Around the turn of the century, Namco took Tekken 3, one of its most popular games, and updated it with tag-team play in a "dream match" setting that included all of the characters in the series to date. Tekken Tag Tournament went on to become one of the most beloved entries in the Tekken series, and a decade later, we finally have Tekken Tag Tournament 2, whichlives up to the reputation of its predecessor — with a few minor caveats.
Just like the first game, TTT2 enhances the formula set about by recent Tekken games by speeding up the action, building on what came before, and including a roster of nearly all characters from Tekken's storied history, including some not present in the arcade version of the game. In addition, characters can fight in one-on-one, two-on-two or even two-on-one matches over a plethora of modes that take into account today's fighting game culture and feature sets. The attractions found in the offline modes menu include the ability to play the original arcade version of the game, as well as the old mainstays of Survival mode, Team Battle, Time Attack and a fairly in-depth Training mode, which allows players to set up any fighting situation to practice. Also in the mix is the ability to play the game co-op with Pair Play and to fight experienced player AI in Ghost Battle; both of these are useful for enhancing player skills.
Taking a cue from the Soul Calibur series and big brother Tekken 6, fighter appearances can be customized via a special dedicated mode. Outfits, hair pieces and even special effects are there for application to your favorite characters. It's not as deep as Soul Calibur V, where you could move and manipulate a seemingly endless number of parts to your liking and create whoever you wanted, but it's quite serviceable and versatile. Customization further extends to a soundtrack that is already great, but it can be further enhanced with your MP3 files for every event in the game via the Tekken Tunes mode. For PS3 users, this means no envy over the Xbox 360's custom soundtracks feature.
There are a few flaws with the presentation and overall package. For one thing, online play is locked behind an online pass, forcing all people who wish to try the online functionality to buy a new copy; they can't even borrow a disc from a friend. It's a fundamentally anticonsumer practice that will always cause a game to lose points with me if it's included. Also, for a game that requires a mandatory hard drive installation (7.5 GB worth!), it's a shame to see it not put to better use. Load times abound, from pre-match proceedings to the Customization shop being a total slog, and Team matches and replays are constantly interrupted. It fiercely bogs down the experience. The deficiencies extend to the graphics, which look easily worthy of the hardware in normal camera view but will shift to either pixelated background elements or pixelated fighters when the cinematic camera comes into play during special moves — and in this game, that happens a lot.
However, in the end, it all comes down to how it plays, and how well the fighting holds up in today's post-fighting-game-comeback landscape. Fortunately, the fighting is everything you've come to expect from a Tekken game. If you're unfamiliar with how the fighting works, in its most boiled-down state, it involves two fighters striking each other using a set of four buttons mapped to each fighter's limbs. It's a simple yet deep combat system that's worked well for the series, and over the years, feature after feature has been added for versatility. Unfortunately, this is also where we hit the game's potentially biggest snag.
On paper, Tekken Tag Tournament 2 is an excellent game that covers all the bases. However, Tekken as a series has run for a very long time, and rarely does Namco jettison things from the fighting system unless it's met with universal disdain from the audience (see: the entirety of Tekken 4). TTT2 builds very much on Tekken 6, which in turn had built on previous incarnations of the series while adding some polarizing elements, mostly related to how juggling properties work. In that game, and now this one, it's possible to shave off immense amounts of life bar simply by sweeping an opponent off of his or her feet just once. Combos can be kept going off the ground, off the walls, and off the edge of the screen. It's not quite Marvel vs. Capcom 3's irredeemable touch-of-death juggling, but it's as close as you want to get before becoming convinced to give up the game entirely. While there are several countermeasures in place to prevent this sort of thing from happening, they are so many in number and so many unique properties that players can be easily overwhelmed, but they are fundamental if one wishes to be effective in this game. This extends to players' normal move sets, which can number into the hundreds, and it's up to players to figure out which subsets of moves to use. In layman's terms, TTT2 suffers from feature creep of the worst order.
In a way, this a problem that 3-D fighters have always had, but I bring it up now because it was a problem that Namco had already aptly solved with the introduction of the Tekken series in the first place. In the days of the arcades, when Virtua Fighter was the king of the fledgling 3-D fighter genre, Tekken made a splash by offering gameplay that, while not quite as deep at the highest of levels as VF, was far more accessible and easy to learn through pure intuition. To see the bars for entry and mastery raised to such a high degree here is actually disheartening. Sidestepping — another one of early Tekken's innovations — isn't even an effective tactic anymore. It's great to cater to the tournament players and make a deep game, and I honestly feel every fighting game should. However, cluttering a game with too many essential mechanics to keep track of is a great way to make sure that only tournament players play it. TTT2 totters dangerously close to committing the types of mistakes that caused fighting games to decline a decade ago, before Street Fighter 4 blew the doors wide open by going (mostly) back to basics.
To the game's credit, there are several options available on the disc for teaching players to fully appreciate what's on offer. In the offline venue, there's the Fight Lab, which walks players through several key techniques required to maintain competency in the Tekken arena. Bonus points go to Fight Lab mode for wrapping its lessons in a hilarious story and inventive exercise drills, both of which did a great job of keeping this reviewer engaged and wanting to practice them repeatedly. Online, you have the Tekken Channel, where you can download and review ranked match replays. You can even search replays by character, which is an absolutely excellent feature on paper that needs to become standard in all fighters. Sadly, this feature has a fatal flaw: the human factor. At the time of this writing, replay search has been rendered useless by "boosters" — people who enter online matches to build rank, and they do nothing but sit there or disconnect when they're losing. Until this mode is properly policed, we will never see its full potential. Finally, you can always up your skills the old-fashioned way: online play. TTT2's net code is sound and allows you to search by connection strength to ensure the smoothest possible play.
Tekken Tag Tournament 2 is a very good game, standing with Tekken 3, Tekken 5 and the first Tekken Tag Tournament as one of the defining installments of the series. However, due to the above, it's hard for me to instantly recommend it over other versions unless you're willing to put in the time to bring out its full potential. If you're a fighting neophyte, a casual dabbler in the genre, or just want a game to quickly jump into and play with friends, there are other installments of Tekken that are more accessible and have far fewer performance issues. However, if you and your friends absolutely love your fighting games or are already huge Tekken fans, there's little reason not to pick this up, as you will get the most out of this title. TTT2 is a great game on its own merits, but the jury's out on how well it bodes for the state of fighting games.
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