Developing a video game series is tricky business. You’ve already established a cast of likeable characters, a solid gameplay formula, and a certain standard by which to judge your next great creation. You’ve obviously gotten enough positive feedback and revenue from the fans, so you might as well cash in on the series’ popularity while it’s still fresh. The catch is that you need to create a game that not only mimics everything that made the previous games likeable, but include something that seems new, attention-grabbing and simply refreshing as well. The problem is trying to figure out what that “something” is; many gaming series (such as Sonic the Hedgehog, Mega Man, and yes, even Super Mario Bros.) start out with stellar gameplay, add in a few new things to keep it interesting, and then eventually falter in quality and dwindle down into pathetic shells of their former selves. But while many of the latest iterations of the various franchises seem to lack the quality of their predecessors, Tekken 5 stands tall as one of the greatest additions to the series.
If in doubt, kick ‘em in the face
Heihachi Mishima is dead. At least, that’s what all the promotion video and previews want you to believe. After seeing the devious mastermind and his headquarters blow up at the end of Tekken 4, it’s hard to believe that he could have survived. Of course, any good series needs a recurring villain, and Tekken is no exception. Only a month after the events of the tournament, Heihachi is back in action. Apparently, someone has taken control of his evil organization and sponsored a new tournament. Fighters from all over the world have gathered yet again to duke it out, fueled by obsession, motives, and gigantic egos. Jin is still dealing with his apparent demon possession, Hworang is still his score with him, Nina and Anna have taken the term “sibling rivalry” to a whole new level, and plenty of other fighters have come to test their prowess in the heat of battle. With dozens of characters to choose from, it’s a fair bet that you’ll find someone to your liking.
While Tekken 5 sports one of the largest rosters of fighters in the series’ history, few things have been altered from the previous games. Unlike countless other fighters, this game places a strong emphasis on learning specific button commands, timing them to perform a myriad of punches, kicks, and combos. At first glance, the gameplay seems horribly slow; many of the characters’ basic attacks only offer a light punch or a kick. This is a far cry from the intensely fast gameplay from Dead or Alive, Street Fighter, and even Virtua Fighter. What first-time Tekken players may not realize is that the seemingly slow-paced moves are implemented to allow enough time to choose and input the button commands for your next attack. A small punch can lead into a harder punch, then a kick, a throw, an uppercut, and countless other potential combinations. Once you’ve gotten a feel of how the controls and combos link together, you’ll find that the game’s pace picks up considerably.
Ok, now I need glasses. There’s a damn kangaroo wearing boxing gloves in this game
Veterans of the previous Tekken games will likely find the main Story Mode enjoyable, but incredibly brief; eight rounds against challenging enemies doesn’t seem very special anymore. In order to keep your eyes on the game and hands on the controller, the game features a slew of extras to chew on. The Team Battle and Survival Modes offer you the chance to test your skills with different characters, attain high scores and some bragging rights. If you feel like taking a break from the Story Mode, you can always start up a few quick rounds in Arcade Mode. Instead of progressing through a character’s individual story, you’ll get improve your overall ranking in the tournament and win some well-deserved prize money. While becoming the greatest fighter in the contest may seem pretty cool, it’s the cash that proves more worthwhile. Once you’ve saved up enough prize money, you can exchange it for various items to equip on your character. Want to see Jin sport some awesome shades? How about getting rid of Yoshimitsu’s giant hat? How about changing the colors of your favorite fighter’s costume? While character customization in Tekken 5 pales in comparison to that of Soul Calibur III it’s still a welcome feature.
That’s only the tip of the proverbial iceberg, however. If you suddenly get that yearning for some nostalgia and some good old fashioned ass-kicking, Tekken 5 also includes the first three Tekken games, from Kazuya’s first appearance and all the way through the events of Tekken 3. Fans of the older fighters will definitely feel at home with these reincarnations, regardless of what the latest game has to offer. But in case you’re absolutely sick of playing through the tried and true gameplay modes (or if you obsess over Jin Kazama), you can take a break from the tournament and give the Devil Within Mode a shot. Instead of fighting the rest of the Tekken crew, you’ll get to follow along with Jin as he learns more about his devilish ancestry. This won’t be like participating in a tournament, however; Devil Within operates as a 3D beat’em up game, complete with dozens of stupid lackeys to mow down, the occasional boss to thrash, and areas to complete. While a Tekken-style beat’em up game sounds pretty awesome, Devil Within comes off as a little too simplistic to be really enjoyable; the levels are fairly linear, the AI is a joke, and completing it requires little thought or strategy whatsoever. But hey, at least they tried.
While Devil Within seems a little half-assed, the presentations of it and the rest of the gameplay modes of Tekken 5 are another story. The game makes wonderful use of the PS2’s graphical capabilities, portraying the Tekken characters with incredible quality and detail. All of the movements and animations are done with remarkable skill; you can see how Anna’s dress flaps as she goes for a kick, or watch how Steve Fox can bob and weave around his foes’ attacks with surprisingly realistic speed and grace. Hell, you can practically make out the wrinkles on Heihachi’s aging face. The backgrounds are just as detailed; some levels have puddles that will actually ripple when you step on them, others have walls and floors that will break if a character is thrown against them, and plenty of other little features to appreciate. And that’s just the in-game imagery; the game is packed with incredibly vivid animations, cutscenes, promotion videos and expo previews. Also, many fans will appreciate the amount of time put into the voice acting for this game; each character features plenty of emotion and speaks in the language and accent of their homeland, be it Hworang’s Korean, Steve’s heavy Irish, or the Mishima’s Japanese. Toss in a fairly decent soundtrack and you’ve got one of the best Tekken presentations to date.
It’s remarkable how well Tekken 5 turned out. You’d think that after all these years the Tekken series would have gone under by now. Yet this latest installment of the series not only strengthens the franchise as a whole, but also offers so much to both longtime fans and fighting game fanatics alike. With dozens of characters and unique movesets to choose from, you’ll be sure to find a fighter that appeals to your playing style. If you’ve gotten sick of your character’s incredibly detailed appearance, the character customization may be right up your alley. Gamers in need of something new will likely flock toward Devil Within, but will end up spending time and mastering the game’s newer characters. If you’re want to get in touch with your inner child, the inclusion of the first Tekken through the third ought to prove pretty entertaining. People that need a good graphics fix will likely spend time ogling over all the minute details and story cutscenes, while completionists will stay on to collect every single unlockable in sight. Indeed, this game has a little something for all of us. Who said sequels have to be bad?
Eight out of ten