It seems hard to believe, but the Tekken series has been around for about a decade now. In that period, Tekken became one of the premier 3D fighting games in arcades, but its real fame was found at home. The PlayStation, and later the PlayStation 2, has been the Tekken series' stomping grounds for the past 10 years, and traditionally, the home versions have managed to outperform their impressive arcade counterparts. That grand tradition holds true in Tekken 5, which offers additional modes not found in the arcade original, but even more importantly, it offers fantastic 3D fighting and stunning visuals.
Tekken 5 sort of pretends that Tekken 4 never happened. The previous installment introduced a handful of position-change moves that weren't terribly well received. Tekken 5 takes a back-to-basics approach and removes those moves, making for a game that feels and plays more like the classic Tekken 3 did. The uneven floors you'd sometimes find in Tekken 4 are also gone. Some arenas do have walls, however, and you can still use these to set up some interesting combos. In short, Tekken 5 might not be a total reinvention of the series, but considering just how well it plays now, if Tekken had been rebuilt from the ground up it would likely have been a huge mistake. The fighting in Tekken 5 is some of the best fighting available in 3D or 2D, and its multiple levels of depth give beginners enough flashy moves to quickly feel comfortable playing it, while intermediate and expert players can dig deeper and deeper to find more interesting (and damaging) techniques.
The main single-player mode of play in Tekken 5 is the story mode. This mode takes you through a handful of fights, starting with some still frames and voice-over to help you understand what each individual fighter is fighting for. Along the way, you'll square off with some fighters that are tied to that story, giving you some pre- and post-fight dialogue. When you reach the story's conclusion, you are given some static screens with text and a full-fledged, prerendered ending for each character. Tekken's prerendered endings have always been one of the most memorable aspects of the series, and this collection of occasionally serious but often hilarious endings are among the series' best. It's a fun look at the characters that you don't normally get in the context of a fighting game, and helps give the impression that whoever made Tekken 5 must have had a lot of fun along the way.
Tekken 5 has many of the same character-customization options found in Virtua Fighter 4. You can alter most of the characters (the inability to customize the wooden training dummy Mokujin seems like a missed opportunity for comedy, though) using currency you earn as you keep playing. Some of the changes you can make are simple color tweaks to the characters' outfits, but you can also pick up accessories, such as sunglasses, necklaces, or a basket full of fish for kung-fu master Wang's back. Each character has unique customization options, and the options are different for each of a character's two primary costumes. Some characters also have a third costume that can be purchased, and some of these are just new outfits. Capoiera mistress Christie's third costume is an entirely different (though obviously familiar) character, who gets his own story mode intro and ending when selected.
The arcade mode is where you'll earn your gold, and it's sort of an endless arcade-style battle against the game's artificial intelligence. Much like Virtua Fighter 4 did before it, Tekken 5 pits you against AI players of different ranks that have actual ring names, as if they were based on actual players. As you play arcade mode, you'll rank up each individual character through multiple classes. The ring name and character rank stuff is neat, but it isn't implemented in a very user-friendly manner, as only one player per memory card can enter a name and track his or her player rank.
While you probably won't mistake Tekken 5's AI for another human being, the fighters do take on slightly different styles and are generally more competent than the average computer-controlled fighter. With five difficulty settings to choose from, fight fans of all skill levels should find something that tests their capabilities here. The strong AI helps make up for Tekken 5's lack of online play, but the lack of network support is still a disappointing omission, especially considering that Tekken 5 packs in pretty much everything else.
The character roster in Tekken 5 contains a great mix of old favorites, some of whom haven't been seen for years. The obvious entrants, like Kazuya, Paul, Law, Yoshimitsu, King, and Nina are present, and they're joined by other occasional players, like Bryan, Lei, Hwoarang, Bruce, Baek, Anna, Lee, and Xiaoyu. Tekken 4's new introductions, Steve, Marduk, and Christie are back, and three new characters make their first appearance here: Raven is a Wesley Snipes as Simon Phoenix-like assassin that combines powerful moves with shifty, tricky behavior, up to and including the ability to teleport in some moves; Asuka is a schoolgirl, and she's also a Kazama, making her Jin's cousin and a master of the Kazama style and similar (though definitely not identical) to Jun; Feng is an evil kenpo master that enters the tournament to find some sacred scrolls that the Mishima Zaibatsu controls. The roster is diverse and exciting and it hits all the bases. The new characters fit into the action very well, and the old characters have all received enough new moves and changes to feel fresh again, though not so many that the move list will feel unrecognizable.