Despite the dozens (and sometimes hundreds) of moves available per pugilist, intricate juggle combos, complex counters, and esoteric gameplay quirks that have evolved through five prequels, Tekken 6 is an altogether welcoming fighting game. For veterans, the game offers the most comprehensive roster in the history of the series, a new way to extend damaging combos, and enough change to--whilst not exactly feeling brand new--make it feel exciting to play Tekken again. For newcomers, the game's comprehensive training modes and expansive single-player beat-'em-up campaign serve as an enticing gateway into the world of the King of Iron Fist Tournament. For everyone else, Tekken 6 features the same outstanding qualities that have made the series a fighting favorite on consoles: deep yet accessible mechanics, as well as excellent extra features not seen in arcades. 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, the superb Tekken 6 has plenty to offer you.
That abundance begins with Tekken 6's roster, which is a beefy lineup that features 41 fighters, including old stalwarts, such as Kazuya, Lei, Paul, Nina, Jin, and others. It also includes more recent additions from Dark Resurrection, such as Lili and the emo-Nazi look-a-like Dragunov. Even series veterans may find Tekken 6's jam-packed character selection screen a little overwhelming because it's initially tough to identify characters from their small portraits alone. But once you've found your favorites, 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 it seems the damage dealt by some of the more powerful combos in the past have been slightly toned down. Despite this, all 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 home console 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 seems to rely 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 feels 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. For novices, Tekken's fight mechanics--each limb assigned to a button on the controller, with special moves usually performed via button combos and directional stabs on the D pad or control stick--are just as easy to get into as they have been in the past. 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.
While those with only moderate Tekken experience probably won't be performing too many juggle or bound strings, everyone will be able to make use of Tekken 6's other biggest gameplay addition: rage. Rage kicks in when your character's health drops to about 10 percent, bathing him or her in a red aura and significantly increasing the damage he or she dishes out. 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 hit away from oblivion.
Tekken 6 packs in plenty of gameplay, which starts with an Arcade mode. As in Tekken 5, Arcade allows you to gain ranks for each individual character you decide to try out. If you're an utter recluse or just don't have access to the Internet, the game also tries to emulate 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. If Arcade mode isn't your bag, then you can take on a virtually endless lineup of opponents in Ghost Battle, which is a mode that pits you against the ghost data of real players downloaded online. There are also the stock-standard fighter modes of Survival and Time Attack, as well as two dedicated two-player modes--VS Battle and Team Battle, the latter of which allows you and a friend to choose up to eight characters to fight in consecutive battles.
If you find yourself getting pummeled too often by your friends or the AI, Tekken 6 features a comprehensive Practice mode that allows you to polish your moves. Practice won't take you through the very basics (such as movement, blocking, throw counters, and more), but newcomers will still get plenty from this mode, thanks to the helpful way the game demonstrates every move. This includes showing you the specific timing required for each button and direction press. Practice can also help you shore up your defense, with a dedicated mode that lets you set an AI opponent's attack so you can better identify each move and counter it in a real match.
While previous Tekken home releases featured several extra modes outside of the one-on-one fighting core, Tekken 6 only has one extra: the beat-'em-up mode dubbed the Scenario Campaign. Unlike previous Tekken bashers, such as Tekken Force or Devil Within, this is no short-lived distraction. The Scenario Campaign is a surprisingly addictive multihour marathon that takes place over a wide variety of environments. It's also a must-play if you're at all interested in the story of Tekken 6, since it follows the adventures of two new characters--Lars and Alisa. During their adventures, they try to unravel the global-war-raging machinations of the Jin-controlled Mishima Zaibatsu, find out what part the Kazuya-controlled G Corporation plays, and discover just how the game's end boss (the Egyptian godlike Azazel) fits into the whole story. The Scenario Campaign is also the only place you'll see each character's full video ending, which is another highlight of previous Tekken games and definitely a winner for Tekken 6. After completing the first few levels of the Scenario Campaign, an Arena mode becomes unlocked. Acting like a truncated Arcade mode, Arena allows you to play through the storyline for all of the characters. It starts with captioned still images that outline their involvement in the latest King of Iron Fist Tournament and culminates in their ending movie. Unlike Arcade mode, however, you won't have all of the characters unlocked immediately--you'll have to unlock them by playing through the Scenario Campaign and defeating them when they appear as boss characters at the end of each level.
