‘Tekken 6′ Review – The Return of Panda

Fans of fighting games tend to have their loyalties divided between the “Tekken” and “Soul Calibur” franchises these days, with each side arguing the merits of their respective title and its various iterations over the last decade or so. The recently released “Tekken 6″ raises that bar yet again, giving fighter fans a lot to be happy about and redefining the scope of the genre.

The Basics

“Tekken 6″ offers a wide range of play modes beyond the standard “Vs.” arrangement, including a surprisingly robust “Scenario Campaign” that has you traveling through various stages, fighting low-powered enemies to unlock characters, cinematics and custom equipment. There are also a variety of play modes for online competition, offline “Arcade” modes, team battles, “Survival” modes, and just abot everything else previous “Tekken” titles have offered. Along with more than 30 returning characters, six new playable characters are available, as well as a pair of non-playable boss characters.

The Highs

It’s Getting Crowded… In A Good Way
As any fan of fighter franchises will tell you, most of the time it doesn’t pay to play as one of the new characters—because he or she (or it) probably won’t be around for the next game. Not so for “Tekken 6,” however. Every-freakin’-one is in this version of the game—from Brian “I Just Punch Things” Fury to Eddy “Button-Masher’s Savior” Gordo. Heck, they even brought back Roger Jr., the karate kangaroo, for the latest installment.

When Is A Fighter Not A Fighter?
Previous installments of the “Tekken” franchise offered the “Tekken Force” and “Devil Within” modes for a more linear, “Final Fight”-style adventure using Tekken characters. The “Scenario Campaign” in “Tekken 6″ takes everything that worked with those previous experiments and builds on it, creating a play mode that’s surprisingly fun and feels like it was developed on equal footing with the top-notch Vs. modes the franchise is known for. While the campaign’s story can be a bit difficult to follow, the unlockable customization options, trophies and cinematics make it feel less like an afterthought to the Vs. mode and more like a fully developed element of the full “Tekken 6″ package. To be honest, I spent more time playing the Scenario Campaign than I did playing in any online or offline matches. It’s that addictive… and ridiculously fun.

Movie Time
I’ve always loved the cinematics in the previous “Tekken” iterations, and “Tekken 6″ is no exception. Each character’s final scene is unlocked in the Scenario Campaign’s arena, and they all feature some pretty great—and dare I say, bad-ass—cinematics. Best of all, you only need to fight four opponents to view them, which filled my heart with joy. My favorite thus far? Bryan Fury’s “Terminator”-style grand finale.

No Place Like Home
Okay, I was reaching a bit with that title, as Playstation Home really isn’t that big of a draw—but I have to commend the “Tekken 6″ team for integrating with the Home environment. At various points in “Tekken 6,” a series of Home Awards are unlocked alongside the PSN trophies, which actually prompted me to log in to Home for the first time in many months. Sure, they were just various pieces of “Tekken”-themed clothing for my Home avatar, but it’s a cool element that I’d love to see more games embrace.

The Lows

Who Invited This Guy?
Previous iterations of “Tekken” offered a wide variety of final bosses, from Heihachi and Angel/Devil to the monstrous Ogre. This time around, it’s the gigantic Azazel, and while his predecessors required some level of skill to combat their hard-hitting moves, the only thing that will earn you a victory in “Tekken 6″ is patience… and a hefty dose of luck. As far as boss battles go, Azazel is the most difficult the franchise has ever offered—even on “Easy” mode. Most of his moves are unblockable, and once he gets on a roll, he’ll have you jamming on “Continue?” with just a few hits. Basically, the winning strategy is just to mash buttons as quickly as you can, hoping to catch him in mid-strike. It’s the only way to stop him, and it’s likely to take you 10-20 attempts before you defeat him. Sure, I understand the need for a tough final battle, but this one’s pretty ridiculous.

Annoyance, Thy Name Is Lag Time
After playing through most of the online battle modes, I experienced significant lag in about half the matches I participated in. In fact, only about a quarter of the matches I played were completely lag-free, while most experienced varying levels of lag at different points. At its worst, a few matches were stop-and-go exercises in frustration.

Okay, I Get The Idea—This Is Epic
Remember how I said I enjoyed the ending cinematics? Well, not so much with some of the Scenario Campaign cut scenes. If I’m playing a fighting game, I’m not really looking for prolonged, RPG-style cut scenes that involve extensive dialogue and uncertain moments of character and plot development. In the first few stages of the Scenario Campaign, the ratio of cut scenes to interactive play elements was somewhere around 85-15… making my first hour or so of time with “Tekken 6″ a pattern of read, listen, click “Okay,” repeat, ad nauseum.

Final Word

“Tekken 6″ is the best fighting game I’ve played thus far in both the “Soul Calibur” and “Tekken” franchises—but it’s worth noting that the previous game to hold that title was the most recent “Soul Calibur.” These two franchises continue to raise the bar with each installment, and “Tekken 6″ manages to continue that trend by offering a more robust system of online and offline play, as well as one of the best linear story modes of any fighting game I’ve ever played. It’s great fun, and while I can’t wait to see what each franchise does next to up the ante, I’m going to have a great time playing “Tekken 6″ while I wait.