Since the first entry into the series, back in 1994, the series has become a staple of the 3D fighting genre: originally birthed in arcades, at a time when games had to be good enough to warrant inserting your final few coins into an arcade machine whenever you lost a match.
Seventeen years has passed since Heihachi Mishima announced the first King of the Iron Fist Tournament. Since that fateful day we’ve learned Heihachi threw his son into a ravine, who then made a deal with a devil spirit to allow him to exact his revenge. That same son went on to hook up with series favorite Jun – who later gets killed by Ogre – and spawn Jin, who also happens to be partially possessed by a similar devil spirit. We’ve seen Heihachi die, only to be alive by the end of the same game. And we’ve seen more estranged family members than there are homo-erotic fan fictions about Jin and Hwoarang.
Oh, and then there’s Lars …
Tekken is wacky. It’s like an episode of Melrose Place combined with Smallville combined with Thundercats. Yes, none of it makes sense, but that’s part of its charm. Despite the fighting pandas and boxing dinosaurs, the Mishima fight for power is utterly compelling. With each iteration of Tekken, we want to know what’s going to happen to our favorite combatants (excluding Lars of course).
It’s a fighting game soap opera that we, the gaming public, can’t get enough of.
So how does Tekken Tag Tournament 2 stack up when held in regard to the rest of the series? It improves, it evolves, and it becomes the go-to Tekken game of the franchise.
How, I hear you cry? Well, Tekken 6 was awful. It was, there’s no getting away from that [Editor’s Note – you charlatan! Tekken 6 was great!]. The focus was on the rubbish Xbox LIVE Arcade-quality single player Streets of Rage clone, and the fighting aspect became neglected. So neglected that it felt as though it had been tacked on. Tekken Tag 2 has seemingly taken this criticism on-board and remedied it. The focus now is purely on fighting, which is exactly where it should be.
Tekken Tag Tournament 2 opens with the usual over the top, and frankly stunning, cut-scene. Stunning doesn’t do it justice though. Normally I wouldn’t comment on cut-scenes, as they’re something that doesn’t really add to the gameplay, but those in Tekken Tag are so crisp and beautifully rendered, that I can’t help but tell everyone I come into contact with how nice they look.
Cut-scenes aren’t the only area where Tekken Tag excels in the graphical department. Taking a leaf out of the Soul Calibur V textbook, level design – more specifically the backgrounds – are now multi-layered and diverse.
Funny story incoming: Any quick Google or YouTube search will show how interesting the background design is. Yet despite all of the different examples I could choose from, the one that stays in the forefront of my mind is ‘the level with the guy holding a wheel of cheese.’ Yes. That’s journalism at its finest. My main point to show how glorious the backgrounds are, is ‘There’s a guy holding some cheese.’
That might sound like a cop out, but there’s slightly more to it.
Spinning the camera as you side-step opponents showcases the depth of the world. Fields go on into the distance. People gather around, cheering you on as you fight. Not just a handful of copy/paste people either. Real people who each could have their own backstory. Has a maid ran outside at the sound of fighting? Has a wine seller also heard the commotion and fancied some free entertainment? And, has a guy who has just spent his weekly shopping money on an oversized cheese wheel just ran over and he’s so excited that he’s waving the cheese in the air to help display said excitement?
It may sound trivial. It may not be needed. I may be an overly-critical idiot. But these little touches are what cement the distinction between good and great. Tekken isn’t a good series. It’s a great series. It’s these little touches that raise Tekken Tag above and beyond what you’d expect from a fighting game.
Cheese wheels aside, Tekken Tag also comes with a myriad of different modes to keep you entertained. Most noticeably, the Fight Lab and the new customization mode.
Fight Lab puts the player in the role of a robot training to become a fighting machine. This, like many Tekken tropes, is silly. But it’s the good kind of silly. The kind of silly you’ll never admit to liking but you know it’s true. Fight Lab tasks you with learning the basics of how to move, along with which button does what. Once you’ve got to grips with this, you move on to more advance training, such as beat someone while crossing a minefield as they shoot at you. It’s Tekken’s trademark weirdness at its best, but also surprisingly enjoyable.
Customization has been tweaked to keep those of us who love dressing our dolls in different clothing (and boy oh boy, do I) engrossed for hour after hour. Winning earns money, money buys clothes, clothes go on characters to enhance or dehance the way the they look. Interestingly, you can even buy items such as swords and guns which are usable during combat, which is a pretty nifty idea.; along with different auras or effects to visually-stun/annoy the crap out of opponents.
All of these improvements I’ve noted are superb but would ultimately become meaningless should the main aspect of Tekken fall apart at the seams. In short, if the fighting isn’t up to scratch, we could have another Tekken 6 on our hands. And no one wants that.
When it comes down to the nitty-gritty, this is one aspect that sets Tekken Tag 2 apart from its rivals. Firstly there’s over fifty characters to chose from, with recent leaks suggesting even more – and no paid DLC characters, Capcom. Secondly, be it the pacing, sound effects, or the feeling you get when you punch someone square on the chin, the combat is spot on.
It improves, it evolves, and the combat alone makes Tekken Tag 2 the go-to Tekken game of the franchise.
Why do we play fighting games? What’s the one main component we crave? It’s the action of beating the living snot out of your opponent. If it’s not, then why bother? When we play any game in the genre, we want to feel each punch as it connects, we want to feel as though a kick to the mid-section could feasibly wind someone or cause them to lose consciousness. That’s where Tekken shines. Every combo feels heavy. You feel as if you’re actually in there attacking someone. This one aspect is what Tekken 6 lacked. And it’s this one aspect that Tekken Tag has nailed better than any other fighting game.
Than any other fighting game.
The difficulty found here is grueling and unforgiving. It’s rock hard; but that’s exactly how it should be. If you pick a character you’re familiar with then you’ll start with an advantage. On the easiest difficulty you’ll stand a fighting chance. However, pick someone new and you will get your ass thoroughly whooped.
The end bosses are a true test: To finish Arcade Mode you have to best three separate boss fights: Jinpachi and Heihachi, Ogre, and lastly, Jun. Jinpachi has his fireball and high-damage moves, Ogre is, well, an ogre, and Jun has the most ridiculous air juggle combos ever conceived, that can easily wreck away half your health, and on top of that, well, I’ll leave the final part as a surprise to those who buy the full game.
Normally this is the part where I cover something that I consider to be an irritant or a game breaker. I’ve got nothing. Tekken Tag Tournament 2 does exactly what it should. It delivers fact-paced fighting at its best that is near-faultless. The difficulty is so unapologetic that when you get into your grove, you can’t help but feel as though you’ve truly accomplished something epic.
There’s extras here that add to the experience. Game modes add to the game without taking away from the one thing that matters, fighting. And let’s face it, all we want from a Tekken game is the ability to beat people up in a plethora of different ways. If you’re a lover of games where you get to feel like you’re causing real physical harm, then Tekken Tag Tournament 2 is a must-have for any fighting game connoisseur.
Plus you get to punch Lars in the face. Isn’t that worth the retail price alone?