Often, I think "surely we are now at Peak Character Customisation." The freaks and geeks of Saint's Row or Black Desert seem to have pushed things about as far as they can go without entirely breaking - a dizzying range of choice and absurdity, only hinted at in the days when we believed City of Heroes' dressing up tool was a revelation.
I never expected Tekken 7 [official site] - a fighting game, of all things - to be the game that made the joke funny all over again. From Sexy Skeletor to three-foot hair to Murderous Bird-Jocks to Regency Mech-Deer to Cath Kidston Badass, tailoring Tekken 7's brawlers is an absolute delight. It is also the real game.
One proviso before we get too celebratory here: many of Tekken 7's most gloriously ridiculous costume options are only available in the more expensive deluxe edition. If you're only in this for shits and giggles, as opposed to intense online competition or whatever, the $74.99/£59.98 pricetag, as opposed to the standard edition's £39.99/$49.99, is going to seem pretty steep. And that's a damn shame, as with all this weird and wonderful dress-up stuff, Tekken 7 becomes a game that transcends fighting game fandom - making the standard and deluxe edition one and the same would surely put it in whole lot more hands, not just those of the most dedicated fisticuff gonks.
So, with a slightly heavy heart at the inherent aspect of 'let me show what you're missing out on', let me show what you're missing out on. Edit - looks like I got that a bit wrong. Apparently the extra customisation options are primarily metallic-coloured variants of stuff available in both editions. Phew!
Mohawked metallo-man JACK has always been the absolute boy in Tekken as far as I'm concerned, so I'm happy to see him back in this new one - now as JACK-7 - but happier still to discover that I can make him even more ridiculous than he usually is.
Hazard-striped power-loader legs, a natty regency waistcoat and jacket in various shades of pink and purple and OH CHRIST a baby deer's head on top of it. JACK was always one of the most visually intimidating characters in Tekken, but this Mecha-Moreau creation should shit my opponents right up. The victory screens are particularly unsettling:
Onto Kuma next, one of the Tekken series two longstanding ursine fighters (the imaginatively-named Panda being the other; there used to be a kangaroo too, but he was removed for fear it would upset animal rights activists. All the bear-fighting and deer-men and bird-people and women who drag pet tigers onto the battlefield with them are a-ok though, apparently). I call this one Trump-branded Sex Dungeon Cyber-Bear With Butterfly Wings:
Jaguar-headed wrestler King, meanwhile, is transformed from feline to avian, his added baseball jacket making him look like some jock escapee from Hatoful Boyfriend.
Also he wears a large pizza on his back. This pizza can indeed be used to attack people.
Though the series now pursues an awkward blend of absurdity and ponderous, cod-mythic storytelling, Tekken began life as a fairly brazen 3D Streetfighter knock-off, and if there's one character sorely in need of mockery, it's blatant Ken/Guile hybrid Paul Phoenix. I went for the 'sacked Cbeebies presenter suffers public breakdown' look here...
...while a hulking new character named Gigas takes to the battlefield as Mecha-Santa's First Date:
And Akuma, a character this series now shares with Street Fighter, has decided to challenge the public perception of him as hellfire made flesh. You'll catch your death of cold, man:
Of course, you don't have to purse maximum absurdity. There are ton of options to make your character simply look cooler still, be it tweaking the outfit colour schemes to your heart's desire, slapping a load of awesome armour onto them, or, in the case of the to-a-one titillatingly-dressed women characters (a trope that has sadly always haunted this series), depicting them as the pure badasses they really are. Here's high-kicking series mainstay Nina, usually dressed in thigh-split dresses and stilletos, but now a ice-cool assassin who just happens to shop at Cath Kidston:
An alternative approach is to decide to own Tekken's tedious sexpottery. So out goes stocking-clad waif Lili, and in comes Sexy Skeletor.
Feeling confused? I know I am. Sexy Skeletor is an also an excellent Sexy Dancer, incidentally:
While all this mucking about is ever so jolly within the character creator, it takes on new life in the game proper. It is genuinely joyous to see your wild creation knocking seven bells out of someone who's supposed to look cool, and, should you dare to venture online, getting to kick an aggressive opponent's bum with a character who looks like they got lost during a stag party is is an absolute delight.
I'm not much for online, really - if I only play against AI I can kid myself that I'm still good at Tekken - so I've been delighted to discover that one of Tekken 7's singleplayer modes is expressly dedicated to unlocking new costume options. And that's the game for me. It's all the game I ever needed a new Tekken to be.
Where once I'd play through a campaign with each character in order to watch their nonsense ending scene and progress towards unlocking more fighters, then give it all up once that was done, now I've got an ongoing reason to keep playing. Like so many games now, you're given random unlocks for successful fights, but in this case those unlocks are Santa hats and hotpants and oversized sunglasses and angel wings and trees that grow out of your head and fish you strap to your back to slap people with and Buddha heads and maybe eventually I'll get to make Sexy Megatron.
I keep playing because I get to create some new monster every time I do well. And hell, some of my old Tekken skills are slowly returning as I play - a collateral bonus of chasing silly hats.
I ignored Tekken 7 at launch because I thought that, fundamentally, it's a game from my past, and I'm steadily burning out on nostalgia, but it turns out that the dress-up options, joyful and triumphant, make it very much a game of the now after all.