It seems difficult to criticise Tekken 6 for feeling like an uninspired effort from Namco Bandai in the same year we heap praise upon Street Fighter 4 - a fighting game Capcom is delighted to hear described as Street Fighter 2.5. But it lacks the freshness, sparkle and zing SF4 has in abundance. It lacks excitement, pizazz and spunk. It feels tired and devoid of new ideas. And yet, it's Tekken. The one-on-one fighting is just as bone-crunching, spine-snapping and easy to learn yet hard to master as it's always been. If it 'aint broke…
Where does this lack of enthusiasm come from? It's probably got something to do with the fact that this home console release is based on a two-year-old arcade game. That's right - it's taken two years for Tekken 6, originally released in Japanese arcades in November 2007, to land on Xbox 360 and PS3. Even the greatest games would struggle to feel fresh under such circumstances.
So, what's new? The answer: not much. Bar some command list tweaks, the addition of the Rage system, a handful of new characters and an expanded Tekken Force mode, Tekken 6 is Tekken 5: Dark Resurrection. All the usual suspects are faithfully reproduced: the four button combat (each button is assigned to a limb), the counter system, tech rolling, wall hits, foreground/background dodging, and the reliance on air combos following launchers. This is sure to please many fans, but will do nothing to budge long-standing critics.
Let's start with the Rage system. When you're nearly dead your health bar flashes red, your character glows and your strike attacks do more damage. That's all there is to it. It's a disappointing feature - it does little to change the dynamic of a match. Sure, it might make you slightly more weary of your opponent, but at the end of the day little changes. It doesn't make available new, ultra powerful moves, or make you more resistant to attacks. The overall impact on strategy is minimal.
Far more important for high level players is the new "bound system". Every character has a number of moves that, when used during a mid-air combo, will "bounce" the opponent off of the ground and back into the air, resetting the juggle potential. For a game based on air combos, this is huge, and has already sparked much heated debate among the Tekken community. The main gripe seems to be that it is overpowered - calls have already been made for a reduction in juggle damage. Technically it extends even further the number of attacks a player can land before the opponent has the chance to tech roll out of a landing. It'll be interesting to see how it pans out, especially online.
For the more casual Tekken fan (aka the button-bashing Eddy player), however, the bound system will go largely unnoticed. You might find yourself accidentally connecting with a bound move, in which case you'll no doubt feel incredibly happy with yourself. But without ace timing and a mastery of a character's combo set, it'll be a rare occurrence.
New to the console versions is the "Scenario Campaign". Remember Tekken 3's Tekken Force mode? You know, the rubbish Final Fight in 3D afterthought that clumsily dropped the fighting game controls from the one-on-one mode into beat-em-up-style stages? Sure you do. Well, Scenario Campaign is that, in high definition, with guns, and a co-op partner, but it's just as rubbish.
Scenario Campaign is astonishing in many ways. It begins with a lavish, eye-catching animated account of the entire Tekken series, taking in Tekken right up to Tekken 5: Dark Resurrection. It's a wonderful effort, displaying the kind of production values SF4's laughable animes only dreamt of. It's the best kind of fan service, but crystallises Tekken's plot as the nonsensical Greek tragedy it truly is. If there was an award for the most dysfunctional family every to grace not just video games, but entertainment, surely the spiky-haired Mishimas would win it.