I would like to tell you that Tekken 5 is awesome.
Like most of the critics on the Internet, I would like to go on and on about how it returns the Tekken series to greatness after the aberration that was Tekken 4. Honestly, I would.
Between me and my goal, however, is a giant brick wall called Jinpachi Mishima.
I've been playing fighting games for damned near fifteen years, and I have never seen a boss character as stupidly overpowered and cheap as Jinpachi Mishima, the final boss of Tekken 5's story mode. He's a giant fiery demon from hell, tossing around unblockable fireballs and stun traps like he got lost on his way to a King of Fighters game. Beating him is not a matter of skill, but of dumb luck and AI stupidity.
The rest of Tekken 5, fortunately, is great. Whatever intangible X-factor ruined Tekken 4--I know something important was missing from that game, but I'll be damned if I could tell you what--is back in full force in Tekken 5.
The best way to describe the game is two steps forward, one step back. When I first picked it up, it felt like 1999 all over again, when half the world was playing Tekken 3 in their dorms. The cast is huge, varied, and surprisingly retro, with several fighters making an unexpected return from Tekken 2 or 3, sometimes despite being dead.
If you've played a Tekken game before, and most PlayStation owners have, you'll be on comfortable and familiar ground here. In many ways, it's still the same 3D action you've grown to love (and/or tolerate) over the years, with a cast of master martial artists (and the odd kung-fu mammal) slugging it out for tournament dominance. At the same time, if you aren't a fan of Tekken, this isn't going to be the game that changes your mind.
Tekken 5 starts about a minute after the fourth game ended, in the wake of Jin Kazama's explosive departure from Honmaru. No sooner has he left, than an unknown agency launches several dozen attack droids into the temple, in an attempt to assassinate Heihachi and Kazuya Mishima. Kazuya betrays his father, and Heihachi is seemingly killed in the ensuing explosion.
Two months later, despite the death of its CEO, the Mishima Zaibatsu announces the King of Iron Fist Tournament 5, with the usual prize: control of the corporation.
The gameplay in Tekken 5 feels like two steps forward, one step back. The way it handles walls and its ground game is new; they've cleaned up the wall-related glitches from Tekken 4, and it's a lot easier to land pursuit moves. Tekken 5, as a result, is a faster-paced, higher-risk game than its predecessors. With many characters, one good combo at the right time can win the match.
Namco always goes nuts on extras for its fighting games, and Tekken 5's no exception. It boasts the usual modes you expect in a fighting game: story mode, survival, time attack, and team battle. You can also take on a friend or a variety of computer opponents in the theoretically infinite Arcade mode, which rewards you for each win with promotion chances, and thus bragging rights, or money to spend on customizing your characters.
That option is one of the most perversely addictive parts of Tekken 5. With the cash you earn in arcade mode, or by winning story mode, you can change each character's outfits' colors, buy them new accessories, or, in a few cases, entirely new outfits. The customization options are a little limited, and there doesn't seem to be any way to import your custom characters from one memory card to another, but it's fun to play around with. There's something to be said for any game that will nonchalantly allow you to make all the fighters look like total morons. (My Marshall Law looks like he stepped out of the Beastie Boys' video for "Sabotage." It's awesome.)
Speaking of looking like morons (how's that for an awesome segue?), Namco's also included the arcade versions of the first three Tekken games in Tekken 5, available from the start. All three games are arcade-perfect, right down to not being able to pause, with all the characters unlocked. It's hard to go back to the older games once you're used to Tekken 5, but it's still a great extra. My friends and I have probably put as much time into Tekken 3 as we have into 5.
If Tekken 5 can be said to have a serious flaw, it's a lack of one-player action. Jinpachi has a habit of sucking the fun out of story mode, the arcade mode gets monotonous fast, and Devil Within is a waste of time.
With friends, though, this is a great party game in a tradition of great party games. With a couple of dozen characters to master, tons of action, great music, amazingly good graphics (why the hell didn't Soul Calibur II look this good on the PS2?), three extra Tekken games, and the character customization mode, Tekken 5 gives you a lot of value for your money.
It's a worthwhile addition to any fighting fan's game library. I just wish Jinpachi wasn't in it.