The star-nosed mole may be one of the most grotesque creatures on the planet, but it's also said to be the one with the fastest reflexes, taking an astonishing 230 milliseconds to snatch and swallow its prey. That's quick – even if you don't blink, you won't see it.
And that's the kind of reaction time you'll feel you need when you first play Tekken: Dark Resurrection.
The basic controls are simple enough: just four buttons, each corresponding to your (gorgeously animated) pugilist's four limbs. Strings and combinations of these create fighting combos – the cornerstone of any self-respecting beat-'em-up – which often also incorporate the eight-way directional input from either the D-pad or analogue nub. Learning a character's simple punch and kick combos is quickly done, and even the longer sequences are memorised without exhausting too many neurons.
Matching the timing required to unleash them, however, is another matter. The speed at which your thumb is required to move around the PSP's four face buttons, even for some of the staple combos, will initially seem inhuman. You'll stumble in the game's Practice mode, repeatedly failing to match the tempo necessary for the sequence of buttons to work and wondering why your thickest digit suddenly feels as sluggish as a Cumberland sausage.
Well, there's a reason why, say, Shaolin monks spend most of their waking hours practicing their skills. And while you're unlikely to emerge able to backwards somersault while deftly eviscerating opponents with tiger hooks, the longer you spend repeating Tekken's moves, the more manageable they become.
Proficiency is necessary because you won't get very far without it. Sure, initial one-on-one, best-of-two-round encounters against computer-controlled opponents in any of the 19 glorious environments are effortlessly dealt with, but success with basic moves and frantic button bashing is limited.
You won't, for instance, get to see the cut-scene detailing the conclusion of each of the 30-plus characters' personal journey in Story mode; you're unlikely to improve your rank status in Arcade or sample the higher challenges that await in the game's Dojo section; you can forget about trying out the Survival and Time Attack modes; and you certainly won't last long against a decent human adversary via the ad hoc or gameshare features.
Improving your fighting skill isn't simply an ego-boosting exercise, though. There is prize money to be won from defeating opponents, which in turn can be spent to customise your character – anything from new clothing to enhancing your aura to special items such as strapping a fish onto your back. The diversity of objects is quite striking and you'll most likely run out of money before slaking your consumerist urges.
But, ultimately, the ability to personalise your Tekken experience inevitably comes lower down the punching order than the quality of the brawling itself. Pleasingly, as with the rest of this production, this is first class.
Though many of the 30-odd fighters share core techniques, there's still a decent variety of wildly different styles to choose from, and the vast number of combos ensures mastering any of the characters will take considerable time. Crucially, this is both rewarding and thrilling – combat is quick, fluid, and tough encounters produce endless tension-filled, do-or-die moments.
So it's frustrating to report things aren't always as responsive as they could be. To be fair, it's not the game's fault – both the PSP's D-pad and analogue nub fail to offer the accuracy required for consistent play – and neither is it a frequent occurrence but it nevertheless affects the experience. It may be the game's only real criticism but it's one that can't be ignored.
One thing you can disregard is the on-going notion that the core combat system itself is flawed. Fighting aficionados have long argued the Tekken series offers a more limited method than its rivals, claiming the long combos lock you in a preset, rote-learnt sequence, offering little scope for the more organic based play of something like the Street Fighter II games.
Yet, saying so is to risk being as shortsighted as the star-nosed mole. Tekken merely represents an alternative fighting experience, and one that when suitably learnt can easily be played with as much or as little freedom as a player requires. Any critic prepared to surface from their dark, dingy hole of misconception will find Dark Resurrection instantly accessible, thoroughly vibrant and immensely entertaining.Tekken: Dark Resurrection is released on September 15th.