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Phenomenal – if I had to pick a word to describe Tekken: Dark Resurrection, phenomenal is the one I’d choose. It would have been enough to be the best fighting game on PSP, but this is a contender for the best PSP game, full stop. Simply being a great handheld incarnation of Tekken is an achievement, but this is one of the best Tekkens on any system. It’s a game that makes all the usual cheap PSP ports look not just weak, but pitifully lacking in ambition.
Of course, it has been built on some pretty damn solid foundations: the arcade update of the best Tekken of the last eight years, Tekken 5. After the disappointments of Tekken Tag Tournament and the misplaced formula fixing of Tekken 4, Tekken 5 showed the series getting back to what it did best, throwing out showy multi-layer arenas and treacherous ground surfaces to just give us two guys or girls in a ring, each armed with a cart-load of wince-inducing special moves. And this being Tekken, the characters and the moves were hard-hitting, varied and superb.
What’s so impressive about Tekken: Dark Resurrection is that it doesn’t feel like a watered down version of that Tekken 5 experience – in fact, you can safely argue that it’s been enhanced. You get a huge selection of play modes, and a vast range of over 30 characters to choose from, going all the way from old-school PSX-era heroes (Law, Nina, Yoshimitsu) through more recent additions (Christie, Bryan, Raven) to those weirdos that always creep out of the Tekken woodwork (Mokujin, Roger the Kangaroo). In a departure from usual form, all are available from the start, and Namco has even bundled in two new ones from the Dark Resurrection arcade game: Lili, a pampered princess with a taste for kicking ass, and Dragunov, a sinister pasty-faced Russian specialising in brutal high-powered combos. With minor exceptions, all are superbly balanced, and there’s such a wealth of options here that whether you favour power-combos, high-speed offense or sheer force, there will always be a handful of fighters to suit you.
Even better, Dark Resurrection doesn’t look like a watered down Tekken 5. In fact, it’s hard to imagine how Namco could have got closer to the arcade or PS2 versions given the hardware limitations of the PSP. Somehow, using texture and lighting effects to mask the handheld’s relatively low polygon count, the Tekken team have produced something that, even under fairly close inspection, looks fantastic. The characters are beautifully animated, with flowing hair and wonderfully-rendered costume details, and while some of the arenas are fairly plain, with little going on beyond the actual fighting area, others have the intricate, multi-layered backgrounds we’ve come to expect from Namco since Soul Calibur. There are sunlit gardens and ruined Buddhist temples, grimy urban spaces and weird pink love palaces, plus rocky platforms with waterfalls behind, and – best of all – a nightclub dancefloor surrounded by sexy bikini-clad dancers. And across the board, the lighting is as good as it gets on PSP.