In the music industry, the "Greatest Hits" album has been a staple for every major band. Even when there aren't enough hits to fill a disc, that's not going to stop a record label from trying. It's an easy way to make a few extra bucks off of consumers who couldn't be bothered to buy the individual albums. Tekken Tag Tournament 2 is a lot like Namco's greatest hits album, featuring the most popular characters from the last three Tekken sequels. It's a comprehensive collection of what made those games great, conveniently packaged on a single DVD.
The original Tekken Tag Tournament was a similar experience, mashing together the best elements of the first three installments. It was also a launch title for the PlayStation 2, which might explain why it was more of a half-step than a full sequel. This wasn't a bad game by any measure, but was a bit of a letdown after all the acclaim for Tekken 3.
It's been twelve years since that first game. Having seen the genre nearly die and then suddenly be resurrected, consumers expect a lot more from their fighting games. The good news is that Tekken Tag Tournament 2 is a much more enticing package than the 2000 original. You get a wide cast of diverse characters, exciting online multiplayer options and a few worthwhile tweaks to the mechanics. Unfortunately, this sequel feels a little barebones when compared to the myriad of fighting games currently on the market.
In all, Tekken Tag Tournament 2 features a staggering 59 playable characters. On top of the 41 fighters from Tekken 6, we're given fan favorites from each of the previous installments. Kunimitsu, Michelle Chang and Prototype Jack are all pulled in from the original Tekken, while Angel, Jun Kazama and Alex all come from Tekken 2. Tekken 3 is also represented, thanks to Ogre, Dr. Boskonovitch, Tiger Jackson, Forest Law and Ancient Ogre. And don't forget about Violet and Miharu Hirano from Tekken 4. These characters are all given new models and exciting ending cinemas.
A diverse cast this large is both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, it's going to take a really long time to master all 59 playable characters. From an economical point of view, this game makes a lot of sense. But with so many characters, learning how to effectively defend against the thousands of moves will take months. The roster is overwhelming, making