Tekken Tag Tournament 2
For someone who considers themselves a committed gamer, I still have a large aversion to playing online. It’s not because I’m antisocial (although there is that too) but because I find the experience just so damn stressful. Tekken Tag Tournament 2 is a case in point – and yet it’s online mode is also the reason Namco’s latest is one of the my games of 2012.
Let’s start with the background. My first experience of Sony’s PlayStation 2 – one many will share – was with the original Tekken Tag Tournament back in 2000. Its impact wasn’t simply down to the lush visuals but the excellent use of the two-member team system. Tekken has always straddled the line between accessible/deep, realistic/outlandish better than most beat-em-ups; and so the tagging mechanic was, on the surface, a well-implemented twist. But dig deeper and there were myriad intricacies to explore, not least the experimenting with different character pairings and unleashing duo-specific combos.
12 years later and Namco have returned to the Tag format. The intervening years have seen huge upheavals in the fighting genre, albeit with Tekken floundering somewhat with a string of underwhelming sequels. 2012 however may go down as the year that the series rediscovered its mojo. First there was the delightful link-up with Street Fighter (a combination that would have blown my tiny mind back in 2000), and now there’s TTT2. Given that the original still retains a cult following, it’s a surprise that this sequel has taken so long.
Fight Lab is the most significant option available to offline solo players. An elaborate training mode, the five chapters of Fight Lab see you take control of Combot in an odd narrative that sees your robot protagonist being taught the art of combat by the game’s Lee Chaolin. It’s an effective introduction to the game, and starts slowly with basic movement and limb control before progressing to advanced combos. Fight Lab also highlights the Tekken series’ excellent use of humour, which always seems to effectively undermine the macho posturing elsewhere.
Aside from Fight Lab, offline mode offers the requisite arcade mode (complete with infuriatingly tough final boss), a superb practice mode and extensive character customisation options (there are Power Ranger suits locked away somewhere). The sense that this is something of a ‘greatest hits’ of Tekken – after all, TTT2 features pretty much every character in the history of the series – is further compounded by modes such as the Gallery and Tekken Tunes, a franchise-specific music library that also allows you to import your own music. If you only explore one of these modes, I would recommend the opening movie from the game’s arcade version: it’s, well, awesome.
As I mentioned in the beginning though it is TTT2’s online play – this fearsome, heart-pounding arena of combat against anonymous real people – that is the game’s core. Namco should be applauded here for creating such a stable network, as well as making a few tweaks in the online rules that encourage a player to stick with the game even though it may not be the happiest of places. A case in point is with Ranked matches, which are more forgiving than in other fighting games, as you don’t lose your accumulated status – be it 1st Dan or Master – despite successive losses (and I’ve had plenty of those).
There’s also something about Tekken Tag that lends itself spectacularly well to the online world. It’s in the pleasing unpredictability of the team combinations you encounter, with the vast range of customisable options assuring a consistent string of bizarre visual treats (our favourite being the duo of Panda and Kuma, the former fighting with a small boy clinging to its back). It’s in the pleasure of watching opponents dazzle with beautiful team combos, even though I was often on the receiving end (Alisa and her chainsaw arms are still seared on my brain). It’s in the endless strategising coupled with superficially simple button inputs, proof that Tekken is still a superlative marriage of depth and accessibility.
Don’t let the innate familiarity here cloud the fact that Tekken Tag Tournament 2 is a technical tour de force, and by far the best entry in this illustrious series’ history. With, no exaggeration, my hands shaking and my chest tight, I return to the fray…
(D+PAD reviewed Tekken Tag Tournament 2 on the PlayStation 3; game provided by Namco Bandai)
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