Tekken it up a notch (again)
Fighting games are in an odd era where the “kitchen sink approach” is pretty much necessary to justify a $60 price tag. These days, if you’re packing less than a football team’s worth of brawlers, weak online modes, and no extra content, you don’t even need to step into the arena. Fortunately, Tekken Tag Tournament 2 has more than enough substance to match its style.
Celebrating the long and vibrant history of the series, Namco Bandai’s console port of the amazing arcade fighter is every bit as deep and engaging as it should be. As far as comparisons to the original version, the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 port does so much more that it’s definitively the more impressive build on pretty much all counts: deeper roster, more stages, more everything. But on top of all that, TTT2 gives you the keys to its entire kingdom right out of the gate, not hiding any (well, much) of its content behind DLC, special promotions, or other gimmicks designed to drain your wallet.
Just exploring the roster alone is a treat. There’s over 50 characters to step into combat with, and like an open buffet, the enormous variety offered here encourages you to try a little bit of everything. It also helps that the incredibly deep combo system helps almost everyone feel like a uniquely different fight, which is a monumental task given how esaily overlapping styles could happen.
Still, it’s not a perfect storm. In order to beef up the roster, there are some questionable character splits (Kuma and Panda aren’t palette swaps anymore) and other some odd omissions. I’m especially disappointed in the absence of Gon, the diminutive dinosaur from Tekken 3. Yes, I’m legitimately going to complain about it. Tekken 3 is how old? And Namco Bandai still can’t settle the licensing issues to bring him back?
But nitpicking aside, everyone from Yoshimitsu to Forrest Law to the Heihachi crew looks great, and all of their battles are punctuated by similarly gorgeous environments. Even though Dead or Alive 5, SoulCalibur V, and Super Street Fighter IV give it a run for its money, I still think that Tekken 6 and Tekken Tag Tournament 2 have some of the most active background graphics in the fighting game genre—especially in stages like the Tulip Festival and the vibrant Arena ring.
Having so much stuff to look at makes learning each player’s skillset that much more fun, and Tekken Tag 2 smartly rewards the grinding with purchase-able movesets. Plus, you’ll definitely want to spend time on the amazingly jam-packed character customization. Its sheer depth is enough that I’ve spent hours playing the game without even fighting on certain days. In fact, that would be one of the best features in the whole game if the menu system wasn’t so convoluted. And then there’s the Fight Lab mode, which picks up a ton of the slack by walking you back into the game through training mission after training mission.
Once you’re gotten familiar with your Combot, the progression to learning on your own feels completely natural. Training Mode in particular is a standout for one key reason. Even though it has all the bells and whistles most other fighters include, the computer can actually demonstrate moves for you, while button display is animated in tandem—a brilliant solution for teaching timing.
All that glamour and careful introductory content would be for naught if the fighting engine wasn’t up to par, and this is probably where Tekken fans will get divided. Yes, it’s the same game you know and love from before, but the tag system’s been adjusted to allow for more comebacks. Most notably, the “Rage” system from Tekken 6—an automatic power boost activated by taking damage—allows for a greater chance of making a comeback off a devastating combo chain. It’s not something that really rewards veterans of the series, and at worst, it can be crutch for weaker players to abuse.
Personally, I don’t see a big issue with it, since it’s an idea that’s been stretched to Marvel vs. Capcom 3 with balanced results, more or less.
However, it’s ultimately up to you to invest the time in finding a good fighter (or two-man team) with combos that fit your playing style, and that’s where the mileage varies. That’s why the new “World Tekken Federation” mode is such a smart addition, because it gives you some incentive in comparing yourself against the rest of the online Tekken community. Even if it’s still little more than stat tracking, the free service is going to be an interesting tool for tournaments and pro players to use in gameplay analysis.
Math junkies are going to love WTF too, because the sheer amount of data can help you establish your patterns, bad habits, and general fighting tactics. There’s nothing as rich as the features you’ll find in a Capcom fighting game (no match recording or mega-bracketed spectator lobbies), but the netcode is still solid enough that you’ll rarely have problems fighting online. After a week of playing, we’ve only had one match dropped, and at the time, we were running a PS3 debug that’s seen better years.
At the end of all the fun, it’s hard to find anything to complain about. But as rich as the core experience in TTT2 gets with the deep roster, fantastic graphics, and expansive combat—the game ultimately boils down to a variety of (amazing) 1-on-1, handicap, or team fights with nothing much to decorate the edges—it’s like a huge meal that’s all flame-broiled meats, but no veggies, side dishes, or deserts. There’s no wacky mini-games, no Tekken Force, and nothing to really do outside of the (awesome) fights.
Again, that’s only a problem if you can legitimately get tired of the core experience, and Tekken Tag Tournament 2 greatly overcompensates there to begin with. If you live and breathe fighting games, though, you’ll want to stay underwater way past the point where casual players and lightweights would want to come up for air. For Namco Bandai to pack so much content into this is an amazing effort. If you’ve ever been into Tekken, pick this game up and get online. I’ll see you there.
SUMMARY: Although it doesn’t offer anything other than flashy, exciting ways to punch people (and bears) in the face, Tekken Tag Tournament 2 is a fantastic and impressive fighting game that both fans and newcomers alike should check out.
- THE GOOD: Over 50 characters! Slick graphics! Online! Custom fighters! Kunimitsu!
- THE BAD: As big as the experience can get, it could really use a few mini-games for added flavor.
- THE UGLY: Every time a Tekken game doesn’t bring back Gon, I die inside.
Tekken Tag Tournament 2 is available on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. Primary version reviewed was on PS3.