I am a huge Tekken fan and I am happy to be able to say that Namco cleaned up its act after the disappointing Tekken 4 and has once again taken this series to the top of the 3D fighting genre. Tekken 5 is pure polished greatness that will have fighting game fans hooked for weeks. It tweaks the already great Tekken gameplay and even borrows a few features from the competition to create something brilliant that is at the same time new and fresh, but still very familiar. 3D fighting fans are in for a treat with Tekken 5.
Tekken 5 is successful for a number of reasons. The first and most important reason is that the gameplay is pretty much flawless. Tekken uses a control scheme where the four face buttons on the Dual Shock each control one of your fighter's limbs; you can execute moves from high, medium, and low positions. Throws are performed by combining two attack buttons when you are close to your opponent. That is basically it. There are some defensive moves such as reversals, parries, and evasion moves, but for the most part Tekken 5 is an easy game to pick up. Don't be fooled by the simple controls, though, each character has dozens of moves and different styles you can switch in and out of on the fly. In any given situation you have a ton of different attacks and combinations you can use and the result is a game where you never feel overpowered or overwhelmed. And the best part of all of this is that it is incredibly easy to learn.
The timing is far more forgivable than in Virtua Fighter 4 and you don't have to spend days learning every move in the game. Button mashers can be quite competitive thanks to this kinder, gentler style of gameplay. But you know what? I would rather have a fighter that is easy for anyone and everyone to pick up and play than something that only elite players can really enjoy. Virtua Fighter 4 is still the deepest fighter around but Tekken 5 is definitely more fun. The only other game that can match Tekken 5 in terms of balance and accessibility is Namco's other 5 star 3D fighter Soul Calibur II. Between you and me, I'm starting to think that those folks at Namco must know what they are doing.
Another reason why Tekken 5 works so well is that it has a huge roster of characters that are easy to love. There are more than thirty characters in Tekken 5 - including fan favorites that haven't been around for a few years - and a handful of new characters. Every character oozes personality and you really get attached to them; they are interesting, and since the gameplay is so accessible you can actually learn to use every character in the game well enough to become attached to know the whole cast. Playing a new Tekken game is like meeting up with a bunch of old friends, and that's something that I don't really feel from other fighting games these days. You've got the ass kicking, pogo sticking, samuraibot Yoshimitsu. Cheapo #$@*&! Paul. Cute little Xiaoyu. Marshall "Bruce Lee" Law. Even Eddie freaking Gordo. There's even a bear, a kangaroo, and a wooden ? thing. It is easy to just stick a couple of fighters in an arena and have them duke it out, but the whole experience becomes a whole lot more fun and interesting when they are characters you know and care about. The Tekken series, and especially Tekken 5, does this better than pretty much anyone olse.
Tekken 5 does something else right. It is a huge game and very feature rich. Game modes include a story mode, where you clear a handful of stages in order to view a CG ending for each character. Arcade mode is similar to Virtua Fighter 4's Kumite mode where you fight AI (or human) opponents of various skill levels and attempt to move up in the rankings. Devil Within mode is T5's version of Tekken Force, which has appeared in past Tekken games, and this time you take Jin Kazama through a 3D beat-em-up. You get to use his fancy demon powers. There are also time attack, vs. survival, and practice modes available. Playing through the various modes earns you money that you can spend in a special character customization mode. Once again borrowing heavily from VF4, you can now customize characters with various accessories, buy new outfits, change colors, and more.
One of the coolest modes, though, is called Arcade History mode. Since this is the tenth anniversary of the Tekken series, Namco saw fit to celebrate in a big way by giving gamers the chance to revisit the previous games in the series. The full arcade versions of Tekken, Tekken 2, and Tekken 3 are available to play whenever you want, which is probably the greatest bonus that has ever appeared in a videogame. The visuals don't quite hold up, but the gameplay in T2 and T3 does. These games are still a blast to play. It is a great way to see just how far the Tekken series - and all videogames - have come in just the last few years. It is also a great way to really feel like you are getting some serious bang for your Tekken 5 buck. Namco also included the classic shooter Starblade for a nice change of pace. Definitely good times to be had in Arcade History mode and it rounds out an already excellent game with a ton of extra content.
I do have a couple of minor complaints with Tekken 5. There isn't any online play and that definitely hurts T5 when you compare it to Dead or Alive Ultimate or Mortal Kombat: Deception. The wealth of single and multiplayer modes help ease the pain and the gameplay in T5 is better than those other games, but an online mode would have surely solidified Tekken 5's place atop the genre for a long time to come. My one other complaint is that the final boss in story mode is the cheapest, worst boss in any fighting game ever. He can stun you so you can't attack and he can shoot fireballs that take ¾ of your health away at will. Not cool. It does make you try different strategies in order to beat him, but when you have to try ten, twenty, even fifty times to beat him it gets a little annoying.
Graphically, Tekken 5 is one of the most impressive looking games on the PS2. Everything is incredibly smooth and perfect and there is no sign of PS2 jagginess or flashing. Characters are incredibly detailed and feature some of the smoothest animation in any fighting game. The game moves at a quick framerate with no slowdown even when there are a lot of special effects on screen. It is amazing that these type of visuals are being produced by the PS2. Even better is that you can play the game in progressive scan mode (provided your TV can display it, of course) and the game looks even more gorgeous. Namco really outdid themselves with the graphics here.
The sound is also very good. Sound effects for the punches and kicks are solid and painful sounding, which really helps seal the deal on the whole package. There is quite a bit of dialogue in the game and all of it sounds very good. Each character speaks in their native language, which is a nice touch, and even the animals roar and growl. The music is catchy and appropriate and you can't really ask much more from music in a fighting game. All in all, this is one great looking and sounding game.
The 3D fighting genre is becoming increasingly crowded with enjoyable titles, but Namco's fighters still stand head and shoulders above the rest. Just like Soul Calibur II, Tekken 5 is fast, smooth, and fun and is accessible enough that fighting newbies can enjoy it just as much as veterans. Multiplayer makes up about 80% of your playtime with any given fighter and Tekken 5 is a game that anyone and everyone can pick up and be competitive with, which is definitely a good thing. Not only does it play great, but Tekken 5 is also one of the best looking games on the PS2. A lot of time and care and effort went into making this the best looking and best playing 3D fighter on the market, and it really shows. If you are already a Tekken fan you'll definitely love it, but all fighting fans should give T5 a shot. Even if you aren't a big fighting game fan, Tekken 5 looks and plays well enough that it just might change your mind. Rent it first if you must, but I think Tekken 5 is worth a purchase.