It's hard to believe it's been 12 years since the original Tekken Tag Tournament. It seems like only yesterday when my mother and I went to EB as quickly as possible on the PS2's launch and picked this game up alongside the system. I got it home, played it a ton, and recently replayed it to find that it's still a blast to play. Both the main game and Tekken Bowling still rule. Now, with 12 years of time between the two one might expect a huge improvement and while that's true in some ways, it isn't true in others.
For one, there isn't anything here other than the core fighting – no bowling, volleyball, or even a game of Galaga to pass the time. Thankfully, that fighting core has been improved tremendously. There are a ton of double team attacks and the pace is the fastest yet for a Tekken game. Well, usually – there's an annoying outright pause in the gameplay at times even offline that is quite jarring. That part definitely sucks, but when it isn't a problem, the game moves at a smooth clip. The controls are as sharp as ever, and the inclusion of so many double team moves (including the LOL-inducing double Rock Bottom from Heihachi and Jinpachi and a silly powerbomb/ref count from King and Armor King) makes experimenting with different character combinations a joy. Joy is something you'll want to revel in here because this is easily the hardest Tekken game yet.
If you're used to breezing through the games except for the end bosses like I am, prepare to be humbled. Really humbled, because this is the second-hardest 3D fighter I've played this gen. I'd put it right behind DOA 4 as something that will kick your ass time and time again. And that ass-kickery only intensifies online where you'll face people who you'll swear at and be convinced that they're using a turbo pad for seemingly everything possible due to their ability to chain every move together, but also air juggle, tag out, double team you, and then destroy you in mere seconds.
After one trouncing like that, you know it'll take some time to shake off the rust. Luckily, TTT 2 comes armed with an outstanding training mode that teaches you the basics like combos and...bomb avoidance alongside SHOTGUN BLASTS, so you won't find yourself too overwhelmed. At least in theory. The hardest part is still finding a way to make sense of all the pieces of the puzzle you've put together since every character plays so differently, and successfully use them during a battle. The game's best moments don't come from an ending, but from when you finally get over the hump with some area you've struggled with. The key is to not get too excited and to save that YAY YAY YAY for when you've won, and not right after you've successfully sidestepped certain death...only to have your opponent tag in their fresh partner. To further aid the player, the rage system from Tekken 6 is back, meaning that if you're low on health, you can get a damage boost and hopefully make up for some lost ground. While it's not quite a hail mary play, it still does allow for some amazing come from behind victories.
While one can't help but feel slightly disappointed due to the lack of non-fighting things to do here given the franchise's history, the fighting itself is awesome and you've got a ton of modes to use it in. Offline, you've got arcade mode, team battle, survival, and my favorite ghost battle, that allows you to unlock endings and earn tons of gold quickly without having to deal with the frustration of the arcade mode's boss rush at the end. It's definitely the mode to stick with for offline play, and allows to rank up and unlock items very quickly. Sadly, unlike VF 5: Final Showdown, it costs a LOT to unlock items and the menus for assigning items are incredibly clunky. Ghost battle reminds me a lot of the quest mode in VF 5, only with slightly less silly costumes and the lack of a set ladder system for opponents. However, you can still pick which set of enemies (or single enemy at points) you face – choose someone with a gold bar for a nameplate and you can unlock endings and items for beating them. Fail, and you've got to hope to run across them again to unlock stuff.
As great as the offline play is, online is probably the most impressive aspect of the game. The World Tekken Federation setup is great and really easy to use. Unlike the item menus, the menus here are a breeze to navigate and finding a match is easy. You'll spend maybe 30 seconds doing that before you're ready to go, and then when you get into a fight, it's amazingly lag-free. I've actually had more hitches in offline play than online, which not only tells me that a patch is needed to fix that offline issue, but that they really nailed online with this. It's even more impressive given the sheer speed of what's going on. As noted before, this is the fastest-paced incarnation of the series yet, and it also provides the best online experience. Granted, one that can be as frustrating as it is smooth due to the high learning curve before you step into the deep end, but playing against friends of a similar skill level alleviates that and allows you to see just how good a job was done here.
Visually, Tekken Tag 2 is the best-looking entry in the series. Character models are beefy and full of little details. Then you've got the blistering pace of the game, and outside of the second-long freezes, there's no slowdown of any kind. Lighting effects for the stages and other little touches are great. Seeing mud pack onto your character in the mud bath part of the spa is very impressive, and is one of those things that doesn't seem impressive on paper, but is in execution. Like Tekken 6 before it, the animations haven't really changed much over the course of the series and are pretty much exactly what you'd expect outside of new moves. While there isn't much new outside of the character models, I'm mostly satisfied with the graphics.
What I'm blown away with is the audio. The Tekken series has been known for having some outstanding music mixed in with a lot of forgettable stuff, and that trend continues here. Thankfully, the new Tekken Tunes option allows you to customize the soundtrack completely. So if you'd like to swap out the schoolyard stage's wacky techno music for the palace's super-epic song that is easily my favorite in the game, you can. The tune-swapping is so extensive it even covers the character select screens and menus. If you'd like to change the soundtrack to something completely different that you have on your system's hard drive, you can.
This works great for “what if” scenarios, like playing through a few stages with the Super Mario Bros. 1-1 theme blaring, or changing out the palace theme for something from God of War to keep the epic feel, but just mix it up a bit. Having the ability to customize the soundtrack like this reminded me of the glory days of the original Xbox's custom soundtrack, where the music you chose was seamlessly integrated into the game, as opposed to how most games do it now where you have to clunkily change the master volume settings for the in-game music, then drudge through menus to pick your own songs. You still have to go through a couple of menus, but they're laid out really well and are easy to use.
Tekken Tag Tournament 2 is a very good game overall and gives you a ton of fighters to play as and many ways to play with them in the game. It's the fastest-paced entry in the series and will test your fighting game mettle very quickly both online and off. If you're in the mood for a challenge, this is the game for you, and if you want something a bit easier, just stick to fighting online with friends and using the ghost battle feature for offline play. Online play is incredible, but offline play is held back by the game freezing for a second or two and really killing the flow of fights. However, it's not a killer and should be fixable with a patch. If nothing else, newcomers should give it a rental, while series vets can feel confident in a purchase. Even without non-fighting activities, you'll definitely get your money's worth out of the game.
This review is based on the Xbox 360 version of Tekken Tag Tournament 2 provided by Namco Bandai.