a review of Tekken 6
a videogame developed by namco
and published by bandai-namco games
for java, the arcades, the microsoft xbox 360, the sony playstation 3 computer entertainment system and the sony playstation portable
text by tim rogers
I’m not going to lie to you: I haven’t actually played this game more than five minutes. I have, however, stopped at the arcade once every night for the past few months and ended up staring — for just a few moments — at fully-grown men with illustrious cigarette habits and mortal reasons for staring at this game until their wives are deep in dreamless sleep. The arcade of which I speak is a Namco-owned joint three seconds walking distance from the exit of the Seiyu supermarket in Ogikubo where I stop every night to buy okra and orange paprikas with which to cook life-fulfilling vegan fried rice. (That food reference there is for the kids. Every good game review should have one!) I enter this arcade for the same reason I enter the flower shop in the basement of Ogikubo Station: because the winter in Tokyo is a cold bitch ballroom dancing with a cold bastard. The company where I work is amazingly located on the top floor of the same building as a Tokyo Metro Marunouchi Line subway station; I take the elevator downstairs, walk onto the train with expert timing, and then get off not five minutes later in the deep underground of Ogikubo, the town where I proudly live. While many grown men dash up the escalator and eagerly into the freezing cold, I enter the Aoyama Flower Shop, which opens into the food basement of a Lumine department store; I track past the bagel shop and the rice shop and the custom-made tofu shop, through the international grocery (where I sometimes buy red onions), and through a winding passageway into the basement of the Town Seven building. I hold my breath as I walk past a fish market, glare at the amazingly good-looking girl who for some reason nonchalantly shouts “Good morning” or “Good evening” to passersby of a tangerine stand literally from the minute I leave for work on the morning to literally the minute I show up in the evening with my iPod headphones blasting math rock into my ears. Past the vegetble market, I slip through a passage into the Seiyu basement, grab a paprika and a mesh bag of okra, and then hop on the escalator upstairs. If I need eggs, or skim milk, I buy one of these things. If I’m out of brown rice, I buy some of that, too. Eventually, I’m at the register. I pay the money and head for the automatic doors, bracing myself for the blast of cold. The doors veen open, and there I am, outside, in the future. The year 2008. The second year in history the name of which has sounded like The Future. Not three seconds’ walking distance from the Seiyu door is the automatic door of abovementioned arcade. I plunge in, plastic grocery bags in hand. There I am, in a Japanese arcade. And there they are — the arcade denizens, the life-living human beings whose transit every night brings them here.
Make no bones about it: I enter this arcade every night because it is large, heated, and has two exits. The rear exit is close to the Seiyu supermarket exit; the front exit stands at the precipice of a crosswalk. I linger by that entrance — thankfully, a push-button-operated auto door, for maximum heating efficiency — until the light turns green; I sprint out the door, across the street, and down the famed Ogikubo Church Avenue shopping street, past the Seventh Day Adventist church and the Seventh Day Adventist Hospital, and right into my apartment door. Much as I like living next door to a Seventh Day Adventist Hospital in theory, it’s kind of useless if I actually get sick; they’d probably shrug and deny me treatment for one of my frequent ear infections because “Jesus is coming to claim our souls next week, anyway”.
While standing by the arcade door, I often catch reflections of Tekken 6 in the glass. Sometimes, I groan so much I fog the glass up, and then I can’t see Tekken 6 anymore, until I write “PENIS” in the fog and then I can see Tekken 6 again, inside the letters.
The point of all the writing in this piece, up until now (and it pains me to have to spell this out), is that I can cover four city blocks of distance by navigating commercialism-packed underground tunnels, and that the ten minutes I spend in the grocery store picking vegetables and waiting in line make me long for home; if only the men who got snared by the Namco arcade in Ogikubo, too, had spent ten minutes in the grocery store, they’d probably not consider it such a good idea to sit down and play Tekken 6. They’d probably get home sooner, maybe before eight PM. If they spend just ten minutes playing Tekken 6, that can interrupt their schedule to the point that it’s later than eight PM, so that they don’t feel like cooking when they get home. They’ll instead settle for some nasty cup ramen at a convenient store, and be unable to shave the next morning because of the pimples that popped up on their chin while they slept. They’ll go in to the office the next morning looking like an oily, vinegar-blooded scruff, and their chances of sexxing the secretary will further approach the floor.
