tekkentag Reviews

Tekken Tag Tournament 2 review

It’s hard to overstate how important character customisation is in modern fighting games. As much as on-screen usage of a particular character speaks for itself to some extent, there’s always room for more of a sense of identity – something that both lets you know who it is that you’re fighting and something for spectators to attach to a match to make it more than just two people smacking one another senseless. And where once players would have been defined by their language and mannerisms either in an arcade or in person, this faceless digital age requires something a little more obvious. And slowly but surely, fighting game devs are catching onto the idea that people want to express themselves not only through the characters they pick and the way they use them but through the way they look. Whether it’s always using a particular Tager colour in BlazBlue, proudly displaying your love of capitalism with your downloaded Wesker outfit or sticking an Egyptian burial mask and a pair of pants on Akira and calling that a costume, looking good is fast becoming as important as fighting well. And no, that’s not a bad thing.

As such, you’ll be glad to hear that Tekken Tag Tournament 2 more than pulls its weight in the costume department. Between shared items and awesome bespoke ones for each character, the item shop contains countless ways to set your King apart from the rest before you even start to unlock the wealth of unique goodies that make your team look even better. In truth, the system is actually kinda basic – items are split simply into head, upper and lower body parts plus accessories, which is nothing compared to the comprehensive customisation of SoulCalibur V or the equally extensive but somewhat less wallet-friendly wardrobe of VF5 Final Showdown. But even so, colour and pattern editing lets you put your own spin on the available items and unless you’re intentionally trying to replicate another famous look, it’s unlikely that you’ll ever fight an opponent that makes you feel the need to go home and change.

Yes, we’re fully aware that we’ve spent the opening two paragraphs of a review of a game about beating the hell out of people discussing fancy hats and colour coordination. And we’re comfortable with that. Partially because, as previously mentioned, it has become oddly important in a modern fighter and partly because when faced with something so dangerously close to being technically flawless as Tekken Tag Tournament 2, it’s hard to know where else to begin. Namco has been doing this since long before it took its partner’s name and this experience shows in every part of the package – it’s slick, tight and rammed with far more content than could ever be deemed necessary. Home ports of arcade Tekken titles have always been impressive but this one is an entire level beyond. It’s basically everything that has ever happened in Tekken crammed onto one disc and for that reason alone, anyone that has or has had so much as a passing interest in fighters would do well to get involved.

Tag fighters live or die by the amount of choice and variety they offer. Skullgirls recently fell foul of this, with teams of up to three assembled from its meagre cast of eight oddballs, while Marvel Vs Capcom 2 sits squarely at the other end of the spectrum with a healthy roster of 50+ heroes and icons from which to distil the ultimate trio. TTT2 goes further still, a bustling character select screen seemingly housing about nine million fighters all vying for your attention, each fully customisable (in case you jumped in at the third paragraph and missed all the dressing up conversation) to really personalise your pair. It’s a daunting roster for newcomers, for sure, though anyone with Tekken experience will likely gravitate towards an old friend or two. But in a tag-based environment, you’ll soon find that old allies fall by the wayside as experimentation reveals new characters who far better complement your main.

The various mid-combo interactions between the two characters make it far more effective to rock a team with synergy than just two randoms – Lili, for instance, has a great launcher that can be tagged out of, leaving a second fighter ages to abuse the helpless airborne victim with a flashy juggle. There’s even a relationship system at work that determines how quickly/often Rage mode triggers, so while Marduk and Alisa might not get on so well, King and Armor King constantly have one another’s backs. What this means in gameplay terms is that your partner’s life bar will glow after your point character takes a certain amount of damage (the more friendly they are with one another, the lower this threshold), rewarding a successful tag with a brief but potent boost to striking attacks that can turn the tide. But just as in MVC3, it’s something that works both ways – clever opponents will see you looking for the Rage tag and can punish the second character as they rush on if you’re not smart with when you tag up.

That is, if you even have a second character. The game is balanced in such a way that selecting a single, more powerful character is a viable option, sacrificing all of the tag-based gameplay for increased power and health. It’s a risky strategy and one that requires far greater knowledge of your chosen character – without tag combos to help pile on the big damage, expertise and lengthy juggle/bound combos are essential if you’re going to survive the tournament alone. Rage and recoverable health work differently too, life bars slowly recharging over time for solo fighters while Rage triggers only when your health meter starts to look a little empty.

Namco Bandai has been talking up TTT2’s Fight Lab mode and it’s not hard to see why. It’s a really interesting way of introducing the game’s mechanics to new players and refreshing the memories of returning fans, with the tangible end-game goal of having a Combot trained and tweaked to your liking with signature moves from across the roster. The drills themselves are seldom that challenging, but they’re an extremely entertaining way of conveying information that should by rights be boring. In one, Violet barks commands at you to copy until Ganryu torpedoes across the screen, E Honda style, and is explained away simply as being ‘an intruder’. Another sees you pinpointing and hitting weak spots with certain types of moves and ends with knocking Lili’s clothes clean off. But the final trial is the best, teaching the intricacies of tag combos and advanced juggling by having you beat on fat versions of Ryu and Ken from Street Fighter, who inflate and float away when defeated before Akuma (played here by Tekken 5 boss and generally irritating cheap prick Jinpachi) shows up and starts tossing fireballs around. Stupid? Obviously. Brilliant? You knows it.

And Fight Lab is just one of myriad options that populate the busy menu screen. All the classics are here, from Survival to Team Battle to Time Attack, as well as the real time sink that is Ghost Battle. Squaring off against an endless string of simulated human opponents (as in they have their own names and customised teams) is rewarding on multiple levels – simply climbing the ranks is satisfying enough, complemented by a steady flow on in-game cash, the chance to see a bunch of crazy customisation options and see characters used properly and, of course, the opportunity to grab a bunch of rare costume pieces. Previous Tekken games have brought user data across to Ghost Battle, immortalising skilled players with their team’s appearance in the offline mode – hopefully this is something that will later be added to TTT2 (or we’ll at least see new fighters added to the pool with title updates), since that’d add incentive to burn even more hours in Ghost Battle. Which, thinking about it, might be somewhat unhealthy for us.

Tekken Tag Tournament 2 is a fighter that champions fun over all else, but Harada’s team hasn’t let this get in the way of making an outstanding competitive experience. Whether you’re picking up the controller (or, better still, a stick) for the first time in years – or even ever – and mashing your way through one of the umpteen solo game modes or sitting down for an intense high-level multiplayer session where every little mistake costs dearly, the game’s quality shines through just as brightly. Accessibility and depth are rarely close friends in gaming but here, they’ve got a mildly nauseating BFF thing going on. Still, it’s bloody impressive.

With pretty much every character and mode that has ever appeared in a Tekken game and then some, TTT2 is the perfect counterpoint to Final Showdown’s straight-edged technical brawls. And in terms of pure entertainment, there are few fighters that can even hope to stand up to its Iron Fist. And come on… how many other games let you pit a sexy Santa and a Transformer controlled by a monkey against a knitted panda and an actual jaguar? None, that’s how many. And frankly, that’s all the buying advice you even need.

Score: 9/10

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