What does a bear, a panda, a jaguar, a kangaroo, and a raptor all have in common?
The original Tekken Tag Tournament, for those lucky enough to experience it for PlayStation 2, holds many fond memories. Though it wasn't fancy and didn't change the Tekken 3 fighting system much apart from adding a second partner to the fray, its friendly approach, incredible roster, and multiplayer options made it extremely popular. My sassy, "independent woman" friend Sharon and I would pair up as Lei and King at least once every week—it still remains as one of my best memories from college. Best yet, Tekken Tag Tournament didn't take itself seriously, with a Tekken Bowling mini-game and humorous non-canon endings. Now that the Tekken franchise has three more entries under its belt, Tekken Tag Tournament 2 is finally at our doorstep and comfortably proves itself as one of the best fighting titles today.
Tekken Tag Tournament 2 combines over 50 characters from its entire catalogue, pitting unlikely heroes, villains, and endangered species together for an off-the-wall tag team rush. The opening cut-scene sets the appropriate tone from the very beginning, with the ominous Jinpachi scaring a Japanese taxi driver from the backseat. Every character has their own cinematic ending, with many frequently taking the time for self-deprecating humor, like Wang's ending which pokes fun at Tekken's own storyline inconsistencies. Once you've earned enough money by playing through any mode, each character can then be customized further with ridiculous outfits and accessories like a super battery charger, a maid's dress, or a superhero helmet that reeks of Power Rangers.
The combination of deadly assassins, military robots, furry wrestlers, capoeira specialists, pandas, and fighting raptors (what about Gon? oh, shut up) may make it seem like the Tekken franchise has smothered itself in wackiness, but it belies the balance and complexity of the fighting system. Sure, more than a few matches can be won simply by spamming a few moves, but it takes a keen eye to know which maneuvers from each character's exhaustive movelist are best for basic strings and counters. Hardcore fighters can delve as deeply as learning spacing techniques, multi-hit ground juggles, and hitbox analysis.
The more you put into understanding the intricacies of the system and committing long combo strings to muscle memory, the more you'll get out of Tekken Tag Tournament 2. Nothing shows this more than the tag system, which has no truly safe tag-ins. As basic raw tagging leaves your partner open to attack, any competitive player will need to learn the new Tag Assaults and Tag Throws for more opportunities to switch characters without getting knocked around further.
At the same time, characters on the sidelines can enter a Rage state when their partner is severely damaged and will inflict more damage for a few seconds after a successful tag. If the current stand-in fighter is in a serious bind, the sidelined character can sacrifice red health for a Tag Crush or perform a Tag Assault where both characters can interchange blows on an opponent for additional hits.
Some of these high-level techniques typically stay in the realm of hardcore fighting forums, but the fundamentals can all be learned through the new in-depth tutorial known as Fight Lab. The flamboyant Violet, who has way too much money and time on his hands, decides to create a fighting Combot in a secret research facility. As a fledgling robot, you'll need to pass each simulation test, earning money and fighting points used to customize Combot with any moves you choose. Combot becomes an available character in offline modes, so even veterans will want to pass each test with flying colors to unlock the best moves.
Tekken Tag Tournament 2 comes with the standard set of modes, ranging from the storylined Arcade Battle to Ghost Battle where you'll earn ranking promotions as you defeat CPU opponents with mock usernames. With netcode based off Soul Calibur V, online modes fare even better with several options to ensure that you only face off against players with a strong connection and leaderboards that penalizes players for quitting or disconnecting before a fight is finished.
The new World Tekken Federation, accessible on the Internet if you have an online pass code, takes your matches further by providing an incredible wealth of statistical data and the ability to form or join teams. As your team's level increases, your team's emblem can be modified and shown off within the game itself right before an online match begins, if just to give the first impression that you're no slouch. More importantly, this new online feature increases the probability that Tekken Tag Tournament 2 will be included in e-Sports championships and perhaps the next EVO tournament.
Unfortunately, as far as modes are concerned, you can only play cooperatively in Pair Play, which is essentially Arcade Mode without any stat tracking so that losing with a friend doesn't hurt your win percentage. This emphasis on stat purity means that co-op play is not available in Ghost Mode, Survival, or Team Attack, though it would been simple just to disable stats temporarily in all modes when playing cooperatively.
Also, Arcade Mode is a harsh mistress. Even if you set the difficulty on the easiest setting, the last two final bosses will likely crush a newbie since they are preset on an extremely high ranking level, at around a de facto "hard" to "very hard" setting. This won't be a problem for Tekken veterans—some would even welcome the challenge—but one of the joys of the original Tekken Tag Tournament is being able to cooperate with a friend of almost any skill level and have a fantastic time playing together, instead of demolishing said friend in versus mode over and over again. This time around, though, Tekken newbies will feel much too overwhelmed at the end and quickly lose interest after the fourth retry on the final boss. It's a design problem that wouldn't have existed in the first place if the easy difficulty setting actually meant an easy difficulty setting.
On presentation and polish, Tekken Tag Tournament 2 generally excels, with a variety of gorgeous and interactive stages, smooth character modeling and animations, strong voice-acting sometimes spoken in native languages, and an improved soundtrack where stage music can be altered. My only minor gripes would be that there is no Tekken Bowling or Tekken Force mode, which aren't necessary but would have been a nice nostalgic distraction, and that occasionally a few colors on a customized outfit can't be changed.
Apart from the lack of cooperative options, Tekken Tag Tournament 2 is everything that a sequel to the original should be: more characters, more fighting mechanics, more moves, and more over-the-top craziness. Namco Bandai understands that the hardcore fighting community is one that the game needs to hit, and has rightfully incorporated the World Team Federation and online connectivity options in this effort. Tekken Tag Tournament 2 deserves to be in any fighting fan's catalogue and is well worth the partnership.