By the time a game reaches its sixth instalment, the rule of diminishing returns usually comes into play. So when The King of Iron Fist Tournament returns once again, for yet another round of overblown fisticuffs, boxing kangaroos and dancing pandas, you have to wonder what Namco can possibly bring to the table that hasn't already been done.
Rather than adopt the mantra of less is more, Tekken 6 is back with a vengeance leaping from the arcades with more bonus content than you can shake a stick at. The character roster alone has been boosted to a mind-boggling 40 pugilists, so it's a safe bet to assume that there'll be more story-related insanity revolving around the eternal power struggle for control over the Mishima Empire.
This by all accounts promise to be the definitive Tekken title then, boasting more new features and additions than ever before. As always, Arcade Mode remains the crux of Tekken, but Namco has made extra effort to rebuild the much-maligned 'Tekken Force' (also known as 'Devil Within' for Tekken 5) mode into something far more substantial in a bid to add a little more longevity to proceedings.
Sporting an entirely new perspective and co-op play, this 3D scrolling beat 'em up portion of Tekken 6 has been considerably bolstered so you can tackle it as multiple characters, with all of their accompanying moves fully ported over from Arcade Mode. We had the chance to play the first two stages at a recent Namco Bandai showcase in London and found it to be a vast improvement over the developer's previous efforts to wring extra life from a hastily shoehorned-in mode, with fight action reminiscent of Urban Reign or (delving into the slightly obscure here) Fighting Force. There's even a decent crack at a story with new character Lars given some additional exposition through his role in what has now been named the 'Campaign Scenario.'
You can wield weapons too, from swift and efficient bo staffs to hulking great miniguns, injecting some much-needed variety into the relentless face bashing. Speaking of variety, by the second stage we're controlling a colossal screen-filling mechanical monstrosity called NANCY whose move set consists solely of ground-shattering stomping moves and slow sweeping machine gun blasts. In keeping with the Tekken series, the Campaign Scenario is utterly bizarre, although if it were to be considered as a standalone game, it would be clunky, lacklustre fare. As an additional bonus however, it's a more than satisfactory distraction.
Purists worried that The King of Iron Fist Tournament itself is beginning to lose some of its shine can rest assured that this is still Tekken in all its brazen, gloriously overstated grandeur. The daft plot is every bit as overwrought and unashamedly overblown as ever which is just one of the reasons why we still consider Tekken 6 to be one of the finest arcade beat 'em ups around. One look at newcomer Alisa, Dr. Bosconovitch's pink haired daughter, is indication enough that the game remains firmly on wacky ground, especially when she springs jets from her back and whirring chainsaws from her wrists. She can even detach her head from her shoulders, for crying out loud.
Although it's ostensibly more of the same, Tekken 6 defies expectation by providing one of the silkiest smooth fighting experiences you're ever likely to play that's a marked improvement over its arcade counterpart. Running at an unbelievably slick 60 fps while simultaneously producing a myriad of blazing pyrotechnic effects, the game's visuals are nothing short of exemplary. The stylish finesse of Street Fighter IV might be sorely absent, but Tekken 6 still looks like a million dollars.
Sun cascades through the trees casting glittering God rays across one stage, the arena bathed in an ethereal tangerine glow. Motion blur adds increased graphical fidelity to the frenetic action as well as providing a natural fluidity to the animation. We could probably devote this preview to blathering on and on about how smooth and majestic Tekken 6's fights are, but it's enough to say that static screenshots don't really do justice to how great the console version looks with no discernable discrepancies between the PS3 and Xbox 360 editions, in case you were worried.
The same care and attention has been lavished upon the backdrops too, each bursting with comical, interactive detail. Most memorable backgrounds? How about an arena that takes place in the middle of a tomato festival, where the crowd hurls fistfuls of the squishy red fruit at you as you fight? Or how about scrapping in a verdant meadow of sheep where you can stride knee deep into the flock, kicking the hapless woolly bleaters all over the place? It's heartening to see that amid all of the pompous operatics and scowling, there's still room for plenty of zany levity. Some arenas have even been given the Dead or Alive and Mortal Kombat treatment with different tiers and walls for you to smash your opponent through.
Tekken 6 is shaping up to be the biggest yet, with all 40 of its characters available from the moment you shove the disc into the drive. There's also an array of customisation items to unlock in the offline game and infinite replayability in the game's online mode. The character roster could be accused of having almost too many characters and given the bewildering array of customisation options at your disposal; you can craft a completely unique fighter to take online.
Jaw dropping HD graphics to die for and an ocean-deep fight system sporting a new Rage mechanic you can utilise to turn seemingly hopeless battles around, make this Tekken the one that may very well have it all. Cynics may argue that this is the same old scrapper we've been playing since the first game hit the original PlayStation back in 1995 and the knee-jerk reaction would be for us to agree. Having played Namco's latest effort however, we can confidently report that while this might be the same Tekken that you know and love, it's bigger and better than you could possibly imagine. It may not offer enough to prevail over Street Fighter IV in garnering your beat 'em up affections, but then what's to stop you from enjoying both?