In the fighting game community, I’m quick to advertise my passionate love for the most recent Mortal Kombat title. It usually goes over pretty well. Strangely, my affection for the Tekken series isn’t as well-received, especially as of late. Being a Tekken aficionado is almost shaming in of itself because of the series’ early peak and failure to grab new players with its recent iterations. Tekken Tag Tourament 2 has been unleashed upon us when the ante has been upped and interest in the Tekken saga has waned. Rather than disintegrate into nothingness due to failure to keep up, Tekken Tag Tournament 2 packs enough polish, fighters, modes, and helpful tutorials to kick start its relevancy in the realm of fighting games. Tekken fans, you’ve been waiting for this one.
Tekken titles have always forced a half-assed disaster of a story mode filled with a horrific narrative, shoddy controls, and a variety of characters shouting different languages at each other. The team over at Namco Bandai finally came to their senses and cut the fat, offering something infinitely more valuable in its place.
Combot Training is this brilliant new mode and it has two goals: to help people familiarize themselves with Tekken‘s (and fighting games as a whole) systems and allowing you to craft a custom fighter. I hesitate to call this mode a tutorial because it is much more involved than that. It’ll introduce you to what it is trying to convey (punishing missed attacks, for example), make you do it in a calm setting, then a faster setting, then a “boss fight” stage to test your might. The gradual build up is paced well, making you feel like you’ve at least covered the basics by the time you finish. Even I, a person who has been playing Tekken since 1999, found myself learning more and feeling more confident in my skills post graduation.
Learning extends to the wonderful practice mode as well. A wide array of parameters (CPU behavior, attack patterns, Rage status, etc.) can be set to ensure you can find the skill that needs improving and hone in on it. An option even exists to simulate the slight lag during online play. Arguably the most valuable asset in practice is how it teaches you juggle combos. Sample combos are given for each character, allowing you to see which moves link best together, whether it is a simple or complex string of attacks. It straddles a brilliant line between showing you behind the curtain but letting you experiment with what you’ve learned.
Since you can pin the move list to the live screen during practice, you can repeat any move ad naseaum until you finally nail it and add it to your repertoire. There’s even an option to show when to press the buttons and a small indicator displaying which moves cause a bound state and which allow for fast swapping. I’ve never come across a practice mode with such an exhaustive list of options and settings fit for all skill sets.
Progressing through the brief Combot Training nets you points. This magical currency can be cashed in on your new Combot to turn this hunk of hardware into something far more deadly. Archiving a wide selection of moves from combatants in the game, you can buy specific moves you want your Combot to have, making it a custom ass kicker. It’s entirely possible and recommended to have different moves from almost every fighter in the game, a nearly overwhelming, empowering option that can greatly extend the process of discovering new combos. In a way, it adds a whole menagerie of new characters, even if only one extra slot is taken up on the massive character select screen.
In case you were wondering, yes, the unlockable endings for each character are still hilarious and nonsensical.
The Combot is a thoughtful addition, but he’s a speck compared to the rest of the roster. Every bear, dinosaur (well, except one), school girl, and regular human fighter from the series’ past has been crammed in, even if it means they are available for free down the line as downloadable content. Falling back on your old faithful favorites is a viable strategy, but there’s such a large variety of faces in the character select screen, that utilizing only a few seems relatively narrow minded. Thankfully, the game does support the option to go solo for players wanting to squeeze out everything from a single soul.
Although that would be a poor way to capitalize on the new tag tactics. That second brawler isn’t just on the sidelines for backup, but more as an augmentation and extension for combos. When an opponent is launched in the air, the other character can be seamlessly tagged in to continue a juggle. Likewise, the second character can be quickly called in for a Tag Assault, which is a quick exchange for each fighter to perform a single move after forcibly bouncing the foe off the ground. Melding each together along with the Tag Crash mechanic (sacrificing health to safely tag out your fighter on the ground) and Tag Throws (throwing the enemy whilst swapping out) takes an already deep, involving fighting game and slaps on whole other layers of strategy. Everyone will play differently with all the possible combinations of characters and tactics, making this a fighting game that could take ages to completely master.