NOW I’M GOING TO ACTUALLY REVIEW TEKKEN 6
Nope, just kidding! If you came to this website because you really want to read an IGN-style “fair” “review” of Tekken 6, I’d prefer it if you went somewhere else!
Tekken 6 is a blow job from a bear trap. Arcades “survived” in Japan for the most arbitrary of reasons — that they’re placed on top real-estate close to train stations; arcades “died” in America because you have to drive out of your way to go there. FPSes are popular in America because people craving person-on-person competition can get some action from the comfort of their own home (in other words, without having to drive thirty-minutes out of their way to an arcade); FPSes are not popular in Japan because anyone craving person-on-person gaming competition can get some from an arcade three minutes’ walk from their local grocery store. While there surely exist established games that Japanese arcade gamers will go out of their way to experience at a particular arcade (Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike, for example), something like Tekken 6 is a conniving trap built by a conniving hack developer.
The idea to review Tekken 6 first came to me last night, as I waited in front of the glass at the Namco arcade in Ogikubo. Somehow, the glass wouldn’t fog up (might spring be coming?), so I gravitated toward the gorgeous LCD cabinets, commonplace since the rolling-out of Virtua Fighter 5 in 2006. At the arcade in Ogikubo, they’ve got two sets of eight machines, set up in two islands of four back-to-back pairs. As with any just about any fighting game in existence at the moment, you can purchase a member card to save your profile. It saves your win / loss record and whatever frighteningly gaudy costume items (clown wigs, gardening hats, novelty sunglasses) you’ve won and slapped onto your character.
The inherent problem with the card system is that all you have to do is glance at the corners of the screen on multiple machines for about five scientist-like minutes to realize how shattered this game is with regard to execution. I remember back when Tekken 3 was new — and for PlayStation! — and people dared to complain that Eddie Gordo was a “button-mashing character”, and that “anyone could win” with him. No one seemed to know that he was, indeed, the future of the series. Yeah — back then, the series that would become SoulCalibur was a history-based, slow-paced fighting game with excellent experimental music. Now we have Tekken 6, where the win/loss ratios in the corner of every machine I’ve encountered in the past twenty-four hours display the most frightening statistical anomaly: namely, that every player is roughly winning 50% of the time and losing 50% of the time. I would have tried to take pictures of the screens if Japanese arcade employees weren’t such nazis — the last time I even tried to write an email on my cellular phone in a Japanese arcade, I got my arm grabbed by a guy who yelled “NO FOTO!” so many times that the guy at the front desk started yelling it, too, making a big “X” with his hands.
If you ask me, they probably shouldn’t display the win/loss records at all times on the screen for Tekken 6. They should probably display the records at the beginning and end of the match only. In addition to making the game look sloppy, it also reveals to any passersby (especially girls) how much money each player has spent on the game. I swear, there are guys at the local arcade with something like 540 wins and 540 losses. Apply a little first-year algebra and you can discover that people are spending a decent chunk of change on this game. And for what? The chances of winning or losing are so even, like craps, which has a 51% chance of “winning” a roll, though Tekken 6 doesn’t give you money when you win. Rather, your only incentive for blasting forward in this jungle of shiny filth is the rare chance to win a “prize” at the end of a match. Insert your card — and a hundred yen — into a standalone machine, and you can configure your character to look like a complete jackass.
