Tekken Tag Tournament 2 Review
Over the years, my favorite Tekken game wound up being Dark Resurrection, originally released as a Sony PSP exclusive. I think it was because that Namco built a fighting game that was just so well-suited for the PSP hardware, and without being able to rely on multiplayer to include depth, they were forced to innovate in the single player space. Since then, Tekken 6, released on both the PSP and home consoles, felt like a step backwards to me - but to bring back the tag mode of Tekken Tag Tournament and bring together all of the other innovations Namco's been working on for the last several years? Sign me up!
Tekken Tag Tournament 2 gives players the chance to take one or two fighters into an arena at a time, tagging out at opportune times - both when trying to maintain a huge combo and when one fighter is running low on health. Players who just want to focus on one character can do so and select only one fighter, and while those tag combos won't be available and you've only got one health bar, it's a much larger health bar - and you'll do more damage on that one fighter, too.
The roster is pretty massive here, totaling at 59 characters that return from every game in Tekken's history. It's a very complete and fun roster, and yeah, it does include a ton of the signature silly animal-type characters that Namco's made a mainstay of this series. The basic fighting is just as Tekken veterans will expect, too, with a focus on huge combos, lots of juggles, a dangerous ground game, and a potential for very deadly mixups and lightning-fast rounds. All of this together makes TTT2 a rather inaccessible starting point for those trying to get into fighting games (or even just the Tekken series) for the first time, as it's easy to get juggled and get more than half a character's health slapped away in one combo.
Yeah, it can be frustrating, but at the very least, your failures are often your own, not the fault of the lag in online play. TTT2's online mode offers some very smooth play, but I found that it's even more dependent on your connection with your opponent than other fighting games. Stick to fighting people that you've got a solid connection to, and I think you'll be happy with this game's online play, even as you learn high-end combos in training mode and start to bring them online. Often, fighting games require you to use different timing in online versus offline play, but TTT2 does a pretty solid job making sure that what you learn in any one mode works in all of the rest of them.
My favorite feature from Tekken: Dark Resurrection was Ghost mode which returns in TTT2. The way it works is that it adds a new layer of AI on top of an endless mode of fights like you would have in the arcades back in the 90s. The game gives each AI-controlled "player" a name, an affinity for certain characters, and a profile that has favorite moves and unique combinations of offense, defense, aggression and patience. The depth of this mode probably doesn't make much of a difference for high-end players and Tekken veterans, but for a slightly more casual fighting game player like me, Ghost Mode is an excellent way to broaden the scope of a fighting game's single player action without trying to to make some kind of overbearing story that plays out the same way every time you go through it. Having the ability to customize your fighters with mostly-cosmetic gear is fun, too, but it has a silly side-use in Ghost mode as many of the AI profiles also come with fun costumes for their characters as well.
The entirely new single player feature that's been introduced in TTT2 is the Fight Lab mode where you fight as a customizable "Combot". The story is completely ridiculous, just like you'd expect, but the fun part is in how the game teaches you the basics of attack, defense, and movement, all while allowing you to progress through a legitimately fun offline mode. It got tiring for me pretty quickly, but I've never really been much of a fan of Tekken stories, so that probably didn't help. Overall, I actually found myself playing Ghost mode more, but Fight Lab is still pretty solid, and let's face it; fighting game single player modes are at such a desperate point right now that nearly any innovation has to be praised nearly endlessly. Fight Lab isn't exactly amazing, but it's at least something relatively new, and that's better than what so many other fighting games are offering.
With all of that said, even having two fighters at your disposal - something I haven't enjoyed in a Tekken game in years - did less to revitalize this stagnating series than I expected it to. The game specifically limits the amount of mixups and assists you can execute between your characters, and the more advanced stuff like combining supers, tags, and making use of comeback mechanics, like in Skullgirls or Marvel vs Capcom 3 are minimized here. There's no way to be good with a particular TTT2 team without being good at both characters separately, and there's no real use of picking a character just for a particular assist; you'll need to be proficient with both fighters to survive, as you lose a round as soon as either of your fighters is knocked out.
I'd love to tell you that Namco has breathed a ton of new life into this ailing franchise with TTT2, but it's just not really the case. It's still a fantastic fighting game that will sell plenty of copies to the series' fans, but it's not a fantastic choice to start with if you're looking to get into fighting games. Still, Namco has piled on a huge roster of fighters, some crazy stages to contend with, and a ridiculous style that fans will love. Even if you're not a fan, if you stick with it long enough, you might come to love Tekken Tag 2 as well.