That's right kiddos, the King of Iron Fist Tournament is back. You didn't think Street Fighter IV would have it all its own way, did you? Of course not. With 2009 destined to go down as the year the fighting game fought back, with the release of, by my count, no less than four stone wall classics, perhaps it was fate that the Mishimas, the definition of a dysfunctional family, would start pummelling the crap out of each other on home consoles once again. Never a family to turn down a scrap, Tekken 6 preview code promptly popped through our letterbox, and we've been button mashing our way through it ever since.
So, what's new? The answer is, not a lot. Those still pumping hours into the PSN-exclusive, online-enabled Tekken 5: Dark Resurrection will no doubt seamlessly transfer over to Tekken 6. As a straight up one-on-one fighting game (that's not all Tekken 6 is, by the way - more on that later), it feels, moves and smacks you in the balls just as before. It's all about quick reactions - dashing in and out of the 3D plane, side stepping, poking, juggling and hitting your hapless opponent while they're on the floor over and over again - until their health bar is nothing but… an empty health bar. It's about King's bone-crunching multi-string throws. It's about Law's somersault kicks. It's about Paul's punches. It's about the Mishimas' spiky hair. Namco Bandai hasn't rewritten the underlying 3D fighting game system that's served the series so superbly over the last decade or so. What it's done is made improvements where improvements needed to be made and added a few new bells and whistles.
Which are, in no particular order, eight new characters (two non-playable bosses), loads of lovely-looking new stages, a new Rage system and… wait for it… a co-op campaign.
The new characters are, how shall I put this, an eclectic bunch. Ah, what the hell - they're downright barmy. Leo's a German woman. No, he's a bloke. No, he's a woman… er… I can't quite work out what she/he is. Miguel is a Spaniard Matador. SF4 fans will say Bob's a Rufus rip-off, although the truth is his huge belly was bouncing around Japanese arcades long before SF4 turned up. Zafina is an Eva Green look-a-like, and is just about the sexiest fighting game character ever created. Her moves are spider-like, triggered from various bone-bending stances. Alisa is a robot girl, the creation of long-running Tekken boffin Doctor Boskonovitvh. Pick her and you'll no doubt end up being called a cheap git - she can tear her head off and use it as a bomb, AND sprout chainsaws from her arms. Bringing up the rear is Lars, the emo, an amnesia sufferer who stars in the co-op campaign. His cape and spiky hair are classic Tekken (he's actually really good, and could end up being top tier).
Sitting alongside the new characters is almost every character ever to appear in a Tekken game. The playable list is gargantuan, so much so that it's almost impossible to see who's who in the character select screen. On the upside, everyone should have someone they can use, whether it's the powerful Paul, the Bruce Lee rip-off Law or the Jackie Chan wannabe Lei. Me? I'm a Xiaoyu man, although given she's a schoolgirl I'm not sure that's something I want to admit in public.
Without arenas, however, characters are meaningless. Luckily, Tekken 6 has got some great-looking ones. There's one set in the middle of a tomato festival - the floor is completely covered in a red slime. There's a lovely-looking ballroom stage with a brass band playing in the background. In every arena there's always loads going on, whether there are onlookers baying for blood, helicopters flying above a rain-drenched skyscraper rooftop or aeroplanes smashing into concrete. It's almost enough to make you gawp at the background and not at your opponent's shoulders.