Virtua Fighter 4 Evolution championed the winnable items feature, only it was sure to make each winnable item somewhat stylish. Glancing at Tekken 6 monitors, you can almost imagine the PowerPoint presentation that set this disaster into motion. I have a serious hunch that some liver-spotted gray-skinned old joy-hating, coal-tar-stuffting cocklord actually used the words “Quantity over Quality”: last night, I saw Jin Kazama, the “main character” of the series (I think), dressed in black overalls, army boots, aviator sunglasses, a rainbow-colored clown wig, a giant broad straw farmer’s hat, and . . . a duffel bag full of rakes and hoes on his back. What the heck? Did they pass a memo around the office, asking everyone to think of ideas for winnable items, and some guy wrote, “My wife’s sister likes gardening, so how about a bag of rakes and hoes?” The boss snapped his fingers and said “Promotion!” And the guy said, “Really?” And the boss said “Hell no!” And then they put the rakes and hoes in there anyway. Because why not? They’ve got a quota to fill.
Whether the winnable items are tacky because they’re tacky or tacky because they disrupt the otherwise rigorously established aesthetic flow of the character designs is a tough call to make; luckily, I only missed one question on my California State DMV written test (“Which of the following is not a penalty for fleeing when requested to stop by a highway patrol officer?”), so I must at least not be mentally &^#$#ed. I’ll take a stab: everything about this game is hideous, from the sawmill drum machine and overdriven guitar soundtrack (I say this as someone who can tell when such music is good) right down to the convoluted labyrinth of a “story”.
Who knows what the hell is happening in the way of a “plot” in the Tekken series. It’s perhaps the only videogame that Uwe Boll could make better with a film adaptation. There’s an old guy with Batman-like hair, named Heihachi, who is supposedly evil, Japanese, and a billionaire. He may or may not be an artist’s rendition of the overlapped resume photographs of all the executive members of Namco. He has a son, and apparently he was also married, at some point, to a girl like forty years younger than him. Apparently, there’s something like a thirty-year time lapse between Tekken 2 and Tekken 3, during which the younger girl gets a little older, her son by the evil man is born and grows into the Main Character from a Japanese Fighting Game, and the Chinese man who looks like Fei Long — the Chinese man from Super Street Fighter II who looks like Bruce Lee — now has a son, who resembles his father down to the polygon, which is to say he still looks exactly like the guy from Super Street Fighter II who looks like Bruce Lee. Of course, the father is still playable — he just has gray hair now. The son is, of course, like the father, with a tweaked move set. I remember his CG ending — the CG endings were the selling-point of the PlayStation ports — in Tekken 3, where he’s practicing somersault kicks with his dad while the fat and muscular grotesquely bearded guy in a karate gi with a two-foot high flat-top and ridiculous sideburns stands by and guffaws for some reason. Tekken 4 was declared an abysmal failure even by Tekken fans, so I’m not even going to look it up on Wikipedia; my only experience with the game involved walk into a friend’s house for five minutes and realizing that the hideous guy with the &^#$#ed flat top is still in it. Tekken 5 opens with a computer-animated cut-scene that begins with white text on a black screen declaring “HEIHACHI MISHIMA IS DEAD“, though of course if you play the game enough it’s all like “JK DUDE LOL”, and then it’s like “HEIHACHI MISHIMA IS BACK“.
This is vintage Namco, the company who introduced a nice fighting game called Soul Edge to the world, changed the last word of the title and retooled it spectacularly for a sequel, which would tactically lack any of the emphasis on actual characters and story; when SoulCalibur was more popular than Soul Edge (called Soul Blade in America, because that sounds far more violent), they decided to call the next sequel SoulCalibur II. In Soul Calibur II, one of the “plot” lines concerns the death of the Greek Girl Character named Sophitia. Her sister Cassandra sets out to avenge her sister, though of course, since there are people who like Sophitia (the Microsoft Excel spreadsheets fail to conclude that Sophitia’s presence was not the reason Soul Calibur sold in the first place), they can’t just not put her into Soul Calibur II, so if you play enough — hey! There she is!