But figuring out the convoluted plot of Tekken 6 isn't the only reason to play through the excellent Scenario Campaign. This mode could almost be a full game on its own, taking five or six hours to complete and having plenty of replay value, thanks to its compelling item-drop system. While the Scenario Campaign tells the story of Lars and Alisa, you can play the mode as any character you've unlocked, although all of the major cutscenes will still feature the two main protagonists. In terms of gameplay, the Scenario Campaign isn't too taxing on the old synapses--you and your AI-controlled partner Alisa will have to fight through waves of enemies. And while the controls are initially fiddly to come to terms with, you'll quickly get used to them. You can move freely anywhere on the screen using the left thumbstick, and when enemies are within view, you can use the D pad to pull off your character's moves and the right bumper to switch targets. It's a lot of fun, if a little repetitive, although it's a mystery why two-player offline co-op play wasn't included in this mode.
As opposed to Tekken's previous attempts at a beat-'em-up, the Scenario Campaign mode actually features a decent number of different enemy types and environments. And while it's easy for most of its duration, the difficulty ramps up considerably in its final few stages. But what makes it most worth playing are the items that certain enemies drop when defeated. These items are pieces of clothing for every Tekken 6 character, and there are literally hundreds to collect. These items include new shirts, pants, shoes, headgear, accessories, weapons, and more, with each item having its own unique properties that confer special bonuses when worn. You can find clothing that will increase your health; increase defense; add elemental properties, such as fire or ice, to your attacks; improve the value of items dropped, and much more. It's an almost role-playing-game-like loot system, giving plenty of incentive to keep playing Scenario to get better gear for each of the game's 41 characters.
But even if you don't play Scenario, you can still buy any of the hundreds of different costume items for each character using money earned in almost every other mode in Tekken 6. There's a ton of customization available here: Ever want to know what Panda looks like wearing a pink bikini? Don't like the particular shade of Lei's shirt? Think Eddie looks better wearing a baseball cap? Or would you prefer your Ganryu with angel wings? You can mix and match to your heart's content; thus, with some truly wacky costume options, it'll be easy to come up with a unique look for your favorite fighter.
You can show off your uniquely costumed character in Tekken 6's online modes, although any bonuses that piece of clothing may have in the Scenario Campaign won't carry over into proper bouts. The game has both ranked matches for battle points and friendly bouts where you can set up lobbies with up to three other people. The matches we played since the servers went live this week globally have been mostly stable with very few dropouts, but lag seems to be an issue with most matches. With slower connections, you'll notice a definite gap between your controller input and what's happening on screen, and there seems to be a very slight lag with even the fastest links. It's not unplayable, and if you're just after a few fun games against players online it plays well as long as you're on a decent connection. But anyone serious about their Tekken will recoil in horror at the input lag present.
A much more interesting online option is the ability to download ghost data from players all over the world. You can download up to 100 different "real" personalities, which you can then play in the offline game to help improve your skills against the top players in the world (your own ghost data becomes uploaded automatically). These ghost players do act noticeably different to the game's AI, and they're often a better option than trying to find stable connections to play online when you're hankering for some real competition. You can also download replays of people's matches, which is another great training tool if you want to see how the best go about their brutal business.
Tekken 6 looks impressive, but it's not the prettiest fighter out there. There are definitely some impressive details to be found on each character model, and the whole game runs smoothly at 60 frames per second, but some of the game's textures look rather bland. Skin, for example, looks pretty waxy, giving near-nude characters like Ganryu a mannequin-like look. There's also some noticeable aliasing to be found on the game's various stages, from which both the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 versions suffer. The game's stages, in fact, can be a little too distracting. There's plenty going on in each level, such as helicopters crashing, jets flying by, and even livestock milling around, but some of these aren't rendered in impressive ways. Seeing a poorly animated sheep or pig bounce away as you accidentally hit it, for example, just serves to draw your attention away from the solid fighting. Thankfully, the sound is quite impressive, with solid and bone-crunching effects adding a great deal of believability to your every strike. But perhaps Tekken 6's most apparent technical downside has to do with its load times. They're not so long as to break the game, but there are noticeable lags when matches load and character models appear on selection screens. Installing is practically a prerequisite on the PS3 version to get it on par with the Xbox 360, which features shorter load times from the get-go.
While a bouncing pig may be a slight distraction and the online can be disappointing, it's nowhere near enough to dull the outstanding qualities that Tekken 6 has to offer. For fans, Tekken 6 is the most complete Tekken experience so far. It features a large roster, strong customization options, and tight mechanics, and it's sure to be a time sink as you enjoy battle after battle and strive to perfect your skills. If you're a newcomer, the game is as welcoming as ever, and there's plenty here to keep you occupied until you're ready to start busting out your own combos. If you're a fighting fan or are just curious to dip a tentative fist into the genre, then Tekken 6 is the game for you.