Tekken 6 PSP Review
The idea of a Tekken 6 PSP port seemed uninteresting at first, but when word got out that it'd be very similar to the home console versions, I had to check it out. Fighting games do often wind up very well suited to a portable system, as the quick bouts and short-attention-span action are perfect for when you're spending fifteen minutes waiting at a doctor's office or in a parking lot. So I decided to simply skip reviewing Tekken 6 on consoles and go straight for the PSP version. And after playing both flavors of the game, I'm impressed with how closely they kept this portable to the original, but I'm also disappointed with the direction Tekken has gone in over the years.
To get myself ready for the upcoming release, I went back and played a little Tekken: Dark Resurrection on the PSP a few weeks ago. Its fantastic visuals, snappy controls, and solid fighting engine made it one of my favorite portable games of recent years, and it really did prove that you could put a 3D fighting game on PSP with very little in the way of compromise. Booting up Tekken 6, I was immediately impressed by the game's roster of 40 characters, but I had kind of forgotten that many of the fighters have gotten really strange over the years; almost a quarter of the playable characters are ridiculous creatures that I have always found to be out of place. There's a mother-and-son kangaroo duo, a green panda with glowing manacles, a woman made out of tree parts (complete with wooden breasts), a cyborg with poor proportions, and yes, a straight-up brown bear. Tekken 6 indulges in some really crazy character designs that, to me, hurts the overall presentation and saps some of the fun factor.
It's not that these characters weren't in Dark Resurrection, but back then I was so busy wrapping my brain around the idea that a PSP fighting game could actually be really good that I apparently didn't notice just how whacked out this game's characters are. Now that I'm used to Tekken being one of the best PSP franchises, I'm finding it easier to see where the series has gone wrong.
First: the difficulty. On any given difficulty setting, Arcade mode starts off way too easy and ends up way too difficult, with a ridiculously huge boss that the game's fighting engine can't even handle properly. Luckily, you never have to fight him in the superior Ghost mode, which is the replacement for the old Dojo system. Here, you fight in a virtual arcade against different "players", complete with their own little nicknames, who have favorite characters, unique styles, and a myriad of skill levels. As you go up in the ranks by beating them, you'll come across tougher AI opponents, but after each win you'll get to choose between three opponents so that you can still tailor the difficulty to your liking. If you're feeling confident and want to rise up the ranks fast, you can start fighting people two or three levels above you, but for a more gradual increase in difficulty, fight people close to your level.
Tekken 6's biggest fault doesn't lie in the haphazard character designs or in its broken Arcade mode, though: the real problem is that the series really changed much at all in years. So many of the characters look very similar to how they did in the past (and Tekken 6's additions like costume parts that take forever to unlock don't really help), but they also fight like they have for years. Now, I'm no high-level master of the game so I'm sure that pro players will disagree, but for most players, the Tekken of today isn't that different from the Tekken of almost a decade ago - aside from a beefed-up roster, of course. Where Street Fighter and Soul Calibur have added new combo/counter systems and even full character creation, Tekken has stagnated. Its lack of presence at major fighting game tournaments like Evo also demonstrates the notion that today's gamers just don't care much about Tekken. For the sequel, I think it's time for Namco to reboot the series and start fresh.
Tekken 6's arcade mode feels like a failure to me (not that I was interested in the goofy stories the developers set up for the characters), but the Ghost mode and ad-hoc multiplayer modes are both winners, and that's enough to keep the game interesting for quite a while. Sure, there's no internet-based play and no game sharing, so the only way to play against someone on PSP is to find someone near you who also has a copy of the game. I don't blame Namco for this so much, though, because until the advent of the GGPO networking system adapted for use in Capcom's recent online-enabled fighting games, there simply wasn't a great solution for mostly lag-free fighting. Capcom now has the exclusive use of that networking code while everyone else is left to either use old networking systems or simply try and imitate, and it doesn't seem like Namco is even close to catching up yet.
The Tekken series of fighting games went a little off the deep end years ago and hasn't really improved the situation with recent revisions, but they do know how to make a slick PSP port with incredible graphics and smooth gameplay. With its roster peppered with completely ridiculous characters and mind-bogglingly goofy stories, it's tough taking this game seriously - but it seems pretty clear that Namco never expected people to. The arcade mode is a bust, but the Ghost mode should offer plenty of deep challenge for players of just about all skill levels. If you've already played Dark Resurrection to death, then you might want to skip this, but any PSP fighting fan who hasn't seen Tekken in all its portable glory should pick this one up.