I’ve long been a fan of the Tekken series. I remember, many years ago, when I first laid my eyes on a demo of Tekken 2. I didn’t know it at the time, but that was one of the last times I’d ever be able to use one of the most influential characters in the franchises’s history, Jun Kazama.
Sixteen years later, one of the characters who has been asked to return time and time again by Tekken fans finally has, and in a game that has been hotly demanded for years no less! On paper, there are a lot of reasons why Tekken Tag Tournament 2 should be the best Tekken game of all time but, unfortunately, it’s not.
The Tekken Tag games do not follow Tekken canon, so obviously there’s little to no actual story here and everything that happens in this game is completely separate from the main Tekken plot. Because of this, Tekken fans who enjoy deep conflicts and enthralling character motivations will feel a little put out by Tag 2, but for good cause. The Tag games are, after all, nothing other than fanservice.
So, does Tag 2 do a good job of giving Tekken fans what they want? A quick skim across the roster and catching sight of long lost names such as Alex, Angel, Prototype Jack, Jun, Kunimitsu, Michelle, Ogre, and even Tiger Jackson all point to yes. This game really has it all. Jun versus Jin, Michelle versus Julia, Jinpachi versus Ogre? Every dream match is possible in Tag 2, and it’s a lot of fun to behold. Heck, you can even make a tag team of Dr. Bosconovitch and Alisa!
So, in regards to the roster and who Namco included, everything is certainly right on the money. I don’t think there are any characters excluded in Tag 2 other than Gun Jack and Gon, the former being unable to appear anyway due to being a licensed character. Roster aside, what does this game get right? This is where things get complicated.
First off, there’s the gameplay. As a whole, the game is plays about the same as Tekken 6. Juggles are still all over the place, bounding is still prominent (for better or for worse), and the overall speed of the fighting is very fast and very furious. If you enjoyed the gameplay of Tekken 5, or Tekken 6 which was an evolution of of its predecessor, then you’ll probably find plenty to enjoy in Tag 2. However, there can be a few frustrations with mixing the Tag play style wi th Tekken 6 mechanics. Take for instance the bound system which allows players to easily bounce each other off the floor to take additional punishment. While it seems to have been dialed back a bit from how excessive it was in Tekken 6, it’s still a big part of Tag 2 and can be incredibly frustrating in the game considering the fact that, with a tag team of two fighters, you have a lot less life. It’s incredibly easy to KO an opponent under normal circumstances, but then when you factor bound and juggles into the equation? Let’s just say that some fights can be over before they even begin, and this can be extremely off-putting to casual players. I’m hardly a pro, but I’ve been a religious couch player of the Tekken series for several installments now and I always beat everyone I know when we play. In Tag 2? The questionable mechanics slammed into the Tag environment only further increases the gap between my skill level and those around me, and I’ve won almost every game I’ve played against a friend, family member, roommate, etc. What am I saying here? I’m saying that Tag 2, as a competitive game, is extremely unfriendly towards casuals. This isn’t even the tournament scene I’m talking about, but rather sitting on the couch at home and playing with someone you chill with. If they don’t play Tekken as much as you, they’re going to get creamed. Badly.
Aside from bound becoming a little less of a game changer than it was in Tekken 6, the rage system has also been reworked heavily. No longer will every character get powered up when they near death, which I frankly hated in Tekken 6 since it was basically rewarding players for losing. Rage now only activates under certain conditions. When you’re playing a team of two characters who has a relationship of any kind (family members, friends, etc.), then rage will activate for one character when the other has gotten a thorough beating. It’s still a bit of a lousy system because I really hate it when fighting games try to level the playing field because one player is losing, but there’s not much that you can do about it. It’s not such a problem in Tag 2 however, because I rarely see any characters gaining rage. It’s a bit of a rare phenomenon, unlike in Tekken 6 where rage occurred in every single fight.
Also, was the case in the original Tekken Tag, only one character on your tag team needs to be defeated to win the round. Because of this, you’ll be swapping characters frequently and playing very strategically as you try to strike a balance between which character you’re better with and which character has more life and is in better fighting form.
