Neither of those games is anywhere near as synonymous with the PlayStation as Tekken, however. Namco and Sony have long been allies in crafting the arcade versions of the series, starting all the way back at the beginning with the System 11 arcade boards based on the original PlayStation hardware providing the muscle for the coin-op versions. Ports to the home consoles, naturally, followed, and every PlayStation system thus far has seen a Tekken release. The PS3 actually got its first taste with Dark Resurrecton, but Tekken 6 is the first proper next-gen outing, though in an interesting twist it's also available on the Xbox 360 if that's your thing.
No matter the system, it's clear Namco saw Tekken 6 as a chance to make a proper full-blown home effort. The last game may have finally introduced online play, but it wasn't anywhere near as deep and diverse in terms of modes as previous entries into the series. You'll find plenty of on and offline arcade battles here, of course, complete with leaderboards, a ranking system, titles and the all-important AI ghosts that are based on actual player data culled and then turned into something resembling the actual player's fighting style. Even offline, the game manages to emulate the online experience by constantly spitting out customized and uniquely-named/skilled opponents.
All of this can seem a little daunting if you're just now getting into the series or returning after a few-year hiatus. Each of the 40-plus characters have had the requisite tweaks and rebalancing applied which can mean even familiar button mashers like Eddie and Christine play differently now. Fortunately, Tekken 6 sports one of the most comprehensive and in-depth Practice Modes I've ever seen. Move sets can be learned, but more importantly the timing of stringing together combos is shown, allowing even newcomers to come to grips with the particulars of laying into someone with a health bar-sucking 10-string combo. Only BlazBlue's special edition DVDs come close to offering this much access to the ins and outs of each character, and those aren't available in-game to try out immediately.
Once you've gotten up to speed, though, the means with which to unlock characters' intro and ending movies has been shifted a bit to the new Campaign Mode, which attempts to rework the Tekken engine into something approaching a story-based graduation of the old Tekken Force and Devil Within beat-'em-up distractions. This sounds a hell of a lot better on paper than in actual execution, but despite the copious, oft-times painfully bland cutscenes and languid pacing of the "story" (detailing the mysterious amnesiac Lars and rescued android Alisa as they seek out their mutual connections to the Mishima Zaibatsu), the actual gameplay can be weirdly addictive.
Much of this stems from the way the game handles end-level rankings for things like beating up a certain number of enemies or completing things with a certain amount of health or in a short amount of time. This in turn doles out experience that can level up Lars and Alisa (and, eventually, other characters as you unlock them after a few-battle sequence that also unlocks their movies, some of which are awesome). The controls are clunky (at first frustratingly so), the graphics are hilariously bad at times (Lars' hair is rather fond of clipping through anything it touches, as are parts of his outfit), the camera is a pain to wrangle and yet... it's all surprisingly effective at keeping you engaged despite it being something of a red-headed stepchild to the relative glory of the main modes.
That main mode is still every bit as deep and interesting as it has ever been. The character customization options help differentiate online personas, but what's truly impressive about Tekken 6 is that it seems to have regained its mojo a bit. The smoother online play helps, certainly, but it's simply more fun to play around with all the new characters -- which include the portly Bob, the freaky-deaky Zafina, gender-ambiguous Leo, beefy matador Miguel, robo-brawler NANCY-MI647J, lizard/demon/thing Azazel and the aforementioned Lars and Alisa. Old characters are a blast too; it feels less like a chore than catching up and getting re-acquainted with old standbys like Lei Wulong or Marshall Law, and even the pacing of things seems slanted back toward rewarding players that can mix up quick attacks and work in long strings. It's simply a better paced, executed, varied and presented game that we've seen in a while, and is easily my favorite since Tekken 3.
Though Dark Resurrection wasn't an ugly looking game, it really can't hold a candle to what Tekken 6 is pumping out in terms of visuals. The lighting, destruction found in levels and flat-out creativity of some of the arenas is amazing. Seeing the utterly bent reality of jets flying in the background of a world literally turned upside down or the rain-drenched rooftops of a neon-lit cityscape is breathtaking, and it all runs startlingly well. The ability to flick on or off motion blur was also a nice touch. Even on the PSP, things run incredibly smoothly, with the actual battles screaming along at 60fps and some seriously impressive animation detail. The PSP version may lack the Scenario Campaign, but the core of the fighting engine is still here, and it's every bit as entertaining as the PS3 big bro.
Even the game's music seems better, to say nothing of the absolutely awesome CG Namco has put together for both the lengthy intro and most of the closing movies. It's just a much better game than I expected, and should give long-time fans of the series and those who have either deserted in the past or never bothered to try it all plenty to digest in equal measure. The length of the clumsy but somehow endearing beat-'em-up mode coupled with smoother online play and the underlying gameplay that keeps it all entertaining no matter what brand of ass kicking you opt for all adds up to one of the best values in fighters this year -- a year, I feel I should remind everyone again, has already been peppered with some of the best fighters in a decade. That's saying something.