Tekken has either been intrinsic to, or flat out destroyed, specific eras of my existence. Tekken 2's CG intro, Nina's hair in particular, introduced my jaw to floor. Tekken 3's arcade-perfect Playstation port insured I would never love cast of fighters like I loved Yoshimitsu, Paul, and Jin. Tekken Tag was the first game I got for my Playstation 2, and a botched attempt to mod that PS2 for an imported copy of Tekken 4 resulted in its destruction. All the quarters in my car, my first year of college, the aforementioned PS2, a girlfriend, and numerous other social obligations have been vehemently consumed by Namco's flagship fighter - - and I wouldn't have had it any other way. I was never that good at it, but Tekken's always been my game. Tekken 6, after what seems like forever, has finally graced home consoles. How has 2009 treated Kazuya & Co? Read on, my friends...
The King of Iron Fist Tournament 6
The bare essentials of Tekken have remained largely unchanged. Four buttons correspond to each appendage, and can be manipulated in a manner to direct attacks at a high, medium, and low range. To round out the basics, combining them with each other or the dpad results in throws, sidesteps, reversals, juggles, parries, unblockables, and combos. Style typically perseveres over reality, as Tekken's trademark flash still blankets the extravagant move set of every fighter. Whether its Zafina's hypnotic movements, sparks flying out of Alisa's wings, or Bryan's relentless punishment, Tekken does well to make you feel empowered. And there-in lies it's aesthetic hook; no matter what you do, be it mash buttons or dial combos, it always looks cool.
But as with every iteration on a fighting game, new elements have been introduced in the field. Chief among them is the subtle "bound" system. Every character has a handful of moves that now result in bounding your opponent, which, in layman's terms, throws them on the ground without any chance of escape. This allows for a couple extra low or mid hits in afterward. It's basically a combo extender, and though it may seem somewhat subtle to newcomers, it represents the closest thing Tekken 6 offers to a radical change in the formula. Other changes are present as well; Rage kicks in and powers up your character once their health is at ten percent, low parrying put your opponent in bound, and some of the hit boxes, I swear, have been adjusted a bit.
Oh, and there are a bunch of new fighters. The console version of Tekken 6 is actually the Bloodline Rebellion arcade revision of the original Tekken 6 code, which raises the roster update from the usual one or two characters. Zafina, Miguel, Leo, Lars, and the hilariously fat yet surprisingly nimble Bob rounded out the original Tekken 6 update, with Lars, a half Mishima, and Alisa, a Lolita cyborg, arriving with Bloodline Rebellion. A daunting 39 (40 if you count the always random Mokujin) characters comprise Tekken 6's roster (with no unlocking required - thank you Namco for finally allowing this), ensuring not only a perfect fit for any particular play style, but also an outrageous task for anyone brave enough to try and hold their own with every character.
Since its 2009 and a barebones versus and arcade mode no longer suffice for a retail release, Namco's opted to supplement Tekken 6 with some of the usual, and unusual, extra content. A thoroughly deep practice mode, ghost battles, survival, team battle, and time attack are known quantities, but the major leap comes with the arrival of Scenario Campaign Mode. Essentially an elaborate version of Tekken 3's Tekken Force mode, Campaign follows Lars and Alisa as they try and make sense of the G Corporation, the Mishima Zaibatsu, and the rest of Tekken 6's narrative convolution. The story is a bit silly and the relentless exposition makes me long for the days when Tekken's narrative lacked a literal voice and had to rely on nuance, but it does well to integrate characters (and unlock for use) in the campaign mode.
While the healthy narrative is take it or leave it, the gameplay behind the Campaign Mode is firmly attached to the latter. The camera rarely works in your favor, the environments are about as bland as you can get (and in stark contrast to the fighting arenas), and the actual combat comes off as aimless and clunky. Worst of all, despite having an AI partner nearly all the time, having a human player to help slaughter through the masses isn't an option. It isn't necessarily broken, but it comes off feeling like shoehorned bullet point to add a value proposition to the back of the box. Tekken is a fighting game, and it doesn't quite work as a brawler. It's sort of necessary as a means to earn a ton of in game currency for character customization stuff, and in a roundabout way it's the only path to view the character specific endings, but, if Tekken is a means to have a good time with friends, it’s hardly worth your time.
Mishima & Me
I don't typically do this with reviews, but I sought a bit of outside assistance in my assessment of Tekken 6. While I'd like to think I have a decent grasp on the mechanics, I'm nowhere near the level of a group of my friends. These are people with their own arcade sticks for each specific fighting game, which they routinely bring with them when they travel to play in tournaments across the eastern United States. My fun is their science, and I was curious as to how they would take to the latest entry in my favored franchise. I expected a jaded response, but it wound up being surprisingly positive. They had spent most of the last 48 hours doing little else, and the praise heavily outweighed the complaints. Tekken 6 remained a fast, polished fighter with a ton of depth to mine for those who take pleasure in extracting every last inch out of a potential juggle. Tekken admittedly hadn't changed much, but the addition of new moves, new animations for existing moves (Yoshi's premier ten hit is a bit jarring at first), and the cornucopia of characters assured another several months of late nights, spilled beer, and endless trash talk.
Complaints, from their point of view as well as my own, arrived with two significant issues; online play and load times. Load times for the initial boot up and entering into different modes are typically excusable, but 10+ seconds, after an optional install, to get past the character select screen and into a versus match is indefensible. It may not seem like much, but when you're constantly passing the controller off and picking a new character after a match, it can start to grate. Fighting games are all about anticipation and energy, and a soul sucking ten seconds, as petty as it may seem, doesn't run parallel to that concept
Online play, as of this writing shortly after release, was more or less broken for us. Input lag seems to plague any game with a polygon and sometimes can be avoided without issue, but it absolutely killed Tekken 6's online play. Through a myriad of connections, even in the same city, none of us could get a decent match. The delay in what was pressed to what's happening on screen renders any high level match, where each frame is valuable, pointless. I'm sure it won't affect the mash-happy casual crowd, but trying to carry out a legitimate match with a buddy online is an exercise in futility.
The audio and visual package help pick up some of the slack. Tekken 6 may not be the prettiest game on the planet, but the series' inspired art direction makes up for any technical deficiency. The litany of crap you can dress your character in may not make much contextual sense, but it succeeds in oozing character out of every orifice. The actual character models are far more defined than they were in the port of Dark Resurrection, and they all seem to have that high res glow about them. The fighting venues were the typical mix of exaggerated cityscapes and countryside’s, with Fallen Colony and Electric Fountain being the standouts (and the occasional destructible floor and punishing walls do well to support the combat mechanics). Music, while maybe not as memorable as the series' past, incorporates more percussion than usual, and always succeeds in keeping the energy high.