Tekken is a fighting series that involves men, women and pandas punching each other in the face. This is the way it’s always been, and this is the way it always shall be. Okay, so Tekken 6 offers a larger cast of characters than we’ve ever seen before - a roll call of 40 fighters, including a kangaroo, several robots and a German of indiscriminate gender - but the core principle remains the same: whether you’re delivering a 10 hit combo, juggling your opponent or just mashing the buttons like a crazed ape, you’re smacking the other person until they can’t get up any more.
Fair enough, this is rule of thumb for all beat-em-ups. Naturally, if Tekken had turned into a real-time strategy game then we’d all be a bit surprised, but there’s no question that the core gameplay of Tekken 6 seems a bit familiar. The first time I was shown this game, at the end of last year, I asked myself whether the series was changing. Back then Namco-Bandai seemed keen to focus on the character customisation, on allowing the player to prance around in a silly outfit with an entourage of fluffy ducklings. Now, having played the game for myself, I’ve swung to the opposite end of the spectrum. Now I’m asking myself if this is just the same old Tekken, spruced up with some admittedly lovely HD visuals.
Before I go any further, let’s get one things straight: I absolutely love that “same old” Tekken. As a former owner of the original PlayStation, I spent years of my life in the company of Tekken 1, 2 and 3 - particularly the latter. I couldn’t get enough of Tekken Tag on the PS2, and indeed I’ll happily admit to preferring the brand to Virtua Fighter, despite the latter’s excellent reputation. In short, I’m not going to be shedding too many tears if Tekken 6 decides to be a small step, rather than a giant leap for the series.
Besides, it’s already obvious that the new game (well, new to home consoles) will boast plenty of eye candy. The fists fly at a butter-like 60fps, and there’s an optional blurring effect that makes everything look extra smooth. It’s clear that the stage designers have had fun showing off, too. Last time around my attention was caught by a level in which players scrap on an outdoor balcony while jet fighters scream past in the background; this time my favourite levels were a field full of sheep and a bizarre festival where everyone was pelting each other with ripe tomatoes. Fair enough, neither setting had a massive bearing on the actual fighting taking place (although hilariously the sheep bounce when you bump into them), but they undoubtedly added a lot of colour and character to proceedings.
Furthermore, the design of certain other levels will have an impact on the way bouts play out. Tekken 6 has taken a leaf out of the book marked Dead or Alive, in the sense that many arenas have multiple levels to them. In the aforementioned jet fighter stage, for example, you can smash through the floor of the balcony to a room below. The area in which the fighters start is relatively open, but once you drop down you’ll find the conditions to be a lot more cramped - increasing the potential for combos which smash your opponent into a wall and then back into your awaiting fist/knee/panda gob. This kind of tactical consideration will probably only be really important to players paddling in the deep end of the skill pool, but it’s a nice addition all the same.
Aside from the backdrops, the rest of Tekken 6 is also looking fairly easy on the eye. You’d think it might be hard for a game to feature 42 characters without repeating a few ideas, but as it happens the roster features an impressive variety of bone-breaking oddballs, comprising all your old favourites and quite a few fresh faces. Robo-ninja Yoshimitsu looks particularly bonkers this time around, sporting one costume where he appears to have the wheel of a ship bolted onto his back. Lars Alexandersson appeared to be the most popular of the new additions at Namco’s recent showcase. He’s a cocky-looking young chap who wears a big cape and who seems to favour spinning and sliding kick attacks (I’m no martial arts expert, so I’m afraid I can’t be more technical than that).