Even the most die-hard fanatic of Namco's flagship fighter will concede that the series, in terms of mass-market consumption in the West, peaked at Tekken 3. That was 1998 - a long, long time ago, when Microsoft hadn't even begun to think about getting into the console market and European versions of everything still came locked at a despicable 50hz. Such faraway sentimentality ensures that the home version of Tekken 6, released to coincide with the series' 15th (I'm so old) anniversary, has a tough gig: it has to compete with nostalgia, the fighting genre's increasingly niche status in the West and the fact Street Fighter IV arrived earlier this year entirely unfazed by both.
But whereas Capcom's celebrated revival pared back the experience by diminishing the roster of characters to 25, easing up on timing windows and getting rid of some of III's more difficult tricks, such as parries, Tekken 6 takes the kitchen-sink approach and throws you absolutely everything. There are over 40 characters, including six newcomers, all with (as is standard for Tekken) pages upon pages of moves and attacks. Despite the volume (frustrating), bread-and-butter moves, such as Kazyua's spin kick and Hwoarang's vintage launcher, are still enormously potent and easily exploitable.
Still, it's worth remembering that these things are what makes the series what it is, and whilst they do have the tendency to annoy - especially if you're coming from devout Capcom fanaticism - from time, to time to criticise them would be like attacking ice cream for being too delicious. This is still very much Tekken in all its face-smacking, bouncy-castle juggling splendour. And I wouldn't want it any other way.
But even Namco seem to be forgetful of the game's considerable virtues. It clearly wasn't considered enough to focus their energy on making a polished, perfect port of the arcade game. Instead, the creative process has been dedicated to excessively histrionic Hideo Kojima-styled cut-scenes, low-tech 3D beat-em-up gameplay and suffusing the Tekken formula with tacky RPG-lite elements. This is all done in the game's 'Scenario' mode, which proudly sits atop the game's menu as the default mode. And it's an utter travesty.
In it we follow the journey of Lars Alexandersson, a disillusioned Mishima Zaibatsu soldier who rebels from ex-protagonist Jin's (who is evil now, or something) orders. You can tell he's a high ranking officer because across on his chest is emblazoned an ornate lion's head so intricate it looks like Jill Valentine will need to use it to solve a riddle. Lars stumbles across android Alisa Bosconovitch, who was created (and named) by resident wacky Tekken scientist Dr Bosconovitch in the image of his deceased daughter - although you do have to wonder why he dresses her up in stockings and a garter belt - and the two of them go off to put a stop to whatever evil Jin is currently cooking up. It's all as ropey as it sounds, and the mode itself is contrived around the conceit that there needs to be a way to make every other character the boss of a stage. It also seems to be under the belief that the Tekken narrative is a rich focal point of the series, and that people are interested in it. It's wrong about both.
Options to customise your chosen character (because you don't actually have to use Lars, which kind of defeats the point) have been carried over from the main game. Much like last year's Soul Calibur IV, everyone can be dressed up with the bits and bobs you pick up on your travels. Although they all look a bit silly: within about twenty minutes my Kazuya was tricked out with a beret and some glittery star glasses. Unlike in the other modes, equipment in Scenario confers bonuses - such as boosting elemental attack and defence - and getting through later levels, which resort to dirty cheap tactics and overwhelming enemy numbers, depends largely on how much top-grade equipment you're prepared to farm.
I can't emphasise how much the mode doesn't work. The uncomfortable marriage of fighting game and tacky worse-than-even-Fighting-Force beat-em-up is something Namco have been trying to incorporate since Tekken 3 - back then it was a lousy mini-game to be trudged through to unlock a secret character - and to be frank they simply need to stop. It doesn't work. Nobody wants it. Never do it again.
The fighting game, though - yes please. Despite the initially intimidating amount of choice made available, Tekken 6's arcade mode is probably the most balanced and accessible it's ever been. New to the game are 'bounds', which involve flinging your enemy at the ground mid-juggle and hitting them again as they bounce back up. It puts even more of a focus on an already juggle-focused game: a solid bound combo from a competent player can knock off just over a third of a health bar, and when your opponent has the ability to punish you so extensively it's very important to make sure not to whiff your attacks.
In an attempt to compensate there's the Rage feature. Once a player's health is almost entirely reduced they'll flash red and, from that point on, their attacks will do substantially more damage. It doesn't often make too much of a difference - most of the time Rage will trigger as the receiver is getting pummelled by a combo, and will be knocked out before having a chance to use it - but a devastating combo can cause up to half of a bar of damage. Its inspiration - Street Fighter IV's Ultra meter - is clear to see, but the implementation is less successful than its concept.
Single player arcade modes include some fairly decent AI that, on higher difficulties, requires you to keep your wits sharp. The final boss - Azazeal - is (as is tradition for fighting games) cheaper than tin of Tesco value beans, conjuring up eye lasers, stalagmites and the unique ability of being able to block low, mid and high at the same time. Annoying, certainly, but nothing compared to Rugal or Seth - Azazeal leaves himself wide open after certain attacks and is easily beatable before long. The optional sub-boss, towering mech Nancy, is a different story, however.
Of course, single player only gets you so far. It's a shame, then, that Namco have completely failed to include a satisfactory online mode. Whilst the feature is hardly necessary in Japan, where the arcade scene is still teeming with life, it's almost impossible to play Tekken 6 in the UK with any degree of seriousness if you live far away from its few active communities - making online features essential for the average fan. Despite some nice matchmaking options, the fatal flaw is insufficient netcode that renders games wholly unplayable, even on rock solid connections. There's a miracle patch promised, but I wouldn't hold my breath: it's another example of Eastern developers failing to understand the needs of the Western markets.
Tekken 6 is undeniably a solid fighter; it makes for better local versus play than the recent KOFXII, and a very nice change of pace from Street Fighter IV. The arcade port is satisfactory until it dawns on you that, instead of creating a decent online mode, Namco instead chose to make the horrendous scenario mode. And that's a horrible thing for them to do.
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