Tekken Tag Tournament 2 is one of those long overdue videogame sequels where the end product does not quite justify the long wait but is thoroughly enjoyable nonetheless. We’ve had plenty of Tekken games since the original Tag Tournament was unleashed in arcades (remember those?) way back in 1999, quite a few good ones even, but those were all strictly one-on-one affairs. It’s funny how adding such a simple feature such as 2-on-2 fights, an option readily available in other fighters, can dramatically change the feel of the game. Tag Tournament 2 is a step-up from the somewhat disappointing Tekken 6, delivering the most attractive and feature rich iteration of this beloved franchise to date.
The roster of characters is large, bordering on overkill with over 59 new and returning characters (including those available through free DLC). Old favorites come with largely the same moves from past games with the biggest change to their arsenal coming in the form of special Tag Assaults. Tag mechanics include special grabs, launchers, and bounds where swapping out your fighter at just the right time will leave your opponent vulnerable to devastating combo damage. Another part of the tag team dynamic is strategically monitoring your fighters’ health bar to know when to make a switch because the round ends if either character is defeated. Not all fights involve four combatants, as you still have the option of choosing one fighter if that is your preference, so you can stage 1-on-1 or 2-on-1 fights.
Of course, mastering the intricacies of the tag mechanics and Tekken’s combat in general is a challenging proposal. The game provides a Practice mode as a resource particularly tailored to defensive training but which also allows you to reset the position of your fighter at any time so you can practice wall combos and other position dependent techniques. As well developed as the Practice mode is, the primary educational mode is the Fight Lab. One part tutorial and one part story mode, Fight Lab teaches you the fighting essentials wrapped around a story of playboy businessman Violet trying to create the perfect fighting machine, the Combot. The player takes control of the Combot and navigates various minigame challenges designed to teach defense, tags, movement and other important techniques. Combot borrows moves from many different fighters, so the combos you learn are not immediately transferable to any character besides Combot. The story unfolds in five chapters that are injected with humor and feature a few cameos from Tekken’s rival Street Fighter series.
Unlike its 13 year old predecessor, Tekken Tag Tournament 2 features its own unique storyline, though it is not considered series cannon. There is no traditional story mode but progressing through an Arcade Battle will result in an ending cinematic for your character. These sequences vary in length, emotional impact, and coherence. Tekken has always had a taste for the wacky and bizarre, which is certainly well represented by the assorted cutscenes that total over one hour in length. Most feature traditional CGI graphics but others take more artistic license by utilizing 2D and other stylized forms of animation.
I’m not sure what to make of the game’s balance issue because I have both benefitted from and been the victim of unexpectedly devastating attacks. However, the fighting by and large seems fairly consistent with the experience provided by past Tekken games. Of course, all semblances of balance and fairness go out the window when confronting the final opponent of the arcade mode, but that is to be expected of fighting games.
The game’s online mode is characteristically stable. Over the long run I encountered a few hiccups, slow downs, and freezes when it came to online interactions but these were rather infrequent. Tekken Tag Tournament 2 does a good job of tracking your stats and giving you the ability to save and upload replays so you can show your prowess off to your friends list and the wider world beyond. It is important to pay attention to the connection ratings when setting up an online fight. Generally, a three or four bar connection will lead to a smooth experience but anything below that and you risking a battle plagued with lag, especially if it involves more than two players such as in a Pair battle where up to for player can compete by each taking control of one fighter.
Tekken Tag Tournament 2 makes a strong value proposition as the large roster of fighters and tons of unlockable content can keep the game feeling fresh for many hours of playtime. In addition to the arcade and online modes you have Time Attack, Survival, Team Battle, Ghost Battle, and offline versus modes to fill your time. Whether you win or lose, each fight rewards you with in-game currency that you can use to customize how individual characters look and even equip them with items that can be used in combat. Many of these clothing and item options are unlocked as you continue to play, providing decent incentive to keep playing.
This version of Tekken is absolutely gorgeous. The character models and animation is the best I’ve ever seen in a 3D fighting game. Tekken Tag Tournament 2 takes advantage of magnificent lighting effects to show off its sheer beauty. The figures of the combatants change convincingly and dramatically based on how the light hits them, so a fight with a setting sun in the background looks significantly different from one that takes place on the deck of a fishing boat sailing on stormy waters. The visuals make a poetic marvel out of observing the human form move through 3D space. I’ve never been so entranced by just the way characters move in a fighting game, whether I’m playing as Lili delivering an elegant combo of cartwheel kicks or Jin stringing together a 10 part karate assault.
The sound design is similarly impressive. Crystal clear sound effects accompany the various punches, kicks, throws, and item attacks at your disposal. The game authentically recreates the sounds of an arcade experience down to the announcer. The multi-lingual cast features excellent voice acting in English, Japanese, French, Portuguese and other languages. Much like Namco’s console Ridge Racer reboot from earlier this year, Tekken’s soundtrack has been infused with a small amount of Dubstep in addition to the customary playlist featuring Japanese electronic music and guitar riffs. The game also features a unique rap theme performed by Snoop Dogg (or Snoop Lion if you prefer) who makes a cameo appearance in the game along with his own unique stage.
For all of its strong points, Tekken does not bring anything truly groundbreaking to the fighting game genre. It's pretty much on par with its recent fighting game peers. Despite the many options available for learning how to fight adequately the game stays largely unwelcoming to newcomers. This may be by design, though, as the original Tekken Tag Tournament became a cult favorite and Tag Tournament 2 is undeniably meant as fan service for all those who held out hope for over a decade for a sequel. For them, Tekken Tag Tournament 2 is every bit as deep, flashy, and extravagant as they could hope for, but going forwards the series needs to focus on bringing something new beyond a large, unwieldy roster and sheer wackiness
This review is based on a retail copy of Tekken Tag Tournament 2 for the PlayStation 3.