Tekken 5

"My guy vs. your guy" gameplay has been around since the first video games, Spacewar and Pong. Their closest modern relative–the fighting genre–is a gameplay diaspora. Skills have become non-transferable between the games; a Virtua Fighter expert starts over when picking up Soul Calibur for the first time. Like show-dog judging, fighting-game comparisons have reached the point where experts argue entirely in jargon. Games get dissected down to frames of animation and compared at length over nebulous issues of balance and depth. But it doesn't take an AKC membership to like dogs, and it's easy to like Tekken 5–in dog terms, it has four legs, two eyes, a cold wet nose, a shiny coat, and all its teeth. It's friendly and eager to please. Loveable, even.

But though the Tekken series is easy to pick up and has always had great practice modes, commanding your fighter's full capabilities takes a lot of practice. The defensive options alone include escaping throw attempts, sidestepping, and parrying attacks. There are two different ways to guard, each vulnerable to one of the three attack types (low, medium, and high), and several ways just to get up after you've been knocked down.

Tekken 5 still makes a good effort at being accessible to newcomers, with lots of appealing characters, plus well-choreographed, visceral combat animations and effects. Hardcore and casual players alike are liable to appreciate the game's superlative graphics, imaginative locales, and smoothly animated characters. The game's between-fight load times are minimal enough to be imperceptible, which is amazing, given how great Tekken 5 looks and how much content is available.

Beyond the gameplay: The arcade versions of the first three Tekken games are accessible from the game's main menu. No unlocking required. Eventually, you can unlock Namco's 1991 arcade shooter classic Starblade as well.

Worth playing for: The sense of humor, which is much better executed and also more prevalent than in any other fighting-game series. The action itself only has the slightest comedic bent–even when you're playing as a kangaroo, your moveset acts as the straight man. But between fights and in the storyline itself, Tekken 5 refuses to take itself too seriously, a hallmark of the series.

Frustration sets in when: Trying to get an unfamiliar character through Story Mode can be brutal, even on the easy setting. "Easy" in this case should have the caveat "to a point."

Final judgment: Definitely a purebred. Anyone objecting to Tekken 5 will have to resort to shamanistic gameplay lingo to give their argument authority.

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