Also in Soul Calibur II, out of raw hope that someone, somewhere would buy all three console ports, Namco wedged in characters befitting of each of the available console’s personalities. the Xbox version got a Todd McFarlane approved Spawn; the Nintendo Gamecube version got a fetishistically modeled Link from The Legend of Zelda; The PlayStation 2 got Heihachi from Tekken, which was such a cop-out. In putting Spawn and Link into Soul Calibur II, Namco were announcing that they admired these characters and wanted to treat fans; in putting Heihachi into the PlayStation 2 port, they were basically saying that, yeah, we guess Tekken Tag Tournament was available for purchase at the launch of the PlayStation 2. Why not just put a Ridge Racer car in there as a playable character?
Witness another of the many faces of Namco: the conniving hacks who strive — real hard — to have a Ridge Racer game available on every game console on earth on the day of its launch, because so many people need to buy something.
With the straight-to-console Soul Calibur 3, Namco didn’t bother shoehorning in licensed characters. Instead, they put in a thoughtful character-creation mode, which ultimately didn’t quite deliver. Now SoulCalibur IV is on the horizon, and it stars hecking Darth Vader on the PlayStation 3 and Yoda on the Xbox 360. I’m not even going to try to say anything negative about that. (In fact, I’ll even say that I kinda want to play as Darth Vader, a little bit. Because, you know, what the hell.) With SoulCalibur II, they put Link, Spawn, and Heihachi on their respective console versions’ boxes. That didn’t seem like too much of a stretcher — I’m being very gentle here — though if they put Darth Vader or Yoda on the box of SoulCalibur IV, that’s pretty much the death knell. Even if Square- Enix announced a Lego Batman world for Kingdom Hearts III it wouldn’t be as despicable as Namco putting Yoda or Darth Vader on the box. Square-Enix — no, Square (let’s leave Enix out of this) — are lovable, pathos-dripping hacks. Namco are just palm-rubbing, lip-licking conniving hacks, standing out in front of the bar at two in the morning with a stack of fresh-from-Kinkos business cards in their inner jacket pocket, waiting for whatever girls are going to stumble out alone and drunk.
What, you really want to hear more about Tekken 6? What the heck is wrong with you?
What’s new in Tekken 6, you ask? Well, new characters, of course! Now, in addition to playing as a hideous man with sideburns and a flat top, a now-fully-restored and alive again Heihachi, and a Chinese guy who looks like Bruce Lee, you can also play as a disgusting, obese police officer man with a scraggly yellow beard, as though being overweight and in need of a shave wasn’t something many gamers should want to escape. Having said that, I suppose that a fat, bearded police officer is, probably, at least escapism for a quadriplegic. The two other new characters include a boyish girl (or girlish boy) with Final Fantasy-like hair and ornamental clothes. At a glance, s/he looks like a blond version of Eileen, a new character introduced in Virtua Fighter 5. The other new character is a Spanish bullfighter, and that’s where I blow the whistle: the other new character in Virtua Fighter 5 was a Mexican wrestler. That’s too much of a coincidence to pass up; besides, I know for a fact that many Japanese people don’t know the difference between a Mexican person and a Spanish person, and that most Japanese people are under the impression that anyone with a last name that ends in “Z” is probably either a bullfighter or a Mexican wrestler.
Other “fan favorites” return: characters that started as in-jokes, like the kangaroo, the grizzly bears, the panda bear, and a giant professional wrestler with a microscopic tiger head on his shoulders — continues into the present day for no fathomable reason other than “we own these characters, so we’re going to keep using them.”
In the interest of not being entirely negative, I’ll say that I’ve seen Tekken 5 and Tekken 6 running on adjacent cabinets (some players still “prefer” Tekken 5, I have surmised), and Tekken 6 definitely has better graphics. It’s more than marginal. The high-definition resolution does wonders. The bloom lighting is everywhere, and everything glows with a vaguely delicious plastic sheen.
Though you know what? It only ends up making the game look worse. Traipse through to the end of the single-player campaign and you’ll experience the latest in the Tekken series’ line of carnival-ride-like “Big Target” Brand final bosses. Tekken 5‘s towering Final Beast(*), shiny like pleather, an Egyptian tomb-god, wields what I think is a weapon-like tail. Hit him with an upward kick, and he spins in the air, end over end, somersaulting no less than twelve times before hitting the ground. Watching this sixteen-foot-tall character spin so helplessly, and at such mach speed, is vaguely like watching a &^#$# slowly lick layers of paint off the Mona Lisa.
