The Tekken franchise quickly established itself as a key player in the world of 3D one-on-one beat-‘em-ups back in the mid-90s. Buoyed by the success of Battle Arena Toshinden’s bold move into the third dimension the genre was ready for a new hero to take a central position, and while SEGA were busy preparing their technical astute Virtua Fighter and Team Ninja had begun work on the silky smooth Dead or Alive, the playing field was left wide open for Namco Bandai Games to step-in with what was, at the time, one of the most impressively structured fighting systems ever seen in a videogame.
Fast-forward neatly twenty years and a lot has changed in the videogame industry, though aside from the recent resurgence in popularity and, of course, the continuous striving for superior visual quality, little has changed in the beat-‘em-up scene. This is a fact of which Tekken Tag Tournament 2 bears all the hallmarks; while technically superior it’s fighting system is still playing the exact same game it was back in 1995. It’s refusal to modernise itself is both its charm and its undoing; it’s reason d’etre and a sign of its age. As a Tekken fan, Tekken Tag Tournament 2 is exactly the videogame you are expecting, for better and for worse.
The fighting system centres on openers and juggles. Tekken Tag Tournament 2 relies on the player knowing the basic rhythm of the system inherent with every single character in a similar fashion to Super Smash Bros. Melee’s shared control scheme; every fighter feels different but the same rules underpin them all. This makes Tekken more balanced than most beat-‘em-up videogames from the off, though Tekken Tag Tournament 2 is still far more effective when playing as an experienced gamer as opposed to jumping in without prior knowledge of the franchise. Every character has a huge number of openers available for all positions imaginable – standing, retreating, counter-attack, downed, aerial etc. – but simply throwing out strike-after-strike will never break the ice. The player must know which opener is related to each position, and what juggle should follow.
Each juggle combo is separate from the opener moves, meaning players are able to combine series of combos at pivotal moments. For example, knocking an opponent skyward can be followed by an aerial combo of your own or a series of uppercuts keeping them aloft. Once your first combo string has been finished the aerial combo could be followed with a low sweeping combo as your opponent hits the floor, whereas the uppercut combo could then be followed with that same aerial combo. It’s a system that allows for an elegantly branching structure and one that can be learnt over time as either a concentrated effort for a single character or a rough-and-ready selection for each. Whichever you choose the foundations remain the same, and learning those fundamentals is perhaps easier in Tekken Tag Tournament 2 than any other title the series has offered thus far.
The brand new addition Tekken Tag Tournament 2 brings to the formula is that of the Fight Lab gameplay mode. Essentially a revamping of the tired training modes seen in most beat-‘em-up videogames, Fight Lab is a tutorial system that evolves as you play. With an accompanying and entirely original story, the player begins with a robot capable of only the most basic moves at first, but with each stage surpassed a new ability is added to your repertoire whether that be a single move or a new combo string. As well intended as the Fight Lab is however, it suffers from the exact same problems as any other tutorial mode in that the stumbling blocks are still positioned to halt players in their tracks. There’s no work around to enable progression and no option to step back should you reach a point which hinders your progression, meaning it’s a simple case of retry, retry, retry, just as it always has been. In reality, the Fight Lab gameplay mode is just a lick of paint and slightly more thoughtful rendition of a regular tutorial mode, but not necessarily a superior.
The inclusion of the Fight Lab mode may not be the catalyst for the decision to remove all other additional gameplay modes, but it is effectively the only alternative offered. Of course Tekken Tag Tournament 2 includes all the standard arcade, online and local gameplay options, but beyond that there’s not much else. No Tekken Force, no Tekken Ball and no bowling; other than the Fight Lab there is nothing but the tag system and one-on-one beat-‘em-up on offer. Tekken Tag Tournament 2 is simply another Tekken videogame, and while that may be more than enough for that massive core fanbase, it’s not likely to please the wider audience that like to dip in every now-and-then.
From a technical standpoint Tekken Tag Tournament 2 isn’t about to win any awards. The fighters are all realised perfectly well in 3D and the animation is presented with perfectly stuttered sequences to hide the frames at which players will learn the next command for their combo is demanded. However, there’s simply little progression to speak of since Tekken 6. The arenas are bland in design and have no impact on the fights or the fighting style of players and the battle damage is simply non-existent. The most remarkable aspect of Tekken Tag Tournament 2’s technical clout are the story sequences, CGI movies which have long been considered far from advantageous for videogames.
While Tekken Tag Tournament 2 is a perfectly fine example of the hugely popular franchise, it’s failed to capitalise on the benefits the added horsepower of the current-generation hardware. It feels like a tidier version of the same videogame we played on PlayStation 2 rather than a generational leap, which as stated above will either be a blessing or a disappointment, depending on your perception of the Tekken formula and where it stands in the league of beat-‘em-ups. Tekken Tag Tournament 2 will sell by the truckload based on its name alone, but one does have to wonder just how long that will be enough to support a beat-‘em-up experience that refuses to move with the times.