Given the abundance of beat-‘em-up titles that have punched their way into stores the past 18 months or so, you’d be forgiven for initially giving Tekken Tag Tournament 2 the cold shoulder. After all, with the likes of Super Street Fighter IV Arcade Edition, Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, Street Fighter x Tekken and Soul Calibur V competing for your hard-earned cash, a new game has to offer something unique and captivating in order to differentiate itself from its contemporaries. Fortunately, Tekken Tag 2 does just that, offering what is unequivocally the strongest console entry in the franchise for a good couple of years. Yes, it’s not particularly original, nor does it challenge any pre-conceived notions you may have of the franchise, but it works – and rather well, too.
Ostensibly, Namco’s latest offering is Tekken 6 with a Tag component slapped on top, but things do go a little deeper than that. Sure, mechanically this is pretty much the same game you played three years ago, but the Tag element adds an exciting strategic layer onto the proceedings. Character wise this is the most comprehensive Tekken line-up you’ll ever see; all your old favourites such as Paul, Kazuya and Marshall Law are here, alongside newcomers Lars and Alisa plus folk we haven’t seen in years including Jun, Michelle and Ogre. As such, there’s a myriad of fighting styles on offer, catering to a variety of tastes and techniques. As mentioned the gameplay is fundamentally similar to Tekken 6, which in itself is no bad thing.
Tekken has always managed to carve out a niche for itself, landing somewhere between the graceful intricacies of Virtua Fighter and the over-the-top, juggle-based play of Street Fighter. Building on the Tekken 6 engine means the Bound system is back, allowing you to effectively bounce an opponent off the ground leaving them susceptible to further pummelling. Characters are pretty much as you remember them, complete with some obligatory new moves, though a couple of tweaks have resulted in some techniques either being mapped to new buttons or replaced altogether. The Tekken paradigm remains as solid as ever though, and there’s enough depth here to keep masters happy while not alienating newcomers at the same time. It’s like peeling back the layer of an onion; start off with the basics, go to more advanced combos and juggles, then have a pop at the more complicated stuff like grapple/multi part escapes, chickens, side-stepping and other such moves.
The Tag component is the star of the show however. Aside from the obvious challenge of managing two characters, the various Tag manoeuvres you have at your disposal really add a whole new dimension to fights. Hitting the analogue stick tags in your second player, but arbitrarily whacking it isn’t going to do much; you need to know how to use it and when to really unlock its true potential. Take for example my team of choice, Kazuya and Heihachi. Execute the Stone Head grapple with Kaz, hit tag, and then watch as Father and Son batter their victim while tagging in rage-induced Heihachi. This not only deals damage and tags in your second character, but puts you at a distinct advantage as your opponent will still be recovering.
Even more crucial are Tag Assaults. These are new attacks that didn’t appear in the first Tekken Tag, and allow you to slap your opponent about with both characters simultaneously. Activated by tagging just before you ‘bound’ a foe, they can set you up for some pretty meaty combos and, if executed to their full potential, can really punish your adversary. Yes, they’re tricky to do, but can seriously shake-up the equilibrium of a punch-up if you get the hang of it. Fortunately Namco doesn’t shove them down your throat either; you can still launch an opponent, hit tag, and then follow up with a regular juggle if you see fit.
Tekken Tag 2 is packed with game modes, with the new face being Fight Lab. This essentially replaces the scenario mode/story mode of previous iterations with a how-to-play tutorial featuring its own narrative of sorts. This is definitely where Harada-san and co have attempted to make newcomers feel as welcome as possible. Here, you are put in control of Tekken 4’s Combo, effectively a type of training dummy produced by Lee Violet’s multi-national corporation. Violet and his sultry sidekick will guide you through five stages of varying challenges, from fundamentals such as movement, punches, kicks to taking out bosses while navigating an explosive minefield. Yes, it’s ostentatious compared to the humble Practice Mode, but in terms of getting user acquainted with the Tekken basics, you can’t beat it. Plus, you get to customize combat with a variety of moves, effectively creating your very own personalized brawler — a nice addition in itself. Disappointingly however, Namco didn’t include updated versions of fan favourite such as Tekken Force and Tekken Bowling, which surely would have benefited from a few tweaks and a modern makeover. Plus, Force is perfectly tailored for co-op, and Bowling would have proved an ideal break from the regular punch-ups while still providing that competitive edge.
Aside from your bog-standard Arcade Mode and the aforementioned Practice, you can also take part in Tekken staples such as Survival, Team Battle and VS. Regular one-on-one fights are available in both Arcade and VS if you fancy a spot of old-school Tekken, and you can even pit two characters against one if you fancy a game of decidedly unbalanced odds. Namco has focused on the fighting though, sparing us any convoluted plot nonsense; there’s no scenario or story, just fast-paced pummelling. And Tekken Tag 2 is all the better for it. Customisation is also back and better than ever, with heaps of swanky clobber up for grabs, not to mention some pretty bizarre accessories (I battled against one bloke with a pizza strapped to his back, for example). Money is never tight seeing as how you can rake in the cash simply by beating opponents, though you’ll need it if you are to kit out your characters with the most expensive items. Sure, some players may not give a toss about this aspect, and the item moves can be seen as gimmicky, but those who relish at personalising their combatants will put hours and hours into this component alone.
Let’s face it though; no one plays Tekken on their lonesome for extended periods of time, minus if they’re perfecting their move set. As such, the online multiplayer is where you’re likely to spend most of your time over the next few months. Fortunately, the net code this time around is far more robust than the stuttering mess that was Tekken 6. Is it perfect? No, you’ll still get some lag, which makes the more time-sensitive techniques a bit hit and miss, but overall it’s one of the better online beat-‘em-up experiences you’ll try. Again, there’s ranked and non-ranked matches, and Namco has improved things this time around by letting you give priority to lower or higher ranked opponents.
In my book this is a brilliant addition, as one of things that deterred me from going online with Tekken 6 was to constantly being thrown in at the deep end against an opponent who vastly eclipsed my own skill level. Sure, losing is part and parcel of any fighter, but being able to go toe-to-toe with someone of equal skill proves far more satisfying in the long run. Overall, you get what it says on the tin: it’s online Tekken, and for the most part, it’s a great experience offering competitive, fast-paced bouts that if anything make you eat humble pie and strive to lock down those intricate combos and timings so you can mix it up with the best of them. Personally, that’s exactly what I want out of a fighting game.
Visually, Tekken Tag 2 is a vibrant bag of ripping muscles, gorgeous backdrops and outlandish physics. Realism certainly isn’t the name of the game here as you bounce victims off concrete and send them flying airborne, but it’s a joy to watch and the action never lets up. Backgrounds are pleasingly varied and a lot of them offer destructible floors and barriers, injecting a bit of Dead or Alive into the proceedings and more importantly keeping things fresh.
Walls also make a return, but fortunately they’re not as prominent as in previous entries. Characters are meticulously-detailed from clothing to facial animation, even if the lip synching is off at times. Sound wise dialogue is thankfully kept to a minimum, but the music is fantastic, combining techno anthems with thunderous, bone-crunching effects that work well to accentuate the gravity-defying moves on display. In short, it’s everything you’ve come to expect from a Tekken game.
Overall, Tekken Tag 2 is a stellar brawler and must-have for any self-respecting beat-em-up aficionado. Fans meanwhile are sure to appreciate the amount of love Namco has provided in regards to game endings and the abundance of characters on offer. With plenty of game modes to tuck into, solid gameplay – including the awesome Tag mechanics – plus a great online experience, Tekken Tag 2 is probably the best incarnation of the franchise in years.