For a long time, fans have been calling for a sequel to Tekken Tag Tournament. Released during the dawn of the PlayStation 2 era, it brought with it a unique swapping system that rewarded risk takers and gave us an inflated roster of characters. No time like the present then, with the series waning slightly with the surprisingly lacklustre Tekken 6, to release the sequel to this fondly remembered game. Tekken Tag Tournament 2 has the series’ reputation at stake. Is this a gamble that has paid off?
If the original Tekken Tag Tournament on the PlayStation 2 was seen as the greatest hits of the PlayStation era of Tekken, Tekken Tag Tournament 2 is the greatest hits of the series so far. Almost everyone in the series is here, with more unlocked via DLC/Pre-order bonuses. Even without the pre-order bonus characters, you have a roster of over 50 characters to choose from. Every character acts as they always have, so veterans will have no trouble jumping back in. With an ending movie for almost every character, the task of unlocking them all may seem daunting at first. Luckily, the arcade mode is only one way to unlock the endings, as the Ghost Battle mode’s Gold Bar battles unlock previously unlocked endings and other customisable kit. Still, unless you’re extremely committed, the appeal may wear off sooner rather than later.
Combat is pretty much the standard Tekken affair. Each button is mapped to a particular limb of your character, with certain combinations of buttons doing combos that can ether knock back foes, juggle them or smash them face first into the dirt. Exploring the practice mode and figuring out a repertoire of moves is part of the joy, while the rest is trying those same moves out on a variety of offline and online opponents. If you already have a stance on Tekken then this isn’t likely to change it, for better or worse. Perhaps the unique selling point is the multi-combatant style, but this again has been done too many times in recent years. While unoriginal, it is a highly functional combat system.
The one area of the combat itself that feels somewhat off is the tag mechanics. By exploiting juggles and smashes to airborne foes, you can switch in your companion to continue the combo. If these were as far as the dual-mechanics go, that would be perfectly fine, but alas it goes further. When inputting the commands for Tag Throws or the Direct Tag Assaults, the result is often not exactly what you wish for. Before you say anything about playing on an Xbox 360 controller, note that the input for these moves is not d-pad centred. I can imagine that the same would be true on whatever platform you are playing Tekken Tag Tournament 2, so to have finicky execution on these moves is troublesome to say the least.
For a fighting game with such pedigree on modes, it is somewhat troubling to see that Tekken Tag Tournament 2 is, like its cousin SoulCalibur V, a streamlined experience. Beyond the traditional arcade modes, time trial, survival and practice modes, there are only a handful on offer. Online provides players with a fairly reliable interface that occasionally can be exploited by the experts with its odd ranking system. Thankfully you should only ever come across either players who are around your skill level, or those that are quickly beneath you. You also have free reign to spend cash earned in-game to unlock new things to customise almost the entire roster with, and change the music around for your pleasure.
The other main area of interest is the “Fight Lab” mode. Here you will get a small “campaign”, following the development of one of the new fighters: Combot. Essentially he is a fully customisable fighter who can be developed by practicing in the various tasks. Fight Lab’s scenarios do a lot to bring players up to speed with how the game works and is somewhat successful in teaching some of the more advanced mechanics. The problem is that the commands you use are specific to one fighter: Combot. Those same tutorials don’t explain properly how those move types reflect onto other characters, largely asking you to figure this out yourself. This would be great if they actually told you what these symbols are and what they mean. While it is a slight oversight, it is one that will potentially force you to resort to older tactics.
Despite somewhat being nauseating with the blurry motion of the characters, the production of Tekken Tag Tournament 2 is on par with SoulCalibur V. Arenas are hefty with plenty of stuff to break your opponent through, while the arena backgrounds are well animated and lively. Even the Heaven/Hell stage is diverse enough to drop jaws in awe. On one occasion I even saw the Snoop Dogg inspired arena, which as you can probably imagine has more bling than a vault at a Swiss bank.
This is also probably the first fighting game that features characters speaking their native tongue before, during and after fights. While the likes of the Mishima family have always spoken their native Japanese, it’s when you hear Eddy Gordo and Christie Montero’s Brazillian-Portugese dialect that it hits home. The one obvious snub is Middle-Eastern Zafina speaking in accented English rather than Arabic tongue, though the pointless roaring of King/Armor King does a lot to explain this inconsistency. There also seems to be a lot more grunting, war-cries and screaming in this Tekken too. Both Laws make you feel like you’re watching a Bruce Lee film from the 1970’s, whilst grunts and screams from female characters make it sound like a Maria Sharapova tennis match. As for the music, heavily synthesised dub-step makes up the majority of the score, while familiar tunes make up the rest.
Fighting games rarely get the expectation to be a quality product as is found in the Tekken series, and Tekken Tag Tournament 2 is by far the best since the last Tekken Tag Tournament. In terms of fighting, it has a better sense of balance, despite its 50+ roster. As an arcade fighter, it ticks most of the boxes wonderfully. But where it all becomes unstuck is not only in some troublesome tag-team executions, but also as a home console release. Online is done superbly but can be exploited if you know how, the Fight Lab mode does little to actually teach you anything beyond the sole character you use, and throughout the whole time playing I got the feeling that some things were sorely missing. While it is the best the series has produced on its own for a number of years, Tekken Tag Tournament 2 still has a long way to go before taking the title.