In the interest of internet science, which I know full well is mostly made up, I plunged forward and played a match against a guy engaged in a pachinko-like battle against the final boss. I timed my press of the start button with the first frame of animation of what would have been the boss’s final deathblow. I imagine the guy on the other side of the cabinet, smoking like it was going out of style, had the most non-plussed expression on his face. He was playing with a card, a win/loss record of roughly 400/400, and as the flat-topped bastard; I picked theblond girl-like person and proceeded to destroy him in three straight rounds, by utilizing the sparse rhythm I learned from months of trying to play the drums, basic knowledge of How to Not Lose in Virtua Fighter 5, and the exact same sliding-step-forward-straight-punch move spammed over and over again whenever I saw an opening. It could be that I’m as genius a fighting game strategist as Kurt Cobain was a guitarist, though I’m pretty sure it mostly has to do with Tekken just being a stuffty game. Or maybe the guy just wanted to lose.
If you’ve spent three minutes looking at a Tekken game, you’ve no doubt seen it: a character takes a quick step forward, delivering a jab. A big, pixely orange burst pops forth at the point of impact, and the hit character’s body jerks forward, goes limp like a ragdoll, and then, in the space of a single frame of animation, pops completely horizontal, one leg raised slightly above the other, parallel to the ground, and hovering at his opponent’s waist-level. Then, utilizing the sense of rhythm that he might have learned from banging a pot before being punished by his mother twenty years prior, the player with the upper hand taps forward and punches again; the impact — with the horizontal man’s kneecap, roughly — snaps the horizontal character back into a vertical position, wherein his body jerks forward, goes limp, and then pops horizontal again. The player doing the punching repeats this vertical-horizontal-vertial popping process as many times as he can, until eventually the character’s horizontal body slams into the ground with a sound like a thousand bombs blowing up nine hundred and ninety-nine airports.
Then there’s The Issue. This is something that bothered me about Tekken 5 as well, though now, with the graphical upgrades in Tekken 6, I just can’t let it slide: the ground shatters whenever a character falls on his or her back. It doesn’t matter whether you’re dealing with sand, or snow, or marble: the ground will shatter. I have a scientific calculator right here (not really), and I can tell you that in order for a person to shatter marble with his or her back after falling over from a single punch to the chest, they’d need to be greater than or equal to nine hundred feet in height and moving no less than seven thousand miles per hour. The floor shatters, the fragments scatter into the air; if you aren’t blinking by now, you’ll notice as the fallen character bounces like a rubber ball that the part of the floor that had just shattered is still in pristine condition; the fragments finally fall, and then fade away.
To think, some people who don’t even think to shrug this off are complaining en masse about the crazy facial expressions in Street Fighter IV. For stuff’s sake, people — have you ever seen someone get punched in the stomach in real life? They usually don’t look too nonchalant about it! Street Fighter IV is carrying the torch forward from Street Fighter II, in which men (accurately) vomited on themselves when slam-kicked in the testicles. To not portray people in pain when they’re hit in a videogame is irresponsible; the shattering floors in Tekken are even worse.
With all the HDR lighting and high-definition textures on the floor surfaces, you’d figure that the development team would have made “cut this stuff out” a red-texted entry on their Action Item List. Think again! This is what they did in Tekken 5, so how dare anyone suggest they take it out of Tekken 6! The man who originally spoke that idea during a Tekken 5 planning meeting, during which “special move ideas” like “vomit into other character’s mouth” were written in careful, fine font on a dry erase board, though he was first reprimanded by the boss for not directly contributing to the “special move idea” discussion, now drives an actual mid-size car that cost between $12,000 and $16,000, which is a huge step up from the train he was riding to work every day before that. We must respect this working-class protagonist’s every day dream: the magic shatter-floors must return. Now we only have to wonder, if someone brings up the idea to put Indiana Jones in Tekken 7, will Namco executives buy him a box of gourmet chocolate-covered potato chips, or will they sue him for infringing on the SoulCalibur team’s ideas?
