When it comes to Tekken, there are certain aspects that will inevitably register at the very mention of Namco Bandai’s venerable beat ‘em up franchise. Juggles that don’t just bend the rules of reality but crash them under an iron fist, ten-hit combos, ridiculously muscular old blokes sporting equally ridiculous hairstyles, voluptuous babes, pugnacious Pandas, boxing Kangaroos and feuding families are just a few of the inherent oddities that’ll spring to mind.
Concurrently, the more discerning Tekkenite may also ponder over the following: What fresh moves will my character boast this time around? Will Tekken Ball ever show up again? Will Heihachi Mishima ever kick the bucket? Will lovable sumo buffoon Ganryu descend even further into the realms of toe-curling obsequiousness in an attempt to win the heart of his beloved Julia Chang? Who knows, but one thing’s for sure, it’s Tekken – and we’ll inevitably embrace it with open arms.
If there’s one aspect that’s as synonymous with the franchise besides the obvious it’s the convoluted, sprawling plotline. So it comes as little surprise that Tekken 6 continues the series’ apparently inexorable descent in to brain-numbing absurdity. This time around things center on devil child Jin Kazama, who, having battered all adversity to a pulp in the last tournament and ultimately gained control of the sprawling Mishima Zaibatsu conglomerate, has apparently succumbed to his inner demon and begins waging war and terror across the globe using his newly formed Tekken Force. Naturally, this doesn’t sit well with daddy Kazuya Mishima, who utilizes his newfound power and wealth as CEO of rival firm G Corporation to put a bounty on Jin’s head and meet his own goals of world domination. Old man Heihachi also rocks up in an attempt to regain control of his company, as well as the usual array of familiar and fresh-faced brawlers who also enter the King of Iron Fist Tournament 6 for their own lofty ambitious – and essentially, that’s all you need to know.
To be honest, you’d be forgiven for perceiving Namco’s latest effort as nothing more than a roided up Tekken 5 featuring a swanky new HD pain job and a couple of incremental upgrades strewn about here and there – since essentially, that’s all it is. However, while this may seem an overly inauspicious claim, it really isn’t; after all, Tekken 5 was a mighty impressive brawler to say the least, garnering heaps of praise from fans and critics alike. So it should come as no surprise to hear that its successor is an equally competent affair. The character roster is the most impressive to date, packing in a whopping 40+ fighters including several newcomers, such as the obese yet deceptively speedy Bob, Spanish brawler Miguel and complex, stance-based Zafina. Virtually everyone from Dark Resurrection made the cut save for big bad boss man Jinpachi Mishima, who has been replaced by a hulking, non-playable behemoth named Azazel.
Chances are a high proportion of you have dabbled in Tekken over the years, although for those of you that haven’t, now is as good of a time as any to test the waters. Newcomers certainly can’t go wrong, with Tekken 6 offering an intrinsically user-friendly control scheme, albeit still packing in an impressively comprehensive set of advanced maneuvers and tactics to sink your teeth in to once you’ve mastered the core fundamentals. Indeed, Tekken has traditionally always planted its cheeks firmly on the sofa between Soul Calibur and Virtua Fighter in terms of playing style, differing from the more stylish leniency of the former while falling short of the brutal, meticulous sensibilities of the latter. Combat is still based on the principle of assigning a fighter’s limb to each of the four buttons (namely, triangle, square, circle and cross), with each character boasting his or her own diverse range of techniques based on the style they practice, along with some basic offerings shared by all combatants. Throws, jabs, combos, power attacks and unblockables can all be performed with deadly efficiency thanks to the responsiveness and fluidity of the controls, although there’s plenty more complex maneuvers to master too, from tech rolls, counter attacks, throw escapes, wall combos and more that’ll have you spending hours trying to perfect.
When it comes to Tekken however, nothing is more paramount to your survival than the ability to juggle – that is, keeping your opponent in the air for as long as possible while dealing as much damage in the process. Pretty much all characters have a specific move – colloquially dubbed “launchers” – that sends their opponent flying helplessly sky-bound, allowing you to subject them to a thorough airborne pummeling. However, Tekken 6 ups the ante in this particular aspect with the introduction of the bound system, allowing you to bounce your opponent off the ground while you continue to juggle them for a couple more seconds before they can roll to safety. Given their inherently tricky nature to pull off, it’s particularly rewarding to unleash a seven-hit, health-draining juggle leaving your opponent a cripple on the floor after an arduous practice session – the sense of accomplishment when you actually take your skills against a living and breathing opponent is worth the trouble alone. Needless to say, we found some particular brutal ways in which to apply this new feature with some of our old favorites, notably Kazuya and Heihachi Mishima, who both possess a copious and destructive range of juggle attacks at their disposal. There’s also a Rage system similar to the one that appeared in Tekken Tag, which powers up your character when they’re about to hit the dirt at around the 10% health mark, though ultimately this is the least impactful of Tekken 6’s new features for the simple reason it kicks in too late in order to facilitate a miraculous recovery. Still, pros may be able to use it to tip scales in their favor in times of desperation, though we found it had little impact on our fortunes.
In terms of game modes, Tekken 6 offers your bread and butter Arcade experience, along with the obligatory offerings such as Ghost Battle, Team Battle, Versus, Time Attack, Survival and Practice. As in Tekken 5: Dark Resurrection, Ghost Battle again pits you against an endless stream of AI bots masquerading as real-life players (by that, we mean your opponents are kitted out in outlandish costumes and sport their own, unique identities in an effort to simulate an online experience) in order to increase your rank. As with previous installments, Tekken 6’s AI can be tweaked in accordance to your playing ability, ranging from the absurdly easy to insanely tough. Still, chances are you’ll want to pit your skills against the world’s finest, so taking the action online is a must. Here, you’ll able to compete in both ranked and unranked matches, though if you want to increase your reputation beyond a certain point you’ll have to participate in online matches, offering further incentives to tread beyond the offline component.
Unfortunately, while we were itching to mix it up with the rest of the Tekken 6 community, our online experience was marred by some noticeable lag, essentially rendering each and every bout all but unplayable. While it would be disingenuous to suggest we’re not able to put up with or expect a little lag now online in this day and age, it’s difficult to make a compromise when it comes to beat ‘em ups of Tekken 6’s caliber (or any fighter, for that matter), where timing is instrumental in pulling off the complicated juggles and other in-depth techniques. As a result, however, we had to make do with relying on bog standard punches, kicks and throws, which accomplished very little given our character performed the moves a few seconds after we input the command. When you take a look at the robust offering Capcom put up with Street Fighter IV, it boggles the mind how Namco wasn’t able to replicate that same stability with one of their own flagship brawlers – and we’d like to point out that we’ve only just upgraded our connection, too. Suffice to say, however, we left the online arena with our arses kicked and our tail between our legs.
Chief among Tekken 6’s fresh offerings comes in the form of the Scenario Campaign. Playing in a similar vein to Tekken Force and The Devil Within from past games, this cut scene-heavy adventure focuses on new boy Lars and his robotic sidekick Alisa, as he attempts to recover from a bout of amnesia while embarking on a quest to overthrow the Mishima Zaibatsu. Bizarrely, the co-op experience is limited to online play only, forcing you to tackle the game on your lonesome with the AI standing in for Alisa’s character during offline play. Scenario Campaign essentially pits you against waves of generic goons ranging from robotic monstrosities to secret service sorts – all of who are just pallet swaps of existing fighters – while plodding through heaps of aesthetically bland locales such as docks, warehouses, back streets and corporate skyscrapers. There’s also the chance to wield weapons for the first time in a Tekken game, such as mini-guns, golf clubs and flamethrowers. Sadly the quest is plagued by various quibbles, notably the fact the games controls don’t translate that well to the shift in perspective, with battles becoming an exercise in sheer frustration when you’re faced with over half a dozen opponents proceeding to batter you simultaneously.
The lock-on system does alleviate this somewhat, though things are generally so hectic it can be difficult to formulate an efficient strategy. It’s not all bad news, though. Throughout the game you’ll acquire heaps of fight money and items in which to customize your fighters with for both the regular battles and Scenario Campaign itself, the latter of which allows you to commit sartorial suicide by kitting out both Lars and Alisa in ridiculous getups that endow them with various power ups, such as the ability to freeze enemies or increase their overall health, taking the sting out of an otherwise fairly brutal 3D Streets of Rage romp. Don’t get us wrong, Scenario Campaign isn’t unplayable, it’s just heavily flawed and not as engaging as it could have been, especially given the fact the narrative strangely compelling for a beat ’em up. Elsewhere, the campaign world map also accommodates an abbreviated Arcade experience in the guise of Arena mode, which offers character storyboards and ending FMVs to unlock upon completion, an aspect that has always remained one of Tekken’s highlights and fortunately doesn’t disappoint here.
Tekken 6 pulls some fairly heavy weight punches in the visual department, though remains a decidedly inconsistent brawler throughout. Fighters are meticulously realized, sporting rippling muscles, animations, while environments – many of which support fully destructible walls and floors – are diverse in appearance and packed full of detail. Scenario Campaign is the worst offender, though, ranging from bland, uninspired copy-and-paste job locales to badly animated characters. At times we found ourselves cringing and wincing our way through the proceedings, as at times the action became virtually indiscernible from that of some dodgy, five year-old PS2 affair. Not pretty. Aurally things are mighty impressive, with bone-crunching sound effects and a thumping soundtrack accompanying each bout, the latter in particular offering a more melodic experience than Tekken 5’s onslaught of heavy rock/metal. Fortunately a select portion of the cast speak in Japanese, though we’re still subjected to the usual array of gormless English voiceovers uttering all manner of cheesy dialogue – and we bloody love it. One glaring technicality is the load times, which, even after installing the game on our hard drives are conspicuous in their inability to start up a match or load a character portrait within a half decent time frame. It’s a minor gripe, though one we feel shouldn’t necessarily be quite as pronounced as it is.
At the end of the day, while offering only incremental upgrades to the formula, Tekken 6 is a worthy successor to Dark Resurrection and ultimately one of the best entries in this venerable franchise to date. Still, the online experience could have been better, the Scenario Campaign feels decidedly lacking and the load times leave a lot to be desired. When all’s said and done, though, so long as you aren’t expecting any radical changes, this bout of Tekken is just as brutally compelling as it’s always been.