Three normal games, then a Tag game. That's the emerging pattern for Namco's long-running Tekken franchise. So, with 2009's Tekken 6 long in our rearview and the franchise overall feeling a bit repetitive nowadays, it's nice to get something to mix it up even a little bit. And the two-man moves found in Tekken Tag Tournament 2 offer an interesting change of pace that will probably confound a lot of beginning players at first, but the game's helpful tutorial is effective at getting any persistent player up to speed and ready to take two fighters into combat.
TTT2 is fairly no-nonsense about how it handles its business. It has its mode bases covered with an arcade mode, training, and so on. Ghost battle, which has you competing against teams of varying degrees of skill as you rank up your characters and earn fight money to spend on costume parts also returns, though every mode is fought against named "ghosts." This leads to some ridiculous moments in the arcade mode, though, since even the final boss confrontation might be a customized version of the character, covered in a motorcycle helmet or some other piece of gear that sort of lessens the impact of the final fight. The mode that breaks out of the standard Tekken mold has you upgrading a robot named Combot by taking it through numerous challenges that serve as tutorials for the game's systems, from basic movement up through strikes, how to punish after a block, some basic juggle concepts, and the handful of new tag-oriented mechanics. It's not going to make you the world's greatest Tekken player, but it'll at least give you the tools you need to proceed.
As with the previous Tag game, Tag 2 takes place outside of the normal continuum of Tekken's bear-punching, dinosaur-fighting, volcano-tossing storyline and offers a roster that contains just about every fighter that's ever appeared in a Tekken game. That's over 50 characters, in case you haven't been keeping track, and there are a few more on the way either as pre-order bonuses or free post-release downloads. Thankfully Gon is nowhere to be found.
It's locked behind an online pass, but the online play works just fine. If you get matched up with a player with full connection bars, it feels great. It also offers a handful of good player matching options to keep you from getting into a fight with someone way out of your league. This is sort of vital, because it's hard to think of a fighting game that is less fun than Tekken when it comes to just getting your ass handed to you. Plenty of other fighting games make losing a learning experience. And, sure, if I paid extra-close attention, I'd eventually learn all the mix-ups and match-ups across the Tekken roster. But until that day, each mistake results in huge chunks of my life bar being taken away as I spend most of the fight helplessly floating around as I bounce off of some guy's fists. There's usually no escape from that situation, you're just sort of left to take it and hope that you can roll out of the way or rise fast enough to start blocking so you can set up a tag to your other (hopefully healthier) character.
If you're the sort of person that thrives on that sort of Tekken action, well great... actually, if you're that sort of person, you probably already bought Tekken Tag Tournament 2 and don't really need a review to tell you anything about the game. But I digress. For most people, you're going to want to make sure that you can find players that match your skill (or lack thereof) at the game. That's true of any competitive game, of course, but I'd underline it twice when it comes to Tekken. Losing at Tekken can be the sort of frustrating that makes you want to turn off your console and go outside for a change.
None of that really reflects one way or the other on the overall quality of the game, though. It's a nice-looking fighter, with big characters that animate well, even if a lot of that animation has been around the series for years. It has plenty of depth, so if you're the type that actually wants to start learning the game at a higher level, it has plenty of levels for you to aspire to, but you'll need to hit up a pile of websites and start learning Tekken theory there, because the game doesn't really go beyond showing you the basic moves and combo timing. That's more than most fighting games, of course, but don't expect miracles. You will need to put in work to get great.
If dressing your fighters up sounds appealing, the game has a decent customize mode that lets you buy and color different pieces for each of your fighters. You can save multiple costumes per character, so if you're trying to make matching tag partners, it's totally doable. The mode could have saved some steps, though, by allowing you to buy and immediately equip new gear. Instead you have to go to the buy section, pick out your items, then go over to equip to put it all on. That seems like a weird way to handle it.
Though the arcade version has smoother-looking character models, the console version still looks good, overall. The differences between the platforms is something of a toss-up, with the PS3 version taking slightly longer to load your custom costumes up at select time and the 360 version doing that astoundingly annoying thing where it seizes up for a few seconds every time you unlock an achievement. Once you've blasted the easy achievements out of the way, that issue goes away, but it's still pretty lame that little things like that haven't been dealt with prior to release.
Tekken's tag moves help freshen up the fighting and make TTT2 stand apart from the last couple of Tekken releases, and it's a solid reminder that Namco is still capable of making vibrant, exciting fighters. But it's only truly great if you're playing against like-minded, similarly skilled opposition. If you can rustle up a community of people that fit that bill, go nuts, it's a great time. But if you're a Tekken neophyte hoping to pick it up along the way, you'll probably be brutally rebuffed by what you find.