I’m not going to lie to you: I hate Tekken. I kind of hate Soul Calibur, too, though for purely different reasons. See, I hate Soul Calibur because I used to like it. With Soul Calibur III, in an attempt to appeal to people who yawned at Soul Calibur II, in an attempt to chase the dream that would see all people on earth, even people who spend $200 a month on hair-care products, playing SoulCalibur, they did hatefully uncool things to the character designs. My favorite character, Yunsung, as of Soul Calibur III, was dressed in what looked like a Halloween costume, with fluorescent green Adidas-looking shoes. It was around that point that I realized I didn’t like the series at all, that the only thing connecting me to it was that I had a few friends who were better at it than they were at Street Fighter III, which meant I got to play it and relax with people I knew pretty well. I loved the original — Soul Edge — because it was on PlayStation and it felt adventurous, with the instruction manual describing all the main characters’ heights as being around 5’5″ because, hey, that was huge back in the 16th century. Now they’ve grown up, and it’s all big hair and Limit Breaks. If I’m going to play these games alone — or, better yet, with someone I don’t know — I’m going to need to feel some human connection to the context, going in. Why not push the SoulCalibur team onto a Final Fantasy fighting game? Replace all the bland characters with their embarrassingly inflating football-shaped breasts and undercleavage with recognizable Final Fantasy characters, locations, and gloriously remixed music. The reason they don’t do this is simple; Keita Takahashi once told someone, who then told me, Namco refused to believe that he might have another game idea as good as Katamari Damacy, because “at Namco, the Tekken team makes Tekken, the Ridge Racer team makes Ridge Racer, the Ace Combat team makes Ace Combat.” Furthermore, though a Final Fantasy fighting game with a SoulCalibur engine is a definite money-printing license, Namco wouldn’t bother because they’d have to share that money with Square. Square wouldn’t bother because they’re already outsourcing a Final Fantasy fighting game, for PSP, even, and the conditions of their contract allow them to pretend that they made it themselves. In short, quality or creativity don’t matter to these people. And neither does money. It’s all about pride, about putting out your own thing and seeing how many numbers it can rack up, how long it stays there until the police or the sanitation workers haul it away.
And there sits Tekken 6, every day all of an eternity; the bear trap on the way home from work, pachinko for the men of the world who know gambling is wrong. Maybe the win/loss records are so even because literally half the time any given player just doesn’t want to win anymore. CONTINUE magazine, in their February, 2008 issue, named Tekken 6 as one of the worst games of 2007, right up there with Gran Turismo 5 Prologue and Namco’s The Idolm@ster. They derided The Idolm@ster for turning normal people into posers; they insinuate that no one who plays it actually wants to play it. These people who put down the money aren’t even convinced that anyone else considers the game worthwhile. Namco is simply riding the wave of “otaku”-awareness, and the players of disreputable bullstuff like The Idolm@ster merely seek to be “part of” something, even if it’s being part of some corporation’s attempt to cash in on loser-chic. The players laugh — in public, and on the internet — about how it might actually be funny to be pretending to like something, though eventually they fall into their own trap and actually start wondering if they might actually like it. This is how multiple personality disorders are born; Tekken is pretty much the same thing, only it’s about muscular dudes (and grizzly bears and pandas and kangaroos and dinosaurs) and grating stuff-rock instead of gyrating flat-chested little girls with wide-open, unblinking, face-sized eyes and terrifying pop numbers. Men plunk down money fatalistically, winning sometimes, losing sometimes, and when they walk away, they never look happy. And there’s me, waiting for the light outside to turn green, thinking about cooking dinner.
(* if you make this your band name, please credit me in your liner notes)
(* too-late disclaimer: if you already like tekken and claim to have some skill at it, that’s okay! no need to yell at me. i have so much respect for you; i’m not even kidding.)