Tekken is a series that seems to come in waves. It’s always there near the start of a console generation and then again at the end. While the early releases are generally very solid, the later releases nearly always shine. This generation actually started with Tekken 5 being updated and ported to from the PlayStation 2 to the PlayStation 3 as PSN download Tekken 5: Dark Resurrection. A fantastic title that showed off everything that is great about the series. Tekken 6 followed shortly after. Again, a solid title but its lack of innovation left it feeling a little tired. So, here we are with Tekken Tag Tournament 2, the late generation release. Does it stand up to the likes of Tekken 3 and 5 and push the series and hardware to it’s limits? Thankfully, the answer is yes.
It won’t have escaped your notice that this is the second Tekken Tag game, meaning exactly what you would imagine it does: 2 Vs 2 battles or even 2 Vs 1, should that take your fancy. You can tag your partner in at more or less any time leaving your resting fighter to recover some health. Tagging can be a straight swap, a jump in to rescue you from a corner, a team up throw or a flashy double team tag assault that lets you alternate between your two fighters in a single combo. The amount of thought and tuning that has gone into making the tag systems work is clear; they not only add a huge amount to depth and strategy to matches but also some much needed flair. You’re never going to see a core Tekken title with the eye melting Ultra attacks of Street Fighter IV, and nor should you want to, but TTT2 matches are now as much fun to watch as they are to play. Fighting game aficionados demand hype and hype has been provided and, for the more casual, there is a lot of fun to be had with four players taking control of one character each.
As with all un-numbered Tekken releases, TTT2 is considered to be non-canonical release and while Tekken does have a rich back story, at least for the core cast, this game being outside of those restraints is a positive move. This freedom means there are over 50 characters to choose from in the console release, with timed DLC beefing that up even more. That is not to say there is nothing here for fans of Tekken lore; Heihachi has been messing with some science and is now much younger than in previous titles, Kazuya can now switch to his Devil form as a stance change and you’ll even get an answer to the long standing question of how Jun and Unknown are related.
Now that you know all your favourite characters are present and correct I bet you’re aching to know if you can put bunny ears on them and make the hold a fish while fighting. Of course you can! The customisation options in TTT2 are quite simply overwhelming. It’s not something I really enjoy for the most part – Tekken has always had very strong character design and I like to keep things as they were intended – but if playing dress up with Devil Jin is your idea of fun then you will not be disappointed. One thing I do take issue with is that CPU characters in the standard arcade mode have all been customised meaning you’ll rarely see a fighter’s original design unless you are playing as them. There are so many modes on offer it might have been nice to keep the customisation out of the vanilla arcade mode.
Aside from the afore mentioned arcade and customisation modes you’ve a full compliment of menu options to choose from. Survival, Time Attack and Ghost modes are all here as well as an extensive practice mode where you can set up just about any situation in order to hone your skills. Online multiplayer is present and correct and worked well in my pre-launch matches. There is even a mode for switching out the background music for each stage and replaying it with audio of your own choosing. The only things missing here are the minigame modes that we’ve seen in the past and any kind of side scrolling Tekken Force mode. None of this should be viewed as any kind of loss.
The new Fight Lab mode has been given a good deal of attention leading up to the game’s release. Essentially it’s a mode that will teach you to be a better player; to hone your reactions and learn what attacks work in what situations. Initially I found it a little slow and frustrating but stick with it and you’ll be rewarded. TTT2 is not a simple game and those used to 2D fighters would do well to pay attention to the lessons being taught. My bugbear here is that while the lessons are narrated they are only in the native Japanese with English subtitles. This leads to fairly heavy reading sessions between the action. English voice options for all characters would have been ideal but here it seems like a lazy omission.
The final star in this release are the fighting arenas. Firstly they are almost all visually outstanding but they also now play a stronger part in the flow of a fight than ever before. Beyond a few classic ‘infinite’ stages each environment can now possesses one of several properties. Walled stages allow for corner punishment, where as wall, floor and balcony break stages offer multi-tiered areas to kick or punch your opponent into. These properties are shown at the stage select screen in Vs modes but not before an arcade battle which is a bit of a shame.