If you're looking for the current beat-'em-up champion here in the West, look no further than Street Fighter IV. Upon finally reaching G1 earlier this year, after many hours in championship mode, a glance at the leaderboards revealed I was still ranked below 6000 more dedicated players. Eek.
But in Japanese arcades the popularity contest has gone a very different way. The latest statistics from Arcadia Magazine suggest that Tekken 6: Bloodline Rebellion has the largest audience, followed by BlazBlue, Melty Blood, Guilty Gear, and then Street Fighter IV. When you consider Tekken 6 has been out in Japan since 2007, the continued devotion is even more impressive.
The question is, does the long overdue console port of Tekken 6 have what it takes to wow the West?
Graphically, Tekken 6 shows a bit of age but is still attractive. All the characters have been well realised, with a standard of detail comparable to SoulCalibur IV, if not quite beyond Virtua Fighter 5. Animation is also top notch, with each combatant faithfully representing their chosen fighting style - albeit with inhuman strength and reduced gravity. Namco has also furnished Tekken 6 with an optional motion blur, which communicates a greater sense of momentum.
Underneath the new textures and added polygons, all your old favourites like Jin, Hwoarang, Nina and Paul have made it into the game along with six new fighters, giving Tekken 6 a 40-strong roster and a new variety benchmark. The new bloods are three new guys and three new girls, with the larger than life Bob my pick of the litter. His flamboyant flips and pirouettes are at odds with his excessive girth, and I can't help smiling at names like "rolling kebab" and "supersize missile".
For those players eager to make the jump from Tekken 5 to Tekken 6, be warned that Namco has made significant changes to a handful of characters. Most noticeable is Yoshimitsu and his new double sword style. One of Yoshimitsu's unique strengths throughout the series has been his crazy stances and unblockable sword attacks, and although he retains many of his classic moves, the ways in which they combo together have been drastically reworked. It's not just Yoshimitsu though - Marshall Law has also received a few tweaks. The JKD Chef is a few moves up from his Tekken 5 outing and looks more Game of Death than ever in his black and yellow tracksuit.
Despite these changes there is much about Tekken 6 which feels familiar, and if you're a Hwoarang, Bryan or Eddy player, you'll find the old juggle combos still work as well as they used to do. Indeed, the new fighting system isn't much of an evolution from Tekken 5. The emphasis is still on juggle combos where both players fish for a launcher whilst playing a mental war of low, high, throw and counter.
But Tekken 6 also adds the new Bound system, allowing players to bounce their opponent off the ground during a juggle combo for an even more viscous assault. The airtime this creates is the longest in Tekken history, with a high-level "bouncy castle" combo doing slightly over a third of full damage on average. However, the damage scaling usually kicks in before things get too silly.
The other new mechanic is Rage. This is activated during your last slither of health and increases your damage output. Usually this doesn't change the outcome of a match, but there have been instances where I've suffered a galling defeat at the hands of a Rage-fuelled Bound combo - in some cases going from half health to nothing. Clearly it's designed to give people one last shot at victory, but the problem with it is that the increase in damage is so great that you probably won't get the same opportunity should you find yourself on the receiving end. It doesn't break the game, but the game would arguably have been better without it.
Namco has at least thrown in a wide selection of modes, including arcade, versus, team battle, time attack, survival, ghost battle and practice. The practice mode is pretty basic and doesn't even include a way to record attack patterns or turn on the Rage state, but otherwise it's reasonably functional. Arcade mode is exactly that and ends with a showdown against the Egyptian ice-god Azazel - or at least that's what he/she/it looks like. As you'd expect, Azazel is the typical Tekken cheese-fest, with cheap tricks ranging from laser beams to summoning stalagmites from the ground. But in comparison to bonus boss Nancy-MI847J, Azazel is pretty tame.
"Tame" is also a good way to describe the new Scenario Campaign. This new mode kicks off with a lengthy cinematic that outlines the King of Iron Fist tournament's canon story. You know the drill: Heihachi throws Kazuya off a cliff, Kazuya returns the favour and then Heihachi throws Kazuya into a volcano and then shoots Jin, etc. Players are introduced to Alisa and Lars, the latter of whom has lost his memory, before the campaign begins proper. The campaign gameplay is best described as 3D Streets of Rage where you beat up waves of generic enemies before facing an end-of-level boss. It's all very basic, but Namco has done its best to inject the full fighting system, and although fiddly on the 360 pad, it's just about bearable.
Aside from the main story the campaign also houses the arena mode. This is similar to the standard arcade mode but can only be played through with characters you've unlocked in the campaign. The purpose of the Arena is to view each character's ending cinematic, and many of these are worth watching with Bob's a particular highlight. "Only 150 pounds... Noooooooooo!"
Playing the campaign will also unlock clothing and accessories for your character. By heading into the customisation menu you can completely change a fighter's threads and hairstyle, and although the options aren't that vast, there is scope to dress Marduk as an American footballer and Armour King in a "full" leopard costume. Similar to SoulCalibur IV, some of these accessories also confer special effects in the campaign, ranging from basic attack increases to health regeneration and element damage.
The most interesting customisation feature is the new Item Moves. By equipping Bryan with a mini-gun or Armour King with a studded bat, both characters can use their weapon with a specific command. Generally these moves do little damage, but there's something satisfying about finishing an online opponent with Law's legendary nunchaku.
With that said, Tekken 6 disappoints in the online department. It's a shame, because all the right features are in place including ranked and player matches, a solid matchmaking system, continental learderboards and ghost data swapping. But in my experience on Xbox Live the netcode is often inadequate, with noticeable lag - even during a solid green connection. It's not as bad as The King of Fighters XII, but it's definitely not as stable as Street Fighter IV or the excellent BlazBlue. As always, the input lag makes cheap tactics like spamming Kazuya's spin-kicks harder to avoid, and for this reason there also seems to be an increasing abundance of online capoeira. Just remember to block low early.
As a package, Tekken 6 is far from perfect but it's still a solid fighter and superior to the likes of KOFXII for head-to-head couch play. The new modes and features do little to change the classic formula, but the sixth King of Iron Fist Tournament is nonetheless deep, balanced and rewarding to those who invest the time. It's also very accessible to those who just want to dabble with an intuitive fighter and not spend hours in the practice mode. Had Namco spent a bit less time on the forgettable Scenario Campaign and more on sorting out the netcode, however, this could have gone higher. A miracle patch would be very helpful.
7 / 10