Review: Tekken Tag Tournament 2 (Microsoft Xbox 360)

Tekken Tag Tournament 2
Genre: Fighting
Developer: Namco Bandai
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Release Date: 09/11/12

The original Tekken Tag Tournament came to the console market as a PS2 exclusive launch title, and was an interesting take on the Tekken series that, until now, was never expanded upon. It’s a little surprising that Namco didn’t revisit the concept for twelve years. The game was widely accepted by fans and critics alike and was one of the best launch titles available for the PS2, so it stands to reason that a sequel would have been well received as well. The tag team mechanics were well implemented at the time, and the core Tekken gameplay was as solid as ever even with the tag mechanics attached, which, along with the expansive roster that was (at that point) the largest in the series, made for a solid fighting game that was fun to play and held up well for quite a while. Well, twelve years and three sequels plus a few spin-offs later, here we are with Tekken Tag Tournament 2, Namco’s second try at the tag team formula. As with its predecessor, the game focuses on tag team combat, featuring an absolutely massive roster of characters and some interesting innovations to boot. It also brings the innovations made in the last few franchise releases into the mix, meaning that this is basically Tekken Tag Tournament with Tekken 6 mechanics, as well as some additional mechanics and tuning to make the experience sing. The end result is a game that effectively brings the concept into the present in a way that’s enjoyable and accessible, though it’s not without flaws.

As has been the case in the last few games in the series, there’s a regular storyline to progress through in addition to the various side stories that pop up when you complete the game with the different characters, though the game likely isn’t “canon” in the strictest sense. The main storyline you can play through eschews the more serious, “Everything is going to hell.” storylines of the regular series in favor of a joke storyline featuring, of all people, Lee Chaolan. Lee’s corporation, Violet Systems, has just put the finishing touches on their newest Combot fighting robot… when Lee, in a grand flourish, accidentally reformats its data and blows it up. Never one to take defeat lying down, however, Lee takes the substandard Combot he was using for practice purposes and repurposes it as his next Combot model, and attempts to train it in the ways of combat… in the most absurd manner possible. This is mostly just a backdrop for the Fight Lab mode, and doesn’t really impact anything, but Lee has become a hilarious character and it’s fun seeing him involved in a plot that isn’t about ancient gods or super powerful relatives or what have you. The various character endings range from super serious to super absurd, depending on the character, and they, too, are perfectly fine and fun to watch, especially since many of them connect up to one another nicely. Chances are good you’re not playing a Tekken title for its plot, but what’s here works, and it’s nice to see that the game isn’t taking itself at all seriously this time around, as not everything needs to be about the end of the world, after all.

On the game modes front, Tekken Tag Tournament 2 offers a fairly robust amount of options. The Online mode offers standard Ranked and Player matches, as well as the ability to create Teams with other players online, the Tekken Channel for viewing replays, and Leaderboards to see how you stack up against the best players in the world. Offline mode offers a standard Arcade Battle against a series of opponents, Ghost Battle for taking on a never ending series of battles against opponents to raise your offline rankings, Vs. Battle for simple one-on-one fights against the CPU or your friends, Team Battle for fighting in a team versus team battle against the CPU or your friends, Time Attack to see how fast you can complete an Arcade sequence, Survival to see how many enemies you can beat on one life bar, Practice mode for honing your skills against a dummy, and Pair Play for up to four players to fight alongside and against each other. You can also check out the Fight Lab, which works as a combination tutorial and Combot customization mode, Customize, which allows you to change the appearance of almost every fighter in the game on some level or another, Tekken Tunes, which allows you to change the soundtrack songs that play in each stage and menu, Gallery, which lets you see the ending and demo videos you’ve unlocked, Profile, which lets you view your player profile and character choice percentages, and Options, which lets you tune the rules and gameplay options as you see fit. Most of the available options are in prior games in the series, mind you, but that makes them no less welcome, and you’ll find plenty to do with the game right from the start thanks to the variety of modes here to keep you busy.

