Tekken may host the King of Iron Fist Tournament, but finding victory requires more than a heavy hand. Knowledge of your opponent's arsenal, precise execution, and quick reflexes get you further than simply knowing the strongest attacks. Like its predecessor, Tekken Tag Tournament 2 takes the 3D combat mechanics of the Tekken series and doubles the number of combatants, allowing for more complex and dynamic matches. The combat is supported by a robust selection of modes that makes this fighter a treat for future heirs of the Mishima Zaibatsu.
Despite their differences in rosters, mechanics, and number of dimensions, Tekken Tag Tournament 2 and Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 share some similarities. Both are fast-paced, brutal games with a rhythm of split-second mind games and long combo strings. The key difference is distance. In Marvel, you may be dodging projectiles at full screen one moment and avoiding a close-range cross-up the next. Tekken is extremely close-quarters, demanding split-second reactions to subtle changes to attack strings. And once an attack gains purchase, it should be maximized for all it's worth. This means busting out an extended combo.
Building an extended combo requires understanding and applying three attack types: launchers, bounds, and tags. Launchers knock your opponent helplessly into the air, but leave you highly vulnerable if they're blocked or dodged. Some fighters can mitigate this risk with one-two combos ending in a launcher. Once the foe is airborne, the attacking player can work in a few midair strikes before following up with the next technique: a bound.
Bound attacks pull your foe out of the air and rebound him off the ground. As the foe bounces back, the attacking player may carry the assault further. Bounds and launchers have their limits and cannot be used repeatedly in the same combo. Learning which moves and combos incorporate these attack types is a key step to learning any fighter in this game. When deciding how to continue the assault, you may choose to incorporate the game's namesake, tagging.
If you hold the tag button immediately after performing a bound, your partner dashes in from offscreen, ready to strike. You can enter the attack manually, or one will be selected automatically if you continue to hold the tag button. In either case, control then switches back to the original attacker, who finishes out the combo. There are other ways to use your tag partner, such as switching between the two or performing a two-person tag throw. But the ability to summon your partner temporarily after a bound helps the pair feel like one cohesive unit working together to achieve victory.
A tag team's symbiotic nature extends to their health as well. Each fighter on a tag team has a health bar. However, if one fighter loses all of his or her health, then that team loses the round, regardless of how much health the other fighter retained. In dire circumstances, you can sacrifice your point character's remaining recoverable health to force the tag character into an offensive dive. This is a great trick for getting out of a bad situation, but it denies your sidelined character the chance to recover any lost health.
If all this talk of bounds and tag combos sounds confusing, you are not alone. Tekken Tag Tournament 2 is a difficult game. It's easy to make mistakes and leave yourself wide open for a counterattack. Then your opponent will bust out some double-digit combo that drags your fighter to the other side of the screen, ending with an ambiguous wake-up game that knocks you right off your feet and starts the whole thing over again. And all of that happens in less than a minute. To play Tekken is to walk one of the most dangerous fighting game tightropes. However, those of you who stick it out will discover a massive ceiling for improvement, thanks to a massive character move list.
With a cast of 44 fighters (not counting the free DLC characters), Tekken Tag Tournament 2's roster is immense. And it is not uncommon for fighters to have more than 100 moves at their disposal. On top of that, the properties or advantages of these moves are not immediately apparent. Jin and Bryan both have low kicks to the shin, but how do these moves differ, and when should you use them? The game may not help you understand the intricacies of each fighter, but it helps you grasp the basics with Fight Lab.
In addition to being the game's primary educational mode, Fight Lab is Tekken Tag Tournament 2's main narrative mode. In Fight Lab, you help playboy businessman Violet fine-tune Combot, a multipurpose robot who borrows individual moves from the rest of the cast. This mode does a lot of things right to make itself attractive to new players. The lessons move at a slow pace, covering the basics of offense, defense, and movement. They're also pretty funny, including some spoofs of a few Street Fighter alums as well as one-off minigames.
Between lessons in Fight Lab, you may spend resources earned to unlock new moves for your Combot. Once your robotic warrior is properly decked out, it can be used in offline matches or in player matches online (sorry, Combot is off-limits when playing ranked matches). Fight Lab does a good job of illuminating the "how" behind various fighting mechanics, but stumbles with the "why." Basic strategy and understanding how to approach a fight are left to the school of hard knocks online.
Whether you're winning or losing, nearly every match fought in Tekken Tag Tournament 2 rewards you with some money. This cash can then be spent on all sorts of cosmetics, including new hairstyles, clothing, or exotic items. And not all of the clothing options are available right away. More clothing items, and categories, are unlocked as you progress. This is a great way to incentivize players who are practicing offline or who suffer an especially brutal loss online.
When you're not tweaking your Combot, or your favorite character, you will find that the single-player offerings in this game adhere to the fighting genre norm. Time Trial, Survival, Team Battle, Arcade, and Offline Versus are all accounted for, as well as Ghost Battle. Ghost battles are great for tailoring the game to your skill level, because you can dictate the difficulty of each successive fight. More challenging fights offer up extra bonuses, such as additional funds or even character-specific ending cinematics.
Rounding out the single-player offerings is the game's Practice mode. All the standard features are present, but two that stand out are its defensive training and positioning options. Defensive training lets you program a move, or series of moves, for the AI to perform in random order for you to practice guarding against. The positioning options let you automatically reset your characters anywhere in the arena. This is especially handy for practicing wall combos, one of the key ways to score big damage.
Online, Tekken Tag Tournament 2 provides all the features fighting enthusiasts expect. You can compete in ranked matches to improve your personal ranking or in friendly player matches against multiple opponents. Two players can also join up and practice against each other online or fight on the same team against others. Replay support is also present, complete with character-specific filtering options to help you study new techniques for your favorite fighter.
With regard to online performance, the game runs well under the right conditions. Against opponents of a three- or four-bar connection rating--regardless of region--matches perform without serious issues. Dropping below that rating results in noticeable lag during interstitials and the fights themselves. Clear connection indicators are present to help you avoid suboptimal matches.
Tekken Tag Tournament 2 is a challenging fighter that rewards speed and ferocity in those willing to make the commitment. Its humorous (and educational) Fight Lab and defensive training options in Practice mode make good educational tools before you step into the game's numerous other modes. And these modes are all supported by a challenging and well-realized fighting system with near-endless room for player improvement. While some fighting games have simplified their mechanics to be easier for genre newcomers, the Tekken series remains unapologetically brutal.'