Some will still feel cheated by a few controversial systems still in effect. On the polar opposite side of Mortal Kombat‘s tag mode, it only takes one character to be downed to draw an end to the match. Given Tekken‘s juggle-happy combos, you can have a character with full health and be felled within seconds because you thought you could take just one more punch to the ankles. By itself this isn’t too bad, but when combined with the malignant Rage system, it can cause actual rage.
Tekken 6 introduced the Rage mechanic, a cancerous system in place for “noobs” to enhance attack power as a cheap comeback method. Glaring flaws still exist in this system because, while it may help someone who is vastly inferior, it unevenly tips the scales in two evenly matched duelists. The person who hits that Rage-activating threshold first usually wins because of that added boost, which leads to matches getting robbed away. Combined with the “one man down” rule, some battles can feel downright unfair.
Sadly, the famed Tekken Bowling has not been included, but there are a few aspects to admire outside of brawling. Tekken Tunes is a pseudo-jukebox with the intent on letting you take stock tracks from the game and add them to whatever background or menu you please. A small addition, but it also yields the ability to play your own music for any individual stage. The stock soundtrack of techno and dubstep is surprisingly mesmerizing, but traditional custom soundtracks have been taken out for this feature, making this feat impressive, but slightly disappointing.
Character customization is also a little bit of give and take. Running through the many options can result in a silly, unique fighter, but a lot of personality gets lost along the way with some of the items. The run-of-the-mill clothing that most characters have feels completely soulless and oddly puffy, leaving some of their trademark flair in favor of a generic looking combatant. Some fighters have some hilarious add-ons and custom gear, but most of them don’t offer a wide spectrum of impressive or matching clothing. A limitation such as this mixed with the inability to assign threads to specific body parts results in fighters looking like they had a tragic accident within the laundry hamper.
As for the actual fighting modes, Tekken Tag Tournament 2 has almost all of the stand-by Tekken modes for your enjoyment: Survival, Ghost Mode, Arcade, Team Battle, Time Attack, Practice, and Online. All of these modes are pretty standard for the genre, but the online multiplayer deserves its share of praise.
Tekken 6 launched with, and consequentially stayed with, a completely busted online component. Every match felt like I was using the joystick with my feet and playing against someone with a dial-up connection inside of a cave in Antarctica. Imagine my surprise when I played a few dozen matches online with almost no slowdown… even on the game’s launch day. It didn’t have a high bar to meet, but each match played so smoothly that it was the closest thing to a local match. As a result, I frequently got my ass kicked but that’s just a testament to how lag-free the matches were. No longer could I curse and blame the lag for every loss. Well, I still cursed up a storm but having the best online net code in any fighting game is something to applaud.
The strength of the Tekken fighting engine has always carried the series through the years and it always ensured at least one facet of the game would be made well. Tekken 6 was a golden example of this as everything around the actual brawling was pretty lackluster. Tekken Tag Tournament 2 went above and beyond this call, being a game that not only fans will like, but also being an entry in the franchise that newcomers will have an easier time adhering to. The smoother interface, valuable tutorials, zany nature, intricate fighting system, and the pleasant online mode not only blows previous entries in the series out of the water, but allows it to sit up on the throne with the bigger names in the genre. While it might be time for a reboot next time around, Tekken Tag Tournament 2 has returned the series to the heavyweight class.
+An enormous list of combatants that can be played in a solo or tag format
+Building a Combot is a unique way to make a fighter and the extensive tutorial options are helpful to new and returning players
+Juggle-heavy combat offers unrivaled depth due the massive array of moves and systems
+Online play is surprisingly smooth and relatively lag-free
-Rage mode is still overpowered and ending the match because of losing one character can feel cruel at times
-Customization doesn’t feel as special
Final Score: 9/10