Tekken Tag Tournament 2 is easily the best looking game in the series, both technically and artistically. On a technical level, the character models are high quality and animate exceptionally well, the environments are vibrant and feature a lot of animation and clean visuals, and the various battle effects fit the visuals well and look excellent, with lots of pleasant light sourcing and bright colors. On an artistic level, the characters all look as one would expect relative to prior versions (save for Heihachi, who has been made younger for some reason), and characters who haven’t been on the roster for a few games, such as Jun Kazama or Kunimitsu, have been updated nicely for this release. The stages you do battle in are all nicely varied from one another and showcase damage well, as well, though the game can experience the odd hiccup when loading certain things (notably Achievements for some reason) and customized characters can still have the odd collision detection issues now and again. Aurally, the music that comes built into the soundtrack is as fitting as ever, and the electronic and rock-themed beats that play in the background as you’re lumping up opponents is very well suited to its task. You can also download soundtracks from prior games in the series if such a thing interests you, though. The voice acting is generally top notch, and in an interesting development, the cast of characters now speak not in either English or Japanese, but in the language they SHOULD speak in, by all indications, meaning that Christie and Eddy speak in Portuguese, for example, which is fantastic. The various combat effects sound powerful and fit the experience well, and beating the hell out of someone sounds just as it should, basically.

If you’ve somehow never played any of the Tekken games in your life, explaining the game is actually pretty simple. The battles you fight take place on a pseudo-3D plane. Pressing forward and backward on the D-pad moves your character in those directions, while holding up jumps and holding down ducks. Tapping up or down allows your character to step into the background or foreground, holding back allows you to block (which you’ll also do if you remain stationary), and double-tapping allows you to dash. Combat works with the four face buttons, and their placement and layout are relative to the arms and legs of the characters. In short: the buttons are mapped to the arms and legs of the character, with the top buttons acting as the left and right arm of the character, and the bottom buttons acting as the left and right legs, by default. Pressing both of the left or right side buttons initiates a grab against an opponent, and you can chain various different presses of these buttons, with or without directions, into combinations to destroy your opponents. This is basically how Tekken has worked for almost its entire existence, and this remains intact with Tekken 6, so fans of the franchise should be able to jump right into the game with little difficulty and know how things work. More serious players will be happy to know that many of the tactics from the prior games, such as jacking up opponents on walls, Ukemi and fall recovery actions and the Tekken standard ten-hit combos make their return in this game as well, to keep things interesting. Tekken Tag Tournament 2 is also based off of the mechanics added to Tekken 6, meaning that things like Rage Mode (dropping to low health adds damage to your attacks), Bounds (bouncing launched enemies off the ground for more aerial combos), Low Parries and so on are included here from the get-go.

The biggest change in this game over the normal Tekken titles is the tag system and everything that brings with it. When playing, you can choose to play as a single character, who gets added health and damage, or as a team of two characters. Team members do less and take less damage individually, but can tag in and out to regenerate “recovery health”, part of their health lost in battle, while they’re tagged out, though single characters regenerate at all times. Unlike many games that allow for tag team battles, such as Dead or Alive 4 or Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, where the elimination of one character immediately brings in the reserve members, in the Tekken Tag Tournament series, when a character is knocked out the round is over, even if the second character has health remaining. As such, being on top of tagging in and out when in danger is a skill you need to learn, as if you don’t, you’ll find yourself losing a lot more often than you should. This also makes for some interesting strategy in trying to escape punishment or in trying to isolate a damaged character to prevent a tag, which can make for some interesting situations. It also makes playing as a single character more viable than it might seem, since a single character need not tag out at all, and while this removes several useful tools tag teams have available to them, if a single character can isolate one member of a team they can end a battle much faster as a result.

