If you're checking this review for a quick verdict on Tekken 6 while you make your morning oatmeal before dashing off to work, here it is: It's Tekken, only bigger and prettier than ever. Now go, stop wasting time reading and get to work (and next time, get the Raisin, Date & Walnut - it's delicious). If you're here for a slightly more in-depth verdict, though, let's get to the meat of it.
This latest installment in the Tekken series continues the story of the powerful Mishima Zaibatsu and all those fighting to control it. The introduction to the game's single-player scenario mode tries to helpfully offer up a recap of the first five Tekken games as a method to explain how an international multi-billion-dollar corporation with its own paramilitary force comes to be controlled by an angsty self-loathing twenty-something by virtue of the fact that the dude was really good at punching people in the face. The pretense at story feels a bit silly, seeing as how overwrought, completely serious cutscenes share the same space as a level where you beat up bear cubs (no, I'm actually serious here).
Of course, it doesn't help that what tries to pass for a story is delivered through an extremely clunky gameplay mode. The single-player Scenario campaign transforms the fighter into a brawler a la Streets of Rage, tasking the player with taking their character of choice down a series of identical corridors, beating up waves of identical thugs along the way. Though you can earn items to customize your characters' appearance via this mode, and I suppose it's a cool idea in theory, it's just as dull and repetitious as the series' prior attempts at the exact same game type.
Despite what the scenario mode wants you to think, the core of Tekken has always been its traditional fighting game, and here the game is clearly on more familiar ground - and it shows. Tekken has always been a bit of an oddball in the fighting scene, with its unique control scheme that maps each of the four face buttons to each of the characters' limbs in lieu of the standard "punch, kick, quarter-circle forward" controls found in other games. Its uniqueness makes it a bit difficult to get the hang of at first, unless you're just button-mashing away with your friends (which is admittedly fun in its own way).
If you want to get anywhere in Tekken 6, though, button-mashing will only take you so far - and I'm not talking about playing against the pros, either. It's somewhat telling that there's only one "Easy" mode but three different "Hard" modes, because the game gets absolutely brutal anywhere above "Medium" difficulty. Unfortunately, it isn't always the sort of difficulty where you feel you could have won if you'd just done something differently; it's the sort of difficulty that has you scratching your head in confusion how you could ever have hoped to counter that devastating combo.
The game's roster is impressively large with over 40 characters including six newcomers, and while not they're not all unique - looking at you, Eddy and Christie - there's enough of a variety there that there's sure to be someone there who suits your fancy. The movements and attacks are fluid and fast-paced, and the game really does look great when it's doing what the Tekken games know best and not trying to be a brawler action game. Admittedly, it is sort of disconcerting to have pavement crack and shatter when somebody trips and falls a whopping three feet onto the ground, but it's the sort of thing you quickly get used to.
In the end, it's hard to sum up Tekken 6 without feeling like a cop-out, because it really is just more Tekken. There are new characters, a new feature called Rage that has your attacks do more damage when you're low on health, and it (in theory) advances the series' plot, but you won't find anything here that you haven't seen before. It's people with silly hair beating each other up like it's always been, but if that's your thing, then go for it. Just be prepared to sit through a bunch of loading screens first.
Bottom Line: It's Tekken, with eye-pleasing graphics and the series' biggest roster yet. The campaign mode falls flat on its face as an exercise in tedium with an incomprehensible, convoluted story, but the actual fighting game here is as solid as it's always been. If you're a Tekken fan, you'll probably love it. If you're not, it won't win you over.
Recommendation: Do you like Tekken? Then get Tekken 6. Are you not a fan? It might be worth a rental, but don't expect it to rock your world.
John Funk thinks Paul Phoenix is way overdue for a haircut.