Publisher: Namco Bandai
Developer: Namco Bandai
Release Date: July 25, 2006
The King of Iron Fist Tournament has never been quite so much fun, or portable, as it is with the release of Tekken: Dark Resurrection for the PSP. Tekken has been a flagship title for Namco for the past decade, serving as the quintessential arcade fighter. Thankfully, hardware has evolved from heavy, non-portable gaming cabinets to home consoles, and now, gamers can take the arcade experience with them – all that's needed are a couple of PSPs and a copy of Tekken: DR.
When I first heard Tekken: DR announced as a PSP title, I did a double-take, thinking that perhaps that second "P" had been confused with the number "2." I had known the PSP had capabilities close to the PS2, but I honestly did not believe it to be possible to take a title as gorgeous or complex as Tekken 5 and run it on a handheld without bastardizing the game in some way. Namco has succeeded on all counts, and even seeing the game running in the palm of my hands, I still find it hard to believe that they could pull off such a perfect port. It isn't pushing quite as many polygons as its big-cabinet brethren, the textures aren't quite a spot-on match, and even the lighting isn't quite as dynamic, but these are nitpicks. Given the size and resolution of the PSP's screen, you'd be hard-pressed to spot many flaws when actually playing the game. The overall effect is that Tekken: DR is the game that will set the bar for the graphical capability of PSP titles in the near future.
Load times are manageable, usually taking only a few seconds between each match (10 seconds max), and it even manages to incorporate the game sharing ability of the PSP. Players can fight each other with only one copy of the game and two PSPs; it only takes a minute to transfer the necessary information between two systems to play over wi-fi. Once the initial transfer has been completed, the game becomes playable for as long as the two PSPs are in communication with each other.
As with most updates to a fighting game franchise, Tekken: DR boasts two brand-new characters and the return of an old favorite. Armor King, thought dead at the hands of Craig Marduk prior to the start of Tekken 4, has somehow returned, bringing with him a flashier and more brawling-oriented style of Mexican Lucha Libre than his counterpart King. Lili is a spoiled rich girl with a penchant for street fighting, and Dragunov is a silent Russian military commander who fights using a style based off of Sambo wrestling.
Multiplayer works quite well over the ad-hoc wi-fi, although occasional lag can be irritating. The game runs smooth enough most of the time, so it's not a huge problem for casual fun, although I can imagine that it can make running tournaments quite difficult. Connecting two PSPs is a breeze, and again, load times are surprisingly low, especially if both players have their own copies of the game.
When a friend with another PSP isn't readily accessible, the game offers a multitude of single-player options. Each character has a story mode, which begins with a short narrative of why the character is entering the tournament, has a few in-game cut scenes before selected fights, and ends with a beautifully rendered CG clip. Standard arcade mode is of course present, along with a handy practice mode, where players can hone their juggling skills and learn all of the moves for their characters.
The most interesting new mode is Tekken Dojo, in which characters fight through a series of battles against "ghosts" at various dojos on an island, gaining experience, money, and ranks along the way. The ghosts come from a ghost-recording system, in which the game will attempt to learn a player's favorite moves and juggles and create a "clone" of the way the character is played. This isn't perfect by a long shot; the fighting ability of the ghost is mostly tied to rank and the basic game AI. At most, it may perform favored moves more often than usual, but it's still a cool feature and spices up fights against the computer AI. Even better is that ghosts can be traded between PSPs, and entire Ghost Packs uploaded to Namco's central site over the internet can be downloaded to your PSP to provide a variety of opponents to fight in Dojo mode.
Earning money to customize characters is nothing new to the series; Tekken 5 first started doing this at the arcade well over a year ago, but Tekken: DR simply has more items to buy than ever before. While none of these items have any effect on how your character fights (only your skills can do that), they do allow for a wide range of customizations which let you personalize your favorite characters. Money is earned at the end of every fight, but with the sheer number of unlockable items in the game, it should take even the most diehard collector a while to earn it all.
The sound is also quite impressive and very reminiscent of the arcade versions, although it's hard to tell given the size of the PSP's internal speakers. A good pair of headphones goes a long way towards making the aural experience match the visual one. A theater mode is included, which lets you sample any of the background music tracks at your leisure, although why you'd want to when you could instead be fighting to the music is beyond me.
The biggest problem with the game really isn't a fault with the game itself; the PSP's d-pad was designed by people who apparently have never played a fighting game before. Considering the popularity of PS and PS2 controllers for playing fighters in the past, I was surprised to find just how poorly the d-pad on the PSP, which looks almost exactly like a PS2 d-pad, performed. Diagonals are almost non-existent, and the pad is so insensitive that playing the game for any length of time is a true thumb workout. This problem can be alleviated somewhat by attaching a special accessory on top of the PSP's d-pad, which makes the controls much more reasonable. In Asia, retail copies of the game come with the d-pad attachment, but if you live elsewhere, you may need to pick one up through other means. Another option, which I personally can attest to as working, is to use some duct tape and a hole punch to mod the d-pad internally – just understand that you void your warranty if you open up your PSP.
With solid gameplay, the best graphics to date, and enough unlockable items to keep those "gotta catch' em all" types busy for months, Tekken: Dark Resurrection is a must-have title for the PSP. Multiplayer over wi-fi is a lot of fun and doesn't even require that everyone own the game. The only thing lacking here is an internet multiplayer mode, but it would have been a true miracle if they had pulled it off using the current technology. Multiplayer over the internet, although intriguing, is still a pipedream at this point; lag is death for fighting games, and it's not going away any time soon. Dark Resurrection is simply is the best portable fighting game ever made, hands down.
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