Tekken Tag Tournament 2 Review

Playing Tekken Tag Tournament 2 is the video game equivalent of visiting a big buffet. For a reasonable price, you'll have immediate access to a smorgasbord of options all laid out in an appealing manner before you. There's so much here, you almost don't know what to try first. Everything just looks so... tempting. Restrain yourself and take your time, and you'll have an incredibly satisfying, if a bit unorthodox, experience. But dive in head first and you'll come out feeling like you were hit by a truck.

That's because Tekken is very much a core fighter despite its vibrant and irreverent style. With Tag Tournament 2, Namco Bandai is very much sticking to what has worked for the series over the last 18 years. There are no radical changes to characters or movesets here; instead, the sheer number of characters at your disposal is where the variety comes from. Especially for those who never or rarely play Tekken (and I should note that I fall into that demographic,) the game's 50 or so characters can make it tempting to choose a few based on appearance alone, and not playstyle. Just try and not pick Alex the boxing dinosaur the first time you play. I dare you.

This is a dangerous route to take, because simply diving headfirst into the roster is no way to get acquainted with the hundreds of moves in each character's list. I ended up discovering that I didn't like Alex and his close-range boxing moves at all; he was a more amusing character in concept than in execution. One of the game's major failings is that, with a roster so large, there's really no way to get a sense of each character's playstyle without taking them each out for a few rounds. There's a standard Practice mode, sure, but even there you'll have to select characters in groups of two and take them into the arena. It would have been nice if there was some sort of biography system in place to give newbies an idea of each character's style.

Each character has a distinctive style, an impressive feat given the massive roster

The flipside of that is once you become acquainted with Tekken's unique style, you have dozens of characters to try out. This roster is, no kidding, ridiculously large. It's easily possible to waste days going through the Arcade mode alone with each of the characters, much less the online and extraneous single player modes. 

The core gameplay remains deceptively complex as well, making each character a learning experience. Moving about the 3D stages feels smooth and natural, and laying the smack down on enemies, a primarily juggle-based affair, is satisfying once it all clicks. One thing I immediately noticed, perhaps thanks to my recent time with the strict Persona 4 Arena, is just how much more forgiving the timing in this game is than in some of its competition. You'll end up worrying more about memorizing the game's vast number of combos than about timing them. That doesn't make it any less skill-dependent, though.

It's that skill that is learned through hours or days of Tekken playing. Jumping online cold is a great way to get knocked out... again, and again, and again. The vast depth of Tekken Tag Tournament 2 is virtually impenetrable to new players, even with the turoials, and this game is not a lot of fun to lose at, lacking as it is in flashy animations and particle effects that bolster the visuals of many a fighter. It's a common idiom that new players need not apply to most fighting franchises, but it bears mentioning here just as it does everywhere else; you'll have to put in a lot of practice to get good at this game, but once you start winning games online, it's practice well worth it. 

A good way to build your skills is the new Fight Lab mode. Better than the standard Tutorial and Practice modes, the Fight Lab begins at basic movement and ramps up to combo-based drills and tests of skill. The thing that separates Fight Lab from the drab and dull tutorials of other fighters is the wacky Tekken irreverence that comes along with it. Crazy dialogue and beautiful cutscenes make this a mode well worth checking out even for experienced fighters. 

Fight Lab is probably the most entertaining of the single-player modes

The thing that really hooked me on the Fight Lab wasn't the humor or the beauty of the cutscenes, though, but rather the light RPG mechanics. With each successful drill, you will earn experience points and cash which you can spend on new moves and abilities for your Combot avatar. With this interesting approach to character customization, you can easily create your very own suite of attacks for your avatar.

From the Fight Lab, the Training mode is made much more palatable. Here, you can have the computer demonstrate moves from any character's moveset for you before attempting them yourself. It will teach you with an in-depth input diagram that flashes as the buttons are supposed to be pressed, giving you a sense of how precise the game is expecting you to be with the usually-flexible timing. It's a long path to go down just to learn a game's basic mechanics, but it's one that's more entertaining than the equivalent of just about any fighting game around. Soldier through these modes, which, despite their inherent humor, can still be boring just as any fighter's tutorials can, and you will finally be ready to play actual people.

As in most recent fighters, multiplayer comes in two flavors. There's the splitscreen option, which is still my preferred method because of the sense of competition fostered between two people sitting on the same couch (not to mention the bonus of not having to worry about wonky netcode,) and the online versus play. When playing splitscreen, you can tackle the game in Versus, Pair Play and Team Battle modes. Versus is the vanilla one-on-one fight that we've all come to expect from fighters since the Arcade days. Pair Play and Team Battle make things a little more interesting, though.

The former allows up to four players to battle both against and alongside one another. Any player can tag in or out at any point during a match, making battles incredibly chaotic. It's definitely hard to get a handle on at first with a full house, but even when things onscreen are a bit confounding they're still fun. The latter pits two teams of up to eight players each against each other in a tournament-style series of rounds. 

The splitscreen play is just excellent...

The online modes aren't nearly as flexible or fun. They fall back on the standard Ranked Match and Player Match options, and don't allow any of the crazy fun of the splitscreen, and the lobbies are drab and featureless. It's odd because Namco Bandai's last online fighting effort, Soulcalibur 5, was relatively forward-thinking in the way it handled its online features. At least the netcode gets things right; this is an upgraded version of SC5's already-solid code, meaning that matches almost never chug up. When playing with full connection bars, you'll hardly even notice the slight input lag inherent to playing online.

While the online-enabled modes feel a bit truncated, it's fun to get online anyway thanks to a solid customization suite. You won't find yourself building entire characters from the ground up, but what customization you can do still allows you to take the numerous pre-made fighters and warp them in some pretty hilarious ways. The number of customization items is highly impressive, and some of these items even add unique visual flair to battle. Take for instance items that blow bubbles or spin around when you enter a rage state. Some items even come into play during the combat; a plasma scythe weapon can be affixed to character's backs, and they can actually whip it out for a few hits in mid-battle. It's tons of fun to see how other players have already created such bizarre custom characters, especially when the anthropomorphic fighters come into play.

No matter how crazy things get, the game maintains a solid framerate and a beautiful sense of style. Don't expect the graphics to be quite as sharp as they are in arcades (we are talking about six and seven year-old systems here,) but characters and environments are still full of color, life and beauty. It can be easy to get distracted by some of the gorgeous background action on a few of the stages, but the characters themselves will quickly draw you back with their smooth animations and distinctive style.

...But the online stuff falls flat by comparison

Tekken Tag Tournament 2 is hardly the most innovative fighter out there, but it is one of the most full-featured, and that definitely counts for something. The roster here positively dwarfs recent efforts such as Persona 4 Arena and Skullgirls, and the fact that each of them represents hundreds of moves to master is kind of daunting in an awesome way. That depth can as always make this a tough proposition for new players, but at least the Fight Lab and Training modes are competent enough when taken in that order to get newbies up to speed. It's just a shame that the online modes don't have the same versatility as the splitscreen stuff, which is ingenious in its party-play potential.

Score: 8.5/10

This game was reviewed on the Playstation 3


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