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Tekken Tag Tournament 2 review: Bear punching at its very finest

Jordan Mallory

You guys remember in Adventure Time, when Jake the Dog takes all the good food in the world, wraps it up in a giant tortilla and makes the Everything Burrito? That's what Tekken Tag Tournament 2 is like, and it's delicious. Everything that's ever been good about Tekken is in here, from its surprisingly deep, accessible gameplay mechanics to its bombastic and hilarious attitude – all presented in a package more polished and refined than ever before.

By sticking with the same ideas that have driven this series for the last 18 years, rather than attempting to reinvent the series or fighting games as a genre, Namco Bandai has produced the best, most complete Tekken there's ever been. It has also, perhaps inadvertently, published a dissertation on how to design an incredibly solid, full-featured fighting game.

Gallery: Tekken Tag Tournament 2 (E3 2012) | 10 Photos

At its core, Tekken Tag Tournament 2 is still the same Tekken we've come to know and love over the years, with characters that are easy to pick up and a minimalist approach to systems design that takes very little getting used to. Characters are responsive and navigating the 3D stages feels natural, as does the fighting itself, which is earmarked by its primarily juggle-based combo system and deceivingly simplistic controls.

Both movement and the actual combat itself manage to retain a strong sense of control and precision while also imparting both the look and feel of fluidity and grace, rather than the stiffness one might expect from gameplay mechanics so cleanly defined. Most of that feel is due to the fact that timing in Tekken is less of an issue than memorization is, as input strings for entire combos can often be entered all at once. It's far less stilted, and pulling off impressive-looking feats of strength is not a matter of super-human precision, as it is in 2D fighters like Persona 4 Arena or Street Fighter X Tekken.

For those that want it, TTT2's depth is rivaled only by Virtua Fighter, with each fighter having a command list several hundred entries long – it was not uncommon to be accosted by moves I didn't even know my characters had during online mirror matches. Of course, this aspect of the game's design perpetuates one of the series' persistent traits, which is that novice players stand virtually no chance against veterans.

This may sound like common sense, but the degree to which fresh faces are pounded in Tekken is more severe than in other games like SoulCalibur 5. By being so immediately accessible, though, getting good at the game doesn't feel like an impossibility, so there's more motivation to learn and improve. This often isn't the case with more technical fighters, which often have a skill prerequisite rather than a learning curve.

Tekken Tag Tournament 2 review Bear punching at its very finest
When the urge to learn does strike, Tekken Tag Tournament 2's ample tutorial and training modes help make sure the process is entertaining, efficient and effective. Fight Lab teaches everything from basic movement to the tag system's more intricate machinations, but rather than simply running the player through a set of drills, the lessons are wrapped in a hilarious package of textbook Tekken wackiness and fun, denoted by grandiose voice acting and gorgeous cutscenes.

Furthermore, Fight Lab contains an RPG-style meta-game of earning experience and cash by completing training missions, which can then be spent to purchase moves and abilities for the Combot you use during training, who can then be selected as an actual character during regular gameplay. Think of it as a character creation suite, but rather than customizing the character's appearance, the player changes Combot's very move set to suit their taste.

Once Fight Lab imparts the basics, the game's more traditional/free-form Training mode contains a wealth of useful tools for practice and self-teaching. Most importantly, every move in a character's command list can be demonstrated by the computer, and each demonstration is accompanied by an input diagram that lights up as buttons are supposed to be pressed, teaching timing as well as the required inputs (a factor often missing from training modes). This makes learning juggle combos and the like an absolute breeze.

In fact, all of Tekken Tag Tournament 2's modes are extremely well polished and coherently presented, save for one omission from its online architecture. Arcade mode is a no muss, no fuss reiteration of the classic, standard theme: Eight fights, two mini-bosses and one ridiculously difficult end boss, just the way it should be. Ghost Battle mode is essentially a never-ending Arcade Mode, simulating an online experience by having the player choose their next fight from three sets of customized characters with fake online handles.

Tekken Tag Tournament 2 review Bear punching at its very finest
Speaking of character customization, boy howdy do you get to customize some characters. The player may not be able to build characters from scratch ala SoulCalibur 5, but the sheer diversity of costume options and items in its Customization Mode more than make up for that. Right now, for instance, my version of Emilie de Rochefort has a teddy bear on her head that blows bubbles whenever she goes into a rage state. Meanwhile, my version of Alisa is wearing a full Power Rangers uniform and is carrying a Gundam Deathscythe-esque plasma lance on her back, which she can actually use in combat. It's basically the best thing ever.

Couch multiplayer is handled by a standard Versus mode, as well as Pair Play and Team Battle modes. While Versus is exactly what you'd expect, Pair Play allows two to four players to battle both with and against each other, with all four players able to tag in and out at will during a match. Team Battle mode takes a more traditional, tournament-style approach to the group throwdown scenario by organizing up to 16 players onto two teams and then pitting the teams against each other in a series of bouts.

The fact that so much effort was put into TTT2's offline multiplayer proves to me that Namco Bandai and Katsuhiro Harada understand that fighting games are a social experience; one driven by a community that is still very focused on physical, real-world interaction.

Tekken Tag Tournament 2's online modes do unfortunately suffer from Capcom syndrome, in that it relies on the old bastion of Ranked Matches and Player Matches and doesn't venture beyond in the bright new frontier of global lobbies. This omission is somewhat unexpected considering that SoulCalibur 5 had an exceptional, forward-thinking lobby system, and that TTT2's netcode is a modified version of SC5's.

Tekken Tag Tournament 2 review Bear punching at its very finest

That being said, TTT2's implementation of these old standbys is efficient, automatically placing players into a training zone while matchmaking is underway and immediately prompting the player to search for more matches at the end of a fight, rather than pointlessly forcing irrelevant menu navigation like so many of its contemporaries. Even more exciting is the fact that every online match was extremely stable and virtually lag free throughout testing, most of which took place via an Xbox 360 wireless adapter.

Tekken Tag Tournament 2 isn't a revolution for the series, but it is proof that meditation on a theme can produce some incredible results. This is Tekken's thesis statement, in a sense – the complete distillation of everything the series ever was and everything it is now, which just so happens to be everything I could possibly want in a fighter. The ideas presented here are nothing new, but it doesn't feel like a rehash or cop out. Rather, it feels like Namco Bandai has slowly been evolving the same idea over the past 18 years, and this is the culmination of that effort. This is, without a doubt, the most polished, well-executed Tekken game ever made.

This review is based on a retail copy of the Xbox 360 version of Tekken Tag Tournament 2, provided by Namco Bandai. Tekken World Federation functionality was not operation at the time of the review and was not taken into account, nor was Snoop Dogg's pimp mansion level.

Joystiq's review scores are based on a scale of whether the game in question is worth your time -- a five-star being a definitive "yes," and a one-star being a definitive "no."Read here for more information on our ratings guidelines.

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