for you, Tekken’s also known for characters such as this guy:
Above: Okay, so he’s a living training dummy. We can roll with that. But what’s up with the chains? And then there are the Children of the Damned glowing eyes…
Luckily, the new characters mostly avoid ridicule, and have added some much-needed chainsaw arms and alcoholism to the Tekken Roster. Unfortunately, those two traits aren’t fused into one character, as that would officially make any future characters obsolete from the sheer badassness of drunken lumberjacking. Let’s meet a few of the new guys (and gals):
Bullfighter Miguel’s sister was killed, so he eases the pain by quaffing copious gallons of liquor and kicking strangers. Awesomely, he does both at the same time, so drunken antics ensue mid-battle! Any similarities to Screech from Saved by the Bell are obvious.
Alisa is a cyborg who can sprout chainsaws from her arms, grow wings or remove her head. We fancy her madly, seeing as pink hair and sawblades are the best accessories for the most fashion-forward hottie. And removable heads can always come in handy.
Zafina is a bendy young lass who crawls around like a spider-beast. Be still our beating heart! Okay, now beat again. In case you’re not into the whole pink-haired anime thing, this goth girl will surely tickle your fancy.
We wish, wish, wish we knew whether Leo was a boy or a girl. No one seems to know the truth. Maybe s/he’s a South African athlete? He’s clearly wearing lipstick, and his voice is quite feminine, and yet…
Hammering the attack buttons like a woodpecker on Red Bull still allows noobs to pull off some flashy moves, but the real fun begins when you try to learn to play it properly, and the roster overkill is a barrier to that.
That’s not really a flaw, but a fact that needs to be drawn to your attention. However, the game is far more culpable in how it might cheese off the long-term Tekken fan. The ability to juggle your opponent in mid-air with a combo has been cranked up a notch, and while the player on the receiving end can always counter, it can make for a frustrating experience, particularly if a skilled player takes you all the way to the wall, taking off as much as half of your energy in a matter of seconds.
Luckily, struggling players will always have a chance. The all-new Rage Meter significantly increases the player’s attacking prowess once their lifebar dips below 5%, making for some frantic finales and tremendous turnarounds. It originally proved a controversial addition in the arcades, but after being toned down in the Bloodline Rebellion revision is an intriguing tactical addition, and even if you disagree, you can always fiddle around in the customization mode.
The balance between the characters is variable, as it is in all fighting games, but the difference between best and worst is smaller and more surmountable than in Street Fighter IV. You can’t just fall back on old favorites, either; the fighters who have survived the cut from Tekken 5 have, in some cases, changed dramatically. Take perennial fan favorite Yoshimitsu. In storyline terms, Yosh comes to realize that his famed energy sword is losing power and seals it away. Stripped of his iconic blade, he becomes trickier to master – certainly not for beginners.
The new additions to the series are a fairly likeable bunch. Bob is an American karate artist of some renown who went into hiding after a succession of defeats to larger opponents. He re-emerges now, proudly displaying his new, morbidly obese physique – all that blubber, you see, will allow him to go toe-to-toe with the bulkiest. (Or at least, that’s his story.) He’s Tekken’s equivalent to SFIV’s Rufus – not much to look at, but deceptively agile.
Although Tekken’s true appeal is in multiplayer, there are plenty of single-player options to keep you going. The arcade mode is brief and is once again blighted with a final boss as cheap as Seth from SF IV, but is redeemed by a clever ranking system that allows you to earn promotion, ensuring that you always have an achievable goal. Throughout the single-player modes, Tekken 6 remembers your win/loss record for each character and displays it underneath your lifebar. Hardly unique amongst fighting games, but its prominent placing on the screen does help spur you on.
Not so successful, however, is the dire ‘Scenario’ mode, which whisks the crew from their one-vs-one comfort zone into the unfamiliar territory of a scrolling beat-‘em-up. It’s disastrous, riddled with rigid controls, uninspired enemies and boring bosses. Trying to squeeze some fun out of it is like trying to squeeze an egg out of a badger. Just ignore it. It might go away.
Street Fighter IV? Uh, no. Not by a long shot, we’re afraid. While Tekken keeps going for the “more is more” approach, Street Fighter wisely went for less in many ways, and came out with a leaner fighter that reinvigorated the franchise. In fact, Tekken could take some lessons from Ryu and crew when it comes to developing the next installment.
BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger? Again, no, but it’s not really worse either. Both are similar in that they aren’t shy of incorporating ridiculous elements into their action, although BlazBlue definitely wins the arms race through pure, eye-exploding craziness. Still Tekken 6 wins out in the roster department, and has the benefit of established characters that a huge fanbase has loved for years.
SoulCalibur IV? Sorry, but nope. SoulCalibur has always been Namco’s favorite scrappy child, with its gorgeous visuals and nifty weapon-based combat. It’s managed to remain relatively lean in the characters and moves department, and so benefits for a greater array of truly unique-feeling fighters. Plus its core combat mechanics are just tighter and better balanced.
Tekken 6 reveals its thrills and spills far more readily than its nearest 3D competitors, but ultimately it’s a shallower experience. It shows reluctance to move with the times, but it still offers a massive amount of characters and combos to master, and will surely keep hardcore fighting fans busy for a long time.
Finally, as a bonus, here's our Tekken fashion video, showcasing one of the game's unnecessary, yet time-wastingly fun additions, the costume editor:
Oct 27, 2009