on September 16, 2012
I'm not generally into fighting games, but I've been a casual Tekken fan since I played the second iteration on PlayStation. The series is far more than a button masher; it's known for instant accessibility, large move lists and fighter rosters, demanding combos, well-balanced and memorable characters, a huge variety of fighting styles, catchy music, and a quirky "story" that doesn't take itself seriously. It's not known for invention, and there's hardly anything new to be found in Tekken Tag Tournament 2. But perhaps that's ok since the developers stuck with what they knew and created the best Tekken experience to date.
Tekken Tag Tournament 2 bosts a roster of over 50 fighters, and additional characters are available as free DLC. Surprisingly, every character and game mode is available to you right from the start.
At first glance the number of modes and options is staggering. You'll find:
Xbox LIVE Marketplace
Unless you're a hardcore fighter, you'll be spending most of your time offline. Arcade Battle gets stale fast; it's a 9 or 10 match story mode that allows you to unlock characters' ending movies and earn money with which you can purchase character customizations. This doesn't sound so bad, except that the final battle is unfairly difficult on the easiest setting (which will frustrate amateurs), there's no option to continue with your current character(s) when you die (you can continue, but you'll be taken back to the character select screen every time), the matches do not change based on the characters you use like in previous Tekken games, and you can earn unlockables much faster by playing Ghost Battle. Ghost Battle lets players choose between three ranked matches and earn money or unlockables upon completion. You can exit after any battle, and this grind mode is oddly the meat of the single-player experience.
Once you get online, which takes an online pass included with new copies of the game and a significant amount of load time, you can host or join a Ranked Match (your statistics are saved in an online database and match wins upgrade your title or rank), an unranked Player Match (a practice mode that doesn't save your statistics), play in World Arena against others that live on your continent, or do a Team battle (a team can only be created or joined by going to the World Tekken Federation website). These modes are hard! You'll run into very talented players who will take you down fast, but it can be a welcome change to fighting the computer.
Fight Lab is a humorous five chapter minigame and tutorial that follows a character named Violet and his development of Combot, a robot trained to fight. You play as Combot and earn money to unlock new moves. It's not as unique as Tekken Ball, Tekken Force, Tekken Bowl, or Devil Within, but it is fun and challenging, plus you can use your move-customized Combot in other game modes! The downside is that this tutorial barely scratches the gameplay surface, and newcomers will finish the mode with far more questions than answers.
Customize lets you purchase and equip items and mods to your characters' appearances. Many of the options must first be unlocked, usually through Ghost Battle. There's a ton of variety here and frequently items have color customizations as well. Unfortunately items for sale that are the same across multiple characters must be purchased for each character individually, and saving up enough money to do so will take a long time. Loading times to view the items you want to purchase or equip are sadly quite long and items seem to be unlocked randomly and without specification (that is, you may be told you unlocked two items upon completion of a match but you won't be told exactly what the items are; you have to go into Customize and figure it out yourself). At least the character models and clothing options look fantastic.
Tekken Tunes allows you to change the audio for specific levels and loading screens. You can even add your own music to the game that's been saved on your Xbox. This is a good thing because so much of the new music is boring! I rarely find myself saying that about Tekken music, but it's really unmemorable this time around. To make matters better (or worse, depending), there is paid DLC that lets you purchase and use the music from previous Tekken games (that you have to pay extra for the content is unfortunate since game director Katsuhiro Harada claimed there would be no paid DLC if he had anything to do with it). Gallery simply lets you watch the typically short, hit-or-miss movies that you've unlocked. Newcomers will not understand many of the videos, but it's not such an issue since the movies that truly shine are the humorous ones that anyone can get. Prepare to be underwhelmed by the Mishima family cinematics, like those of Jinpachi, Kazuya, Jun, and Jin. Tiger Jackson, for reasons beyond me, is the only character without a movie (he's also one of two characters, along with Unknown, to lack unique outfit customizations). If you want to learn more about the fighters, you can watch the ending movies from the past games, but these also come in the form of paid DLC! Serioiusly, Namco? I get that you want to make more money, but what happened to the days of games that came packed with features from the beginning? And, more importantly, how do you expect to get newcomers interested in the game if the story doesn't make sense and the characters come across as personality-less brawlers? Releasing the videos as free unlockables would have made more sense.
Some final notes: level design is excellent with its colorful backgrounds and breakable walls/floors/balconies (though it's hard to explore given the game mechanics and quick nature of the battles), difficulty level seems meaningless once you start to level up your characters (ranking up happens naturally by playing the game and winning matches, and enemy difficulty seems to be based more on rank than on the difficulty setting), characters are exceptionally well-balanced, and tagging between characters is smooth and tremendously fun, especially when you pull off tag combos. This is one heck of a party game since two teams of two can play offline on one console.
In short, Tekken Tag Tournament 2 makes the original, which was a worthy fighter until now, obsolete, and it is the most solid Tekken game ever created. The music is disappointing, there are some long load times, Ghost Battle is a lackluster grind to unlock new items, the unlockables system is randomized and not intuitive, Arcade Battle is wasted potential, and the difficulty levels are questionable. But despite all of these things TTT2 is still one of the best fighters I have ever played for its fluid gameplay and sheer variety of characters, fighting styles, moves, and customizations. If you are new to Tekken or fighting games, however, this may not be the best place to start.