In terms of game modes, there’s a little bit of content here. Offline play predictably contains mainstays such as arcade mode, team battle, survival, and so forth. There are no genuine surprises here, as all of the modes are just the basic options we’ve had for years. Online play is much the same and uses the same net code and functionality that was introduced in Soulcalibur V. For those who never played it, Soulcalibur V had, in my opinion, the best net code of any fighting game this console generation. There are competitive ranked matches which I’ve frankly never cared for, and then there are player matches which allow you to create your own rooms with your own settings such as regions allowed, maximum players, etc. In these rooms, players take turns fighting and, when you’re not up, you get to relax and watch the fight between the two players who are currently engaged in a match. It’s a great way to keep online play entertaining when you’re not actually playing.
There is also a game mode introduced in Tag 2 called Fight Lab that involves a developing your own Combot. Remember Combot? The boring Mokujin replacement in Tekken 4? Well, instead of Combot simply being a boring mimic character now, Fight Lab takes players through a series of missions that help teach them how to play Tekken and how to understand the mechanics of the fighting game. It doesn’t do a spectacular job of doing so and I personally found some of the missions in Fight Lab to be flat out irritating. It wasn’t the sort of fun game mode we’ve come to expect from Tekken but, then again, Tekken has been continuously trading off enjoyment for repetitive gameplay in their “fun” game modes for years now, so this is no real surprise. The only fun aspect of Fight Lab is that, after each mission, you’ll unlock new moves for Combot that you can purchase and assign. Basically you get to create a move list for Combot by slapping signature moves from other characters onto it. This can result in a Combot that uses moves from King, Lee, and Yoshimitsu combined. It certainly sounds like a lot of fun, but I found myself quickly neglecting my own tailor-made Combot in favour of my usual favourite characters.
Customization makes another return, though this time I’m not quite sure that I like it – at all. We have even fewer clothing pieces than ever to work with now, with there being a handful of “generic” clothing pieces that all characters get in addition to one or two unique clothing sets that each character gets. If you want to have fun playing dress up, then you’ll want to go back to Tekken 6. Clothing is even more overpriced in Tag 2 than every before and, with most clothing pieces being bland and uninteresting, there’s a not a lot to look forward to beyond playin with decals. Similar to in Soulcalibur V, players can place decals on their clothing items to personalize them. Unfortunately, only those who are truly creative and/or graphically skilled will be able to make good use of the decal system. The rest of us? Well, customization just isn’t really worth it this time around. I suppose this isn’t too surprising considering the fact that this game has almsot sixty characters and a huge amount of stages. Some corners had to be cut, and customization drew the shortest straw.
So overall, how is Tag 2? It probably has the best gameplay of the entire franchise, but it’s not very casual friendly and will generate massive gaps of skill between inexperienced and seasoned players. The game modes are pretty generic but get the job done, though Fight Lab is a bit on the dull and irritating side. With well over fifty characters, and the ability to have a team of two, there’s still a lot of fun to be had here. Tekken Tag 2 could have been a tremendously great game, but there are flaws. There is an almost inexcusable amount of loading, customization is poor, Fight Lab is dull, and there’s nothing truly new and innovative to be found in the game. Some aspects of the game feel lazy, as there’s simply little change from Tekken 6 and it wouldn’t be hard to mistake this game for Tekken 6, at least until characters start tagging in and out. Add to the fact that the gameplay can ruthlessly slap casual players around like rag dolls, and you have a truly fantastic Tekken game that… well, somehow draws a lot of sighs. There’s nothing terrible in this game and it certainly is fun to play if you’re beating on someone who is around your skill level, but I can’t help but feel that Namco didn’t really try as hard as they could’ve on this game. Still, it’s a very solid fighting game and is well worth your money if you are a devout Tekken fan.
+ Absolutely MASSIVE character roster with many lost names returning to the mix.
+ Online play is very stable and spectating when not fighting keeps it fun.
+ Solid mechanics that long time players will be happy with.
– Game modes are fairly generic and Fight Lab feels tacked on.
– Long load times happen far too frequently.
– Unforgiving gameplay may make inexperienced players feel unwelcome against veterans.