Fighting games have undergone quite the transformation in the last couple of years, thanks in no small part to the resurgence in the 2D genre lead by a certain Street Fighter 4. After the wilderness years of Third Strike, Capcom propelled the single-plane fighter once more from an esoteric niche into the mainstream. Tekken Tag Tournament 2 is Namco’s counter-punch, an attempted resurrection of a sub-genre that is hovering precariously on the edge of the scrapheap of gaming history.
So it is that we have a vast roster of 52 characters that span the entirety of the Tekken series, all pushed into the ring thanks to a nonsensical plot that only true devotees are going to care about. We have fan service, we have team-ups, we have extra costumes and that odd brand of Namco humour that’s saturated the backgrounds and narratives of the series since the beginning. What’s lacking is anything new. This is a brawler that rests squarely on its laurels.
Bouts are two-vs-two tag affairs. Each character has his, or her, own health bar, but if one of them hits zero, it’s game over. Newcomers will be utterly bewildered by the number of fighters to choose from, and the game offers almost no help when it comes to deciding which brawlers are going to complement each other.
Where Street Fighter and other 2D fighters have introduced clever tutorial modes that let you work out the rhythms of various combos and special moves, Tekken Tag Tournament 2 only offers a strange robot fighting mode that shows you the very basics of the game before descending into a weird, not particularly enjoyable side scrolling beat-em-up.
The fights themselves are still the same mix of combo and counter that they ever were. At its best, Tekken is a cat and mouse dance between two pugilists waiting for the perfect moment to strike. At its worst though, it’s a button mashers paradise. Spamming out cheap moves is still the easiest way for newcomers to win and the game never encourages you to learn new skills.
If you’re a Tekken fan of old though, this lack of hand holding isn’t going to matter, because while the game might be lacking in options and new ideas, its fluid interpretation of Tekken’s classic mechanics are a joy to behold. The King of the Iron Fist tournament has never felt so expressive, and every perfectly timed side-step, every combo opening first strike leaves you with a grin on your face.
While Street Fighter has found its bombast of late, Tekken Tag Tournament 2 has focused at what Namco does best, and presented it to the fans as a humble offering of thanks. Excellent netcode means fights are smooth and judder-less, and working your way through the ranks feels like a true test of skill.
For newcomers, Tekken Tag Tournament 2 is hard to recommend, but fans of Namco’s stuttering, cagey 3D combat are going to be in heaven. This isn’t the repositioning that Street Fighter 4 was; it’s a line drawn in the sand, a reaffirmation of everything that made Tekken great in the first place. For many, that’s going to be off putting, but the series’ legion of hardcore brawlers are going to lap it up.
By Harry Slater