Tag teams also get some additional combat options to use to make them more versatile, compensating for their weaknesses against single characters. You can map a button as the “tag” button, and a simple press of this button on its own will cause your current character to leave battle and your partner to jump in, which is, on its own, nothing new. You can also try to get cute with your tagging with a Tag Throw; by pressing the tag button and Y, you’ll grab the opponent and perform a tag team throw to deal added damage and bring in your ally. Some teams have special tag throws/attacks they can perform as well that are unique to those teams, such as Lars and Alisa or Marshall Law and Paul, for added fun and variety. Aside from simply tagging in and out to switch teammates, however, you can also bring your teammate in for heavy damage with the right commands. You can perform a Tag Combo, for example, where you tag right as you nail a launcher attack and your partner will run in to perform the aerial juggle on the launched opponent. There’s also Tag Assault, where you tag right as you execute a Bound and your teammates take turns pummeling the bounced opponent into the air, or a Direct Tag Assault, where you press X, Y and Tag together to start a Tag Assault immediately with no conditional requirements. Finally, there’s Tag Crash, which allows you to tag out if you’re knocked down and your partner is in Rage state, at the cost of the current character’s recovery health and your partner’s rage. Single characters don’t have any of these options available, of course, but both options of play are entirely viable, so you can make your own decision as to whether it’s more useful to have a stronger character or a team with more combat options as you see fit.

In the beginning you’ll want to spend a good amount of time in the Fight Lab; aside from teaching you some of the basic and advanced elements of how to play Tekken as a whole and Tekken Tag Tournament 2 in specific, it also earns you points to upgrade Combot and money to spend on customization options. From there, the sky’s the limit insofar as play options go. Arcade Mode is fairly standard, as it has you fight against multiple teams of opponents or single opponents before facing off against three separate “boss fights”, against Heihachi and Jinpachi Mishima, True Ogre, and Jun Kazama/Unknown, in order, and you can earn money and character ranks here, as well as an ending for the primary character you picked. Ghost Mode returns from Tekken 6 in the same fashion as before, allowing you to face off against CPU-controlled custom characters to improve your ranking and earn cash. Versus Mode, Survival Mode, Time Attack Mode and Practice Mode all act exactly as you would expect them to, and you can also play the game online in Player or Ranked matches. World Arena was also recently added to the game, allowing for chatroom creation and battle rooms, for the social combatants of you out there. The online component also works off of the Ranking system that Ghost Mode uses, meaning you can improve your rank by fighting online, and you can also build a team with another player online if you’re so inclined, so that the two of you can take it to other players. There are all sorts of other mild novelties, such as the up to four player Pair Play mode that allows multiple people to get into a fight locally, or the various Lucky Boxes you can randomly earn after fights that reward you with cash, unlockable items, endings and more, as well as a fairly robust Customize section that allows you to remake your favorite characters to look how you want. There is also a good amount of DLC coming for the game, including multiple new characters (some of which have recently been added to the game at no cost) and soundtrack packs, so if you wanted to, you could easily come back to Tekken Tag Tournament 2 for a long time to come.

Which is by no means to say that the game is flawless, as it has a few hiccups that impact the experience a bit. The most obvious issue, as has been mentioned before, is that “it’s still Tekken,” meaning that there’s not a lot of growth here mechanically, and anyone who’s tired of the series isn’t going to find anything to draw them back in aside from the tag mechanics. This, in and of itself, is fine, but the game becomes a bit problematic on that level when it becomes apparent that Tekken has followed in the footsteps of Dead or Alive and become a jugglers game as much as anything else. Launchers and Bounds made this somewhat obvious, but when dealing with Launchers, Bounds, Tag Combos and Tag Assaults, the game becomes as much about seeing how long you can keep an opponent from escaping as anything else, and frankly? That’s an annoying direction for the series to go in. It also bears noting that, while nowhere near as bad as Azazel, the Jun/Unknown combination boss at the end of Arcade Mode is still a bit on the absurd side, especially so in Unknown’s case, as her combat moves are ridiculously powerful and skill is less useful than abusing cheap moves the CPU doesn’t bother to work against. In much the same way as Tekken 6, however, you really don’t ever need to even face her if you don’t want to, as Ghost Mode performs the same function and allows you to unlock endings given enough time, so, once again, Namco has solved the problem of putting the player up against an unpleasant boss in a roundabout fashion. Further, while the Fight Lab is an acceptable primer on how to play in some respects, and it does teach you some useful skills, some of the chapters are, honestly, annoying in their design to a level where newer or less skilled players are likely to throw their hands up and walk away from the mode (Chapter Three in specific is an annoyance). For another, a good number of the Achievements in the game are based around grinding at the game for hours and hours in a way that provides no significant benefit, and while that’s optional grinding, this was handled much better in Tekken 6 than it is here. The game is also something of an obvious loader between battles, to a noticeable extent, and while that’s likely due to the high quality of the character models and environments, it’s obvious almost from the get-go.

