[Originally posted on PopMatters]
Tekken was probably one of the last fighting games to successfully make the jump from arcade to console, not to mention one of the most successful. Only the Street Fighter series [and, perhaps, the Mortal Kombat series – ed.] can match its infamy and longevity. Tekken also one of the most successful of these types of games featured at professional tournaments. It’s one of those games that self-professed “hardcore gamers” probably look to when they lament more casual fans encroaching on their beloved pastime. And frankly, they can keep it.
Tekken has already earned its audience, and the series stopped innovating a decade ago. Each new installment in the series is more of a tune-up, with the occasional new character to enliven the box art. Tekken Tag Tournament 2 keeps the tradition alive. It’s more than a patch to Tekken 6—but not by much. Namco has seemed pretty happy with their formula since Tekken 4 and have barely changed it other than to keep their consistently stunning graphics ahead of the curve.
The latest effort isn’t an evolution. It isn’t even an update. It’s a new feature added to a game that’s barely changed since the Playstation era. The new feature of Tekken Tag 2 is that, unlike in other Tekken games (except the first Tag Tournament), players can add a tag partner. Although only one character’s health need be emptied for a fight to be over, and the addition of a new character barely changes how the game is played. Unlike in other fighters that allow tag teams—namely, Dead or Alive—there are barely any special moves or team attacks provided for each pair. There are only a handful of very difficult attacks that only occasionally work and have only limited utility. Essentially, the addition of another fighter serves only to occasionally lengthen a fight. Still, it’s nice to include as many players in the game as possible, since multiplayer is the entire thrust of the game.
Tekken Tag 2 was made entirely with multiplayer in mind. The first option on the start menu is “online mode,” and the paltry single player options that have been included are there only to practice for competitive play. Even the computer-controlled enemies are given gamertags to better simulate the experience of playing against other people. Even with all that in mind though, it’s still not exactly a warm and open environment for newcomers.
Because Namco has been re-releasing the same game for fifteen years, the movesets for the entire roster are virtually unchanged. Somebody that’s played Tekken 3 through to 6 will be able to step right into Tekken Tag 2 without a misstep. Whereas somebody that’s new to the series—or even someone that missed a game somewhere in the middle—will be completely lost in a server teeming with sharks.
Moreover, there’s a certain method of playing Tekken, that’s extremely difficult to master fully, which becomes difficult when learning among those with three or four games worth of practice. Fights reward “juggling” your opponent. You knock them in the air and keep hitting them to keep them in the air. The problem is that most of the hundreds of moves per character don’t necessarily begin or continue a juggle. So only a dozen or so moves per character are actually effective, and figuring out which ones and how to time them takes incredible patience. What’s more is that matches where players out-juggle one another are incredibly boring to watch. Each character has a plethora of slick combos and manoeuvres with surprisingly little crossover, but none ever get used other than the few that can create a juggle.
It’s a shame because even a bit of button mashing between friends can produce some very exciting matches. But sooner or later, somebody latches onto a uppercut and moves into a kill combo that ruins the evening, which is exacerbated by the extreme shortness of the matches. Load screens seldom last longer than ten seconds, but it feels like most of the game is spent staring at them because each fight can be over in just a few moves. When a match begins, opponents are within striking distance of one another and usually one of them is defeated a heartbeat after the starting bell rings. Even cautious, deliberate players seldom see the clock run out.
There is the option in Vs. modes to alter the health of each player to pad the length of matches, and so long as everybody is about equally skilled at the game, the multiplayer is fun. Button mashing is effective, but not as effective as learning the combos, which is in turn not as effective as mastering the handful of juggle combos per character. But for the non-obsessives, ignorance is bliss. Unfortunately, once all the fun from multiplayer has been exhausted, there’s not a lot else to look for.
There’s a currency system to encourage grinding. Fight money can be used to buy new outfits and accessories to personalize each fighter. Customization is impressively deep, each character can be made to look as absurd, badass, stylish, or unnervingly fetishized as the player desires. It personalizes the online experience, and it gives the player something to keep playing for. However, each item has to be repurchased for each character, and there are no free, basic outfits to choose from, so in the end it’s just a time sink.
Some of the earlier Tekken games have included some extra single-player modes such as the 2D brawler in Tekken 3 and a beat-‘em-up in Tekken 6. Granted, many of these modes weren’t especially good, but at least they signified an effort on the developer’s part to expand the game outside of the multiplayer. There aren’t even cutscenes between battles in arcade mode to give the game a context. With so little, it’s a wonder why they even bothered with an arcade mode at all.
Nobody plays a fighter for the story. By now, most fighting games are such convoluted soap-operas that trying to keep up with every character’s arc requires a flow chart. But even Mortal Kombat made a cursory effort on behalf of the single player. Besides, there are Tekken films and comics, so somebody at Namco is paid to tie a functional story to the series. Either the story to Tekken isn’t very good, in which case why bother writing it at all, or it is good but Namco don’t believe that games are a worthwhile medium to tell it in, in which case they shouldn’t be making games.
Tekken Tag 2 is easy to review in words but hard to review with a numerical score. If you’ve played Tekken 6 a lot over the past year and are itching for something new, than you’ll have every reason to love it. If you’ve never played Tekken before, or even if you’re a few years removed from it, you’ll likely hate it or be bored with it in a week. It’s the same pattern that Tekken has been following for the last ten years and will in all likelihood continue following. That is, until the series ends or Namco revolutionizes it. Until then, though, Tekken Tag Tournament 2 is a forgettable chapter in an endless, exhausting series of games.
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