Version tested: PSP
Things haven't exactly been great for the poor old PSP lately. Aside from the insanely good LocoRoco, Sony's handheld has been starved of quality titles for much of the year, leaving it to look on helplessly while the DS rides the non-game wave into millions more households. But as the likes of Nintendogs have proved, it only takes one game to tip the balance of power and if Namco's fisticuffs extravaganza Dark Resurrection can't put the PlayStation Portable back on the map, it's unlikely that anything will.
So yeah, PSP Tekken is good. As in really good. The typically sleek Namco presentation couldn't be better suited to the PSP and the visuals really show what Sony's handheld can do in the right hands. Beautiful character models and flawless animation make for the best showcase for the PSP's potential so far. But as impressive as it may look, Dark Resurrection's core gameplay also manages to live up to the heady standard set by its production values. It may be 'just Tekken' but however you look at it, this is the best 'home version Tekken' out there.
You want characters? You got them. Dark Resurrection features the largest roster yet for a Tekken title - an incredible 34 characters are all ready to go from the outset and however you like to play, there'll be one to suit your style among them. Grapplers can plump for King, Armor King or Marduk, martial arts fans have Feng, Law and Lei (among others) and there's even potential to go a bit further afield with unique fighters like Ganryu or Roger. On top of having pretty much every character to have graced the series thus far (only Gon, the stupid Ogres and clone characters like Alex, Tiger and Forrest don't make it in, which shouldn't disappoint too many people), Dark Resurrection also brings in two new characters. Lili spins and flips about not unlike a hybrid of Dead Or Alive's Helena and Kasumi while Russian special agent Dragunov keeps things far simpler, mixing heavy hits with a supreme mix-up game. In fact, the only bad news on the character front is that Namco has apparently forgotten to remove broken boss Jinpachi, but even that isn't a major deal breaker as you'll only come across the overpowered freak in a couple of modes.
And speaking of modes, suffice to say that Namco wasn't satisfied with just providing an expansive character roster. Everything from the arcade mode to Tekken Bowl is somehow crammed onto the UMD via every imaginable game mode - practice alone is so packed with separate options that even just honing your skills on a motionless opponent is both entertaining and rewarding. But while quick play modes and the bonus games (which are reminiscent of Soul Calibur III's Soul Arena missions) are very much welcome, the real star of the show is the Tekken Dojo mode. Playing out like Virtua Fighter 4's Quest mode, you simply pick your character and build them up through the ranks of each dojo via league battles and eventually ranked tournaments. There's a good amount of stat tracking as you take your chosen fighter from Beginner rank to Tekken Lord and you can even use the impressive array of 'ghost' options to download new opponents for each dojo or upload your own play style to a friend's PSP.
Best of all, though, this ingenious ghost system technically makes for an unlimited supply of varied opponents. By going into network mode, players can download a whole host of new ghost fighters or even share their own, meaning you can play virtual versions of your mates even when you're on the other side of the world. This goes some way towards making up for the fact that there's no true online play but then again, having seen the state of Dead Or Alive 4's online modes, these ghost options are far preferable to an online mode where every battle takes place in the land of lag. Still, with plenty of scope for local multiplayer and even a game sharing option to play from a single UMD, there's next to nothing to criticise here, no matter how deep you dig.
Control also deserves a mention, if only because of the fact that this is probably the first beat-'em-up to make the leap from console to handheld without the button set-up going from awkward to barely usable. Tekken's four-button control lends itself perfectly to the PSP and while cross-button stretches (for moves that use, say, X and Triangle simultaneously) can be tricky, assigning these combos to the shoulder buttons solves that particular problem. And beyond that, its absolutely plain sailing and fans of the series will be able to drop straight in and nail those tricky combos without any kind of struggle - something that can't be said for the likes of Darkstalkers and Street Fighter Alpha 3 MAX.
With everything a fighting fan could ever need somehow shoehorned onto the smallest of discs, Dark Resurrection is without question the finest portable beat-'em-up ever released. Not only that, it also represents the pinnacle of the series overall, which is an incredible feat for a handheld title. The wealth of characters and play options combine with the sturdy and varied play mechanics to create a genuinely brilliant fighting game and one of the first must-have PSP titles in months. This is the kind of game that sells machines, putting it up there with classics like Super Mario 64, Ridge Racer and Halo. And rightly so. Namco has outdone itself both in terms of pushing the PSP hardware to the absolute limit and also in getting one of its flagship series back on track - seldom will you see a more polished, feature-packed or concise videogame, and to do all of this on a portable system is nothing short of stunning. Believe the hype and savour the PSP's finest hour thus far.
9 / 10