Despite its flaws, Tekken Tag Tournament 2 is easily a worthy successor to its predecessor in every way that counts, as it’s a strong tag team fighting experience that’s fun to play and offers plenty of reasons to keep coming back for more. What plot there is in the game is cute, there are a massive amount of game modes to jump into, and the game looks and sounds fantastic. The gameplay should instantly be familiar to fans of the series and accessible to newcomers, while the added team combat options and solo character bonuses improve on the formula and balance out the experience nicely. There’s a massive character roster, a substantial amount of content packed into the game from the start and the promise of more down the line, and a wide variety of things to do with the game, and from that alone the game is easy to recommend. That said, the game is still Tekken for better or worse, meaning that those who are worn on the series won’t see much new here, the game has become a bit juggle and air combo heavy in its mechanics at this point, and while the final boss, Unknown, isn’t horrendous, she’s still unpleasant to deal with. Further, Fight Lab isn’t as balanced as it could have been toward training players and alleviating frustration, the game expects a certain amount of grinding to fully complete it, and the loading times can be noticeable more often than not. That aside, though, Tekken Tag Tournament 2 does far more well than it doesn’t, and anyone who loves their fighting games will want to add this to their collection immediately, as it’s an excellent and robust game for fans of all skill levels.

The Scores:
Story/Game Modes: GREAT
Graphics: CLASSIC
Sound: UNPARALLELED
Control/Gameplay: GREAT
Replayability: CLASSIC
Balance: GOOD
Originality: MEDIOCRE
Addictiveness: CLASSIC
Appeal: GREAT
Miscellaneous: GREAT

FINAL SCORE: GREAT GAME.

Short Attention Span Summary:
Tekken Tag Tournament 2 is a worthwhile sequel in the franchise that’s flush with content and easy to enjoy, and while it’s not perfect, it’s strong enough that it doesn’t need to be. What plot there is to the game is inoffensive and amusing, there are a significant amount of play options available to keep the game interesting, and everything looks and sounds excellent throughout the experience. The gameplay is easy enough to figure out for newcomers while remaining accessible to diehard fans, and the added tag team mechanics combined with the balancing for solo characters make for an interesting experience regardless of how you play. The huge character roster, large variety of content and option to acquire more down the road, and sheer variety of options make this a game that should spend a good amount of time in your console, and it easily justifies its asking price through depth alone. That said, however, it’s still a Tekken game if you’ve tired of the formula, the game has skewed toward juggling and air combos a bit more than is desirable, and while the final boss isn’t as bad as she could’ve been, she’s still unpleasant to deal with should you choose to do so. Also, Fight Lab is uneven at times in its expectations to a level that could put off inexperienced players, the game expects a certain amount of grinding to accomplish everything you can in it, and the loading times are a bit excessive at times. Overall, though, Tekken Tag Tournament 2 is definitely a game that does what it does quite well, and anyone who enjoys fighting games at all will find this to be a an easy purchase that spends a lot of time in their console.

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