'Tekken 6' plays it safe

The new edition is no improvement on 'Tekken 5.'
Spencer Pearson / Graphic Designer

You really should pace yourself better, Tekken. We still love your crazy juggle combos and you still aren't afraid to pit Japanese schoolgirls against robots and forest creatures in brutal fights to the death, but where does the madness end?

"Tekken 6" comes fashionably late to the fighting game party of this generation and it shows. Chances are "Virtua Fighter 5," "Soul Calibur IV" and "Street Fighter IV" have satisfied most of your desires to throw down in one-on-one competition these past few years.

Most fighting games know better than to invest too much into their fiction, but the scenario campaign mode of "Tekken 6" commits such a sin. If you really want to know the reasons behind Jin Kazama's villainous turn, or why Heihachi Mishima still isn't dead, "T6" will hook you up, but prepare to endure watching characters slowly die in other characters' arms for several minutes.

Sure, with so many cool-looking and expressive characters, we naturally want to learn more about them, but we weren't asking for the "Final Fantasy" treatment.

Scenario campaign feels like a chore to play, mainly because it shoehorns the game's one-on-one fighting engine into some sort of 3-D bastardization of "Streets of Rage." None of the enemies know the meanings of the terms "block" and "fight back," making the mode boring and unsatisfying even when the controls work as intended.

The extra modes in console "Tekken" games have a tradition of providing some small level of entertainment but this Scenario Campaign mode? You can have it back, Namco. Come back when you learn how to move characters in more than eight directions.

But if you came for the one-on-one fighting, you're in luck. It took several iterations and lots of scathing criticisms from "Virtua Fighter" purists, but "Tekken" has finally found its niche in the competitive fighting game world.

Whereas "Street Fighter IV" emphasizes wearing down opponents with a few, well-placed strikes, "Tekken" embraces the concept of the juggle combo: launching opponents into the air, then keeping them helplessly suspended with more strikes, eventually cutting 40 to 50 percent off his or her health.

The combat still looks kind of ridiculous with human beings keeping other human beings suspended mid-air by repeatedly punching their ankles, but if you want to dig deep, a highly technical fighting game lies within.

Casual fans can enjoy some heated competition from sticking to some relatively easy-to-perform, powerful single-hit attacks, but "Tekken" has a knack for convincing players to hop onto Internet forums and learn the best juggle combos, then eventually assimilate into a passionate community of players to talk strategy and fuel high-level competition.

A series typically grows tiresome after six versions, but "Tekken 6" exemplifies just how "proven" this fighting system is. Let no doubts persist about its masterful balance of so many characters — a whopping 39, some old, some new, yet all diverse in their styles. You'll eventually find a character that clicks with you, one that you can proudly call "your" character and devote yourself to mastering.

The funny thing is, all of these nice things I've been saying about "Tekken 6?" They all still totally apply to "Tekken 5: Dark Resurrection," a game you can download off the PlayStation Network for 30 bucks.

"Tekken" might have begun taking its own fiction far too seriously, but the story-related modes of "Tekken 6" cannot hinder its ability to put on a quality, fast-paced one-on-one battle. Yet as tight, exciting and addictive as the fighting is, "Tekken 5" still matches it pound for pound. Namco should have known: You cannot improve upon perfection.

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