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Tekken Tag Tournament 2
Graphics: 8.1
Gameplay: 8.4
Sound: 8.5
Control: 8.2
Replay Value: 8.8
Rating: 8.3

Everyone knows Tekken. Even if you’re not a fan, even if you never understood the fighting fascination back in the glory days of the genre, you were certainly aware of the name. And now, nearly twelve full years after Tekken Tag Tournament wowed us on the newly launched PS2, the sequel arrives much to the delight of franchise followers everywhere. For the most part, this is exactly what they want: Hardcore, intricate, in-depth and a focus on fighting rather than silly additional modes. Still, it’s a tad…restrictive for anyone other than veterans.

First, the graphics— All the games in this franchise have looked good and TTT2 is no exception. There are some amazing animations here and I love the character designs, despite my general dislike of heavily Japanese-oriented artistic styles. Plus, with such a gigantic roster and a ridiculous assortment of moves, you’re continually greeted with attractive designs and animations. It really seems almost endless. I don’t believe it has that extra layer of polish and gloss we’ll find in the upcoming Dead or Alive 5, but TTT2 may end up being arguably more detailed.

Bolstered by a diverse, always-kicking soundtrack that enhances just about every encounter and a series of crisp, bone-crunching effects, the audio allows this game to shine. Even if you don’t particularly like every song, they all add to the experience and contrary to older iterations, they don’t all sound similar. It’s clear that the developers put a little extra care and effort into the technical elements, but it should be noted that the actual presentation feels a little bare-bones. So bare-bones, in fact, that you’re constantly reminded of this genre’s roots in the arcades. That being said, the visuals and sound are more than competent and quite simply do their jobs.

Now, as many already know, I am not a big fighting fan. Therefore, this may disqualify me as a capable critic in the eyes of the hardcore, which is an understandable sentiment. I’ve seen a whole lot of reviewers handling genres they really shouldn’t and at the very least, the critic should admit when he or she isn’t as checked out on a particular style of gaming when providing the public with an important analysis. However, I will add that despite my personal preferences, I’m quite familiar with Tekken and believe it or not, I remember the original TTT very well.

As I said above, Namco Bandai probably did the right thing here: They catered to the die-hard fans by expressly focusing on the fighting mechanic. There aren’t a whole lot of extra bells and whistles, there aren’t too many unique modes that may or may not be appreciated, and again, the presentation is pretty standard; even old-fashioned, some might say. Now, on the one hand, I’m totally fine with this. It’s my wish that more developers utilized the same approach this generation, rather than trying to fix what isn’t broken and appealing to an audience that never had any interest in your franchise in the first place.

But on the other hand, one of the reasons I never really got into fighters in the first place was due to their unrelenting and demanding nature. Tutorials didn’t really exist in those days; it was all about playing and playing and playing until you really got a firm grasp of the controls. And at first, I thought Namco Bandai had given novices like me a heaven-sent alteration to the traditional formula: The Fight Lab. This is where you can learn the basics as a boring ol’ Combot (which gets better and flashier as time goes on) and start to hone your own personal style. This, by the way, replaces the standard Story Mode.

Two things I found— Firstly, despite the absurd and almost pointless storylines and plots, I actually missed the Story Mode. I’m not even sure why…maybe it’s because at the very least, you felt like you had stepped into a character’s life (as minimal as the story may be), or maybe it’s simply because breaking tradition in this way is quite jarring. Secondly, although the Fight Lab is diverse and relatively well-paced, it still doesn’t quite feel like a tutorial to me. It tells me what Team Assault and other things are, but it doesn’t help me with timing or anything else. Hence, I still felt lost far too often, which is sort of counterproductive for a tutorial.

Again, though, bear in mind I’m not an expert at this stuff, so the more schooled and dedicated may not have any problem in the Fight Lab. I mean, I liked the lighthearted and even downright goofy atmosphere of the Lab (but it started to grate after a while), and I appreciate the attempt to teach me from start to finish. I also liked that you could spend the earned gold rewards on any fighter you wish, and the customization is quite deep, too. There’s a lot to like about how this is set up, but I maintain that Namco could’ve done more to make the n00bs feel a little more at home, to ease them into the game with a series of more accessible challenges. I hate to say, “treat me like a five-year-old,” but this game is deep.

And really, that’s the primary appeal of TTT2. This is great fighting, plain and simple. It’s absolutely Tekken, through and through; the developers didn’t abandon that which made the series so popular, and they added and tweaked in all the right places. The mechanics and control are solid and reliable and although tough to grasp at first, the end result is ultra-satisfying, provided you’re willing to put in the time. Tag Assault is the single biggest upgrade, as you can switch partners on the fly, which can result in ridiculously long juggling combos that are destined to frustrate the hell out of your opponent(s).

Of course, playing with others is the heart and soul of this franchise. If you have fond memories of parties and get-togethers that stretched far into the night, you’ll definitely want to check out Pair Play mode. Seriously, invite a bunch of like-minded friends over, order some pizzas, and start having a blast. Pair Play lets four players into the action; each controls one character and can be tagged in or out whenever a buddy so chooses. Things tumble back and forth between funny and competitive, depending on your particular group of chums. Just don’t let it get too heated; that totally wrecks everyone’s good time.

The roster is nuts, the action is fast and furious, the number of available combos to be learned and items to unlock for customization will boggle the mind, and there aren’t a lot of useless accoutrements and extras that don’t really add anything to the package. This is exactly what you know and love, only better. I just wish the Story Mode hadn’t disappeared entirely, and the Fight Lab is a tad too bonkers for my taste. It also didn’t properly explain the necessary intricacies of the gameplay, which I believe is a major drawback to anything that’s known as a “tutorial.”

Tekken Tag Tournament 2 is very much a nod to the ardent fans. And I think that’s great. I believe they could’ve done a little more with the presentation and tried a few new things here and there, and I would’ve made the Fight Lab more user-friendly, but there’s no doubt that this sequel is precisely designed to put a smile on the faces of the faithful followers. Going online is almost as entertaining as playing with a group of friends around you (the latter will always be a touch superior, in my opinion), the depth of the fighting is fantastic, there’s a ton of cosmetic customization and in short, TTT2 is a winner…more so for the familiar veterans.

The Good: Great animations and character designs. Diverse, entertaining soundtrack and crisp effects. Deep, rewarding fighting mechanic. Humungous roster. Plenty of customization options. Tag Assault and Pair Play are definite crowd-pleasers.

The Bad: Fight Lab doesn’t necessarily do what it promises. No traditional Story Mode just feels weird. Kinda bare-bones presentation overall.

The Ugly: “Yes, I know what you want me to do, but how exactly do I do it?”

9/13/2012   Ben Dutka