I finally have an answer to the age old question of who would win if a man with a leopard’s head teamed with a giant panda and fought a boxing glove clad dinosaur and an ogre. Tekken Tag Tournament 2 answers this and other burning questions in the latest installment of the fighter series. The series has always had its moments of absurdity, but beneath the playful exterior it is a tight fighting game acclaimed on both sides of the Pacific. Unlike some of its competitors such as Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat, where learning special moves and attacks are essential to mastery of the game, Tekken players have always strived to string together larger and larger combinations in battle. It is the prospect of snow balling a ridiculous number of consecutive strikes on an opponent who is as defenseless as a pacifist baby that has drawn fans of the fighting genre to the Tekken series.
Tekken Tag Tournament 2 continues the Tekken fighting tradition with one distinct difference. For the first time since 1999 fights are tag team affairs whereby two combatants fight while their partners are ever ready off-screen for a tag to take their spot in the battle. Fights are the standard best two out of three format, with each lasting a maximum of 80 seconds should neither team be able to deliver a final knock-out. With an exhaustive roster of almost 50 characters out of the box, a near endless combination of tag team partnerships is possible.
"With an ample roster, slick fighting mechanics, and loads of gameplay, it can certainly hold its own for a few rounds with the heavyweights of the fighting genre."
As with any fighting game, a fine balance must be established to appease veterans of the series. It is paramount for those gamers who know all of the trade secrets and are familiar with the characters, and for newcomers looking to dip their toe in the pool to see if it is to their liking. Thankfully, Tekken Tag 2 allows the core fan base to jump into the face punching action, while also giving newbies the Fight Lab, an option that holds their hand while introducing them to the basics of the fighting mechanics. Hand holding sounds patronizing, but make no mistake, Tekken Tag 2 is a brutally difficult game, and I found the Fight Lab to be an invaluable asset to reacquaint myself with the series after a decade long Tekken sabbatical. The convoluted story included in the Fight Lab puts players in control of a Combot that is learning to fight after the improbable destruction of an earlier robot prototype. The various stages of the Fight Lab prepared me for everything from basic offensive and defensive moves as well as the Tekken bread and butter of launching your opponent in the air and pulling off a sadistic juggling trick of maintaining their altitude with a series of kicks and punches. After finishing all of the Fight Lab scenarios I felt I had a handle on the game’s controls and move-sets. Unfortunately this game mode did little to refine my timing, which is equally important for success in the game.
The core fighting in Tekken Tag 2 is slick, fast paced, and punishing for the uninitiated. The game’s heavy reliance on timing can mean the difference between delivering a swift kick to the head or inflicting a 20 hit combo that sends your opponent through the floor. Learning the timing intricacies is a long and tough slog. Time is well spent in the arcade mode of the game where the gentle curve of AI improvement allows players to hone this imperative gameplay mechanic. All of the fighters have a robust move list and are very responsive to each button press delivered through the tight controls. The only portion of the fighting sequences that seem inconsistent with the speed and fluidity of the combat is the speed with which the fighters move towards and away from their opponent. There is a feeling that the ground may be covered in molasses as the characters trudge towards each other. This can be overcome with double tapping in one direction, but general the in-game movement feels like it should be more dynamic.
The tag feature will be new to many of the Tekken faithful. The tag partner plays heavily in the strategy of a fight and can be used in multiple ways. The most obvious benefit of the partner is that when your combatant is taking a beating you can switch in their partner. This allows health regeneration to a certain point for the resting partner, and introduces a level of strategy not present in most fighting games. More satisfying is the tag attack where both fighters work together to dish out a devastating attack. Partners can also be tagged in mid-attack or mid-combination which inflicts more damage than just a single player attack. Having the tag partner always at the ready opened up a continuous stream of options during each fight. Do I try and get a couple extra kicks in on my combo or do I try and launch my opponent in the air and let my partner finish them off in demoralizing fashion? These type of options are ever present and given the speed and fluidity of the game, must be made quickly and decisively. My only quibble with the tag portion of the game is the limited animations for the tag attacks. Many seem to be recycled from what I’ve seen 1990s wrestling tag teams do. I would have loved to have seen more creative attacks involving both members of the team.
One of the most distinct aspects of Tekken Tag 2 is the presentation, which gives the game a life of its own. The overall atmosphere can only be stated as crazy with a liberal dose of absurdity. From fighting in Norway surrounded by multiple Santas, to having battles backed by a trippy Macys-like parade, there is always a dose of humor infused in the environments; it was refreshing for a genre that is notorious for taking itself too seriously. As enjoyable as the creative locations were, one major improvement would have been to infuse more life into the spectators instead of having them go through canned repeating animations. The ludicrous presentation was especially evident in the Fight Lab where the Combot had to battle against what appeared to be a rotund Power Ranger throwing pizzas and a flying sumo wrestler who looked remarkably like E. Honda from Street Fighter. In the hands of a lesser developer the over the top insanity of Tekken Tag 2’s presentation could have felt trite and tiresome. Fortunately, it adds piles of charm to the experience that will put a smile on the face of even the surliest gamer. This coupled with clean and crisp graphics which, while not cutting edge, are some of the most pleasing found in the fighting game genre, delivering a buffet for the eyes.
The area where Tekken Tag 2 was found to be most lacking was in its audio. Most fights take place with a backdrop of generic and repeating grunts, coupled with even more generic Euro-pop synth beats. When the fighters do speak, it is usually a single line of Japanese text delivered with little enthusiasm. Judging from the subtitles, the uninspired voice work is almost understandable given the lame and clichéd lines they are asked to deliver. For a game as imaginative as Tekken Tag 2, it is a shame that the same tongue in cheek presentation that gives the game its soul is not present in its audio. Voice work as wacky and varied as the character models would be a huge improvement. Additionally, background music specific to the environment would have been welcomed, and less tiresome and forgettable.
The steep learning curve and monstrously large roster of fighters and tag team partnerships ensures that Tekken Tag 2 has an incredible amount of replay value and staying power. Given the drastic size and speed difference between so many of the characters they each feel very different to control. Add to this a unique move set for each and you have a game where each fighter needs love and attention to learn their unique complexities, which requires a large time investment. The huge array of game-modes and character customization options also guarantees that there is plenty of content to keep players busy and coming back for more.
Tekken Tag Tournament 2 is a solid and wonderfully executed fighting game. With an ample roster, slick fighting mechanics, and loads of gameplay, it can certainly hold its own for a few rounds with the heavyweights of the fighting genre. The tagging system is unique and adds a level of strategy that is often missing from a one-on-one battle. While very difficult, the game is quite accessible to non-Tekken fans through the excellent Fight Lab mode. However, the mode would be well advised to focus more on timing. The visual presentation with all of its wacky and insane touches is masterful in delivering a product I want to be immersed in. While the audio could benefit from stronger music and voice work, this can be overlooked by the sheer volume of overall content and replay value.
Release date : 2012-10-09
Publisher : Namco
Developer : Namco
Gameplay : Fighting & Wrestling
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