Having started all the way back in 1994, Namco Bandai’s Tekken fighting series has an impressive history behind it. The franchise has seen multiple numbered releases over time, but Tekken Tag Tournament was one notable exception. Released for the PlayStation 2 back in 2000, the game was essentially a non-canon spin-off which had no story of its own. This allowed it a certain amount of freedom, and it served as a kind of compilation which brought together the characters from various Tekken games. It also introduced tag team battles to the series, a feature that was highly popular with fans. Now, after more than 10 years, the game has finally received a sequel. Tekken Tag Tournament 2 brings tag team battles back to the series, in a package that does a good job of rivalling its predecessor.
Tekken Tag Tournament 2 features 59 playable characters, a much higher number than the arcade version, with many of them being exclusive to consoles. It’s an impressive number, and it opens up a lot of different tag team opportunities. Pretty much every type of martial arts is represented here, and there’s characters from all over the world, many of which speak their native language in the game. It’s a nice touch. The character selection screen is actually a little intimidating at first, with so many different fighters to choose from. The game brings together characters from all 6 main series Tekken games, and it makes for a strong selection. Unlike the original game, Tekken Tag Tournament 2 features a story, which revolves around the holding of a special edition of the Tekken Tournament. It’s all contained within the game’s opening CG video, and loosely provides a reason for all these characters to gather together.
Most of Tekken‘s depth comes from its rather technical grounding. The game’s four button layout seems standard enough at first glance, but unlike most fighters, each button corresponds to one of the characters’ limbs (with separate buttons for the left and right side of their body). With each button assigned to a particular body part, this means that there’s no strong attacks or weak attacks. Each character has a huge number of combos, but the catch is that all of them are quite short. The key to Tekken’s gameplay is stringing these combos together to create longer chains, quickly and accurately. Lightning fast inputs are required, if you’re even a fraction too slow, your attempted move will fail.
Where the game differs most from Tekken 6, of course, is with the tag mechanics. These open up a multitude of possibilities for chaining and comboing. Among other things, you can knock your opponent into the air, and then call in your tag partner to juggle them extensively. Thanks to the game’s new engine, both tag partners can be on screen at once, and are able to strike their opponent simultaneously. There’s also tag throws, which deal extra damage, but can still be escaped from. You don’t have to use a tag team, though. The game always gives you the option of simply selecting a single character, and as such, it can be played in a very similar fashion to any other Tekken game.
Adding to the action, Tekken Tag Tournament 2 also features stage gimmicks, which allow players to smash their opponents through a stage’s walls, and into different areas. Character customisation is strongly featured, and is fairly robust, with many different items to unlock for each character. Customised characters can even be brought into online matches, which really helps players to make the game their own, and keeps things interesting from a visual stand point. Not all customisation items are just for show, though, as some can actually alter the gameplay. Certain items, such as the wooden mallet and the hammer hat, will actually grant the equipped character a new move during battle.
Speaking of unlocking customisation items, there’s an entire mode dedicated to that purpose. Ghost Battle pits your selected character(s) against a series of AI opponents, in what essentially amounts to an endless arcade mode. Ghost Battle simulates online play somewhat, by featuring a large selection of customised characters, all of which have also been given nicknames reminiscent of online usernames. After winning each match, you’re given a few seconds to choose your next opponent from a selection of three different match ups. The goal here is to find the uncommon gold coloured teams, which drop new customisation items when defeated. Ghost Battle is a clever way to really make players work for the right to customise their favourite characters, and it’s a rewarding experience.
Supplementing the game’s main ‘story’, the Fight Lab mode has its own contained story, with cutscenes in the style of a motion comic. It serves as the game’s tutorial mode, and takes a rather light-hearted approach. It’s a welcome addition which will really help newcomers get into the game, and the series as a whole. A couple of instructions are a little vague, but on the whole, the mode is well thought out. It’s not always newbie friendly though, since the game wants you to learn quickly. This means that if you haven’t managed to master what the tutorial is currently trying to teach you, you may find yourself getting in a little over your head as the game forces a boss challenge upon you. These boss challenges punish mistakes fairly heavily, so you really need to know what you’re doing.
During the Fight Lab story, you’ll be playing as Combot, a robotic fighter who can use a variety of moves borrowed from other fighters in the game. As you progress through the tutorials, you’ll earn points which you can use to customise Combot as you see fit, equipping him with whichever moves you like. This helps to keep the experience interesting, and gives you more choice over how you approach each successive tutorial mission.
In addition to the Ghost Battle and Fight Lab sections, the game features a pretty standard complement of modes. There’s a typical arcade mode (with a CG ending for each character), versus mode, team battle mode, time attack mode, and survival mode. All of these are certainly enjoyable in their own right, but are nothing that hasn’t been seen in the series before.
All the offline content mentioned above can keep fighting game fans entertained for hours, but when you really want to challenge yourself, it’s hard to go past the online modes. There’s the usual ranked matches and player matches, but there’s also a Tekken Channel mode, where you can watch replays of other people’s fights. This includes a filter, where you can even search battles which feature a specific character. The online mode also offers team functionality, where you can make a customised group which ranks up as you and your friends win matches. There’s a couple of small, but nice touches here. While waiting for a match online, the game places you in a simple training mode and lets you practice. The game’s netcode is great, and lag during matches is very minimal.
Overall, Tekken Tag Tournament 2 succeeds in a lot of areas. The large character roster, new tag mechanics, new modes, extensive customisation options, and strong online mode combine into a very appealing package for fighting game fans. Compared to the other games in the series, Tekken Tag Tournament 2 does a much better job of trying to make newcomers to the series feel welcome. The Fight Lab mode is a very welcome addition, but unfortunately feels a little too harsh, with an uncomfortably steep learning curve at times. It’s definitely a step in the right direction, but the game still comes across as a little intimidating. While newcomers may want to think twice before jumping in, genre fans are going to enjoy every minute.