It's hard to believe, but 2005 marks the 10th anniversary of Tekken. Tekken got its start in arcades, and then it saw release on the PlayStation, which was also unleashed in 1995 in many locations. Tekken was basically a clone of its coin-op self, which certainly wasn't a bad thing. When Tekken 2 arrived on the PlayStation nearly a year later, the stakes were raised with a new and in-depth practice mode to go along with a huge roster of 25 fighters and sweet CG endings for all of them. In 1998, Tekken 3 burst onto the scene with new fighters and new gameplay modes to add to the already-solid foundation that the popular arcade game had laid down. The release of Tekken Tag Tournament coincided with the launch of the PlayStation 2 and added the "tag team" element to Tekken 3's base gameplay—along with some fantastic visuals and a highly addictive bowling minigame. The one arguable misstep for the series occurred with Tekken 4, as some players didn't prefer the inclined or closed fighting areas and, frankly, the game felt like old hat.
Now, after 10 years and 5 games, Tekken 5 is upon us. Much like the very first Tekken on the PlayStation back in 1995, players don't have to idly wait while the game loads, as a playable version of Namco's coin-op rail shooter, Starblade, becomes active. While there are no secrets than can be unlocked while playing Starblade, it is a nice little diversion. Once players either finish the short level or press the Start button, Namco shows off its CG movie prowess once again by way of a very cool movie showing Heihachi and Kazuya fighting side-by-side against a wave of JACKs—only to have Kazuya bail and leave Heihachi to be dominated… and killed in a blast set off by the JACKs. Yes, Heihachi is dead… but there's still a King of Iron Fist Tournament to be had. Who's sponsoring it, though? The plot thickens…
Once the movie ends, players will see a pretty full menu of options. Story mode allows players to take fighters through a series of opponents in order to find out the fighter's story and motivations. As players take fighters through Story mode, sweet (and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny) CG movie endings run for each fighter and new fighters become available for play. By playing through the Story Mode, 29 of the 30 available fighters can eventually be unlocked… and each has his/her/its own story and CG movie to see. The roster has a mixture of returning characters from past games and a few new faces. That's depth.
Namco seems to have taken a cue from Sega's Virtua Fighter 4: Evolution and added rankings and prize money to the Arcade mode. While the rankings are merely for prestige, the prize money can be used to buy a variety of different items for each character in the game… ranging from hats and jewelry to completely new outfits. This mode isn't as deep as the one in Sega's game, but die-hard players will spend hours trying to attain the highest ranking possible and trying to deck out their favorite characters in different clothing and accessories.
The other mode of note here is the new Tekken Force-style minigame, The Devil Within. In this game, players assume the role of Jin Kazama as he infiltrates the G Corporation and finds out more about his devil gene. There's a lot of beat-‘em-up action to be had here, mixed in with a bit of elementary puzzle-solving and the occasional boss battle. There is a lock-on button that can be used to focus Jin's aggression on a particular character when he gets overwhelmed, but it's not overly necessary. There's not a ton of variety to the rooms from stage to stage, and it's not an overly deep mode to play, but as a minigame—and basically a diversion from the Tekken's standard play modes—it's fine.
When it comes down to the core of Tekken 5's fighting gameplay, it feels more like a throwback to Tekken 3 than a step forward from Tekken 4. That's not a bad thing, as Tekken 3 was so enjoyable. The character balance seems to be a bit more even now, as button-mashers will find it harder to win constantly, even with characters like Christie. Even playing against the CPU, players can find themselves down after only a few seconds if they don't have some sort of strategy and even a little patience. The final boss character in Story mode—Jinpachi Mishima—will test the mettle and patience of any Tekken player, regardless of experience… so be warned. The fighting areas in Tekken 5 are more open than in Tekken 4, although there are still walls which can lead to punishing combos if taken advantage of. There's a fair amount of juggling to be had here, too, for players that live by the in-air combo. There are new characters to be learned and there are new moves for returning characters, so a few trips to the always-educational Practice mode are suggested.
Visually, Tekken 5 is definitely a step forward for the series… especially on "aging" hardware. One fighting area, which takes place in a field at moonlight, will take your breath away when you see it. There's also environmental damage that takes place in each stage, as things can be broken and the ground can be cracked due to heavy impact from a fighter's falling body. The fighter models are quite detailed and animate ever-so-smoothly. There's never a hint of slowdown in the game, which is impressive considering the level of detail involved. As mentioned previously, the CG movies are simply stunning and need to be mentioned when talking about the game's visuals.
Tekken 5's music is some of the best in the series to date. It seems that a lot of influence was taken from games like Tekken 2 and Tekken Tag Tournament and it shows in more than a few of the in-game tracks. There's a definite variety in music styles, ranging from industrial to techno to choral. The sound effects are similar to what players have heard in the series to date, but there seems to be more bass, which adds to the impact. It's unfortunate that Namco didn't implement Dolby Pro-Logic II coding for a true surround effect, but unless you're a complete audiophile, the absence of Dolby won't bother you too much.
Tekken 5 restores any luster to the series that may have been lost with the mediocre reception of Tekken 4. Its full complement of fighters, sweet visuals, various modes of play, and hidden goodies will keep players coming back for months. Namco's inclusion of emulations of the first three Tekken arcade games certainly adds to the replay value, as does having a minigame like The Devil Within, which houses secrets of its own. After a down year for fighters in 2004, Tekken 5 raises the bar early on in 2005. Go get it. Now.