Tekken 6 on the PSP may not have all the bells and whistles of its console counterparts, but it still packs a hefty punch. This portable brawler offers the most comprehensive roster in the history of the series, introduces new mechanics for veterans to master while retaining its button-mashing accessibility to newcomers, and is simply a visual treat. This great-looking game is an altogether welcoming fighter, so whether you're a complete stranger to the series, an occasional masher, or someone who can pull off 10-hit combos without dislocating a finger, Tekken 6 has plenty to offer you.
While it strips out the console version's lengthy beat-'em-up campaign and doesn't have the same depth of character customization, this is an otherwise pitch-perfect conversion. In fact, it feels and plays exactly like the console and arcade iterations of Tekken 6. The game has a robust lineup that features 41 fighters, including old stalwarts such as Kazuya, Lei, Paul, Nina, and Jin, as well as recent additions from Dark Resurrection, such as Lili and the emo-Nazi look-a-like Dragunov. Experienced Tekken players will see that the tweaks and changes made to the move sets of returning characters are, for the most part, minor. Most characters get a new attack or two, some stances have been modified, and the damage dealt by some of the more powerful combos in the past have been slightly toned down. Despite this, most of the returning characters feel completely familiar, so you'll never feel like you have to relearn your favorite fighter from scratch.
It's not all veterans, of course, with six new characters making their debut in Tekken 6. These include: Bob, a rotund American fighter who is deceptively speedy for his size; Leo, an androgynous German martial arts specialist; Miguel, a Spanish brawler who relies more on power than speed; Zafina, a member of a mysterious secret order who sports some creepy and unusual stances; Alisa, a seemingly naive young girl who's actually a jetpack-and-chainsaw-wielding android; and Lars, who has some relation to the sprawling Mishima bloodline (hence his move set similarity to Jin and Kazuya). Of the new recruits, Zafina is the most unique, thanks to her distinctive-looking moves that incorporate stance-based attacks, such as the off-putting tarantula, which sees her get down on all fours to creep low along the ground. Alisa is just sheer fun to play as given her frankly bizarre move list, which includes using her own head as an explosive and a whole series of attacks based on her chainsaw appendages.
A fembot with chainsaws for hands may seem overpowered in a fighting game, but Tekken 6 manages the tough task of presenting a well-balanced brawler despite the abundance of characters. Tekken's fight mechanics--each limb assigned to the four face buttons on the PSP, with special moves usually performed via button combos and directional pokes on the D pad or control stick--are eminently suited to the PSP's layout. Thus, novices and experts alike should have no problem in getting their heads (and hands) around the controls. Most of the hundreds of moves in the game are a cinch to perform individually, which means you'll be able to pull off some flashy moves from the get-go. Stringing them together into increasingly damaging combos, however, will take some practice, which is where the game gets deliciously deep. Juggle combos--where you launch your opponent into the air and try to keep him or her there--are still integral to the Tekken experience for expert players. Other important moves include throw counters, wall juggles, roll evasions, and various in-depth strategies.
For those already comfortable with their various 10-hit combos, Tekken 6 introduces a new way to deal extended damage. The bound system essentially allows you to extend combos by slamming an airborne opponent into the ground, leaving him or her momentarily vulnerable for further strikes. Just as with juggles, each of the characters has his or her own bound launcher, and it's a great new addition for Tekken fanatics to explore. Another new addition is rage, a power-up of sorts, which activates when your pugilist's health dips to about 10 percent. It's pretty exciting when you're able to pull off a miraculous win, thanks to your rage-fuelled strikes, but the rage system is one that's unlikely to change the course of most matches because by the time it kicks in, you're usually only one or two hits away from oblivion.
Previous Tekken ports have been known for their wealth of game modes, but Tekken 6 is rather bare, Tekken 6 is rather bare, omitting the extras seen in previous home and portable versions (such as bowling in Tekken Dark Resurrection). Apart from the stock-standard Arcade mode, you can play through Story mode, Ghost mode, and challenge battles. Arcade allows you to gain ranks for each individual character, with the game emulating the experience of playing against real people by having your AI opponents appear with their own individual gamer names, win/loss ratios, and ranks. The AI here is strong--there are five difficulty levels to choose from, ranging from ridiculously easy to frustratingly tough, so there's a good chance you'll find a fit for your own experience level. Story mode is where you can unlock each character's full video ending, which has been a highlight of previous Tekken games and definitely a winner for Tekken 6. Challenge battles feature Time-Attack and Survival modes, as well as Gold Rush--a mode where you earn cash with every attack (although repeating the same moves will earn you successively less cash). You'll actually earn cash with almost everything you do in Tekken 6, which can then be used to customize your character's costumes. You won't find anywhere near as much variety here as you will in Tekken 6's console versions, however, with only a handful of choices available in each category, such as headgear, new tops, pants, or even comic-book-style exclamations every time your character makes a hit.
Multiplayer is also pretty threadbare, offering only wireless ad hoc play. Playing with a friend is a generally smooth experience, but you'll need to find someone who also has a copy of the game because Tekken 6 has removed the single-UMD game-sharing option found in Tekken Dark Resurrection. But if you do have a friend with his or her own copy of Tekken 6, you can also exchange ghost and ranking data.
Tekken 6 may be light when it comes to game modes, but its presentation is outstanding. While there have obviously been some concessions made to cater to the PSP's technical limitations--some of the textures on characters aren't as refined, for example, and stage backgrounds aren't as packed with detail--the game still looks great. Character animations are uniformly smooth, while there's still plenty to see in the game's varied stages. Sound is also quite impressive, with bone-crunching effects adding a great deal of believability to your every strike. What the PSP version does trump its console cousins on is load times--even off UMD, load times between fights in Tekken 6 are only a few seconds, and this is shaved to being almost negligible if you install the game onto a memory stick.
For fans, Tekken 6 is the most complete Tekken experience so far thanks to its large and varied roster, while for newcomers, it's a visually dazzling introduction to the long-running series. While it could have benefitted from more modes, if you're hankering for a portable puncher, then Tekken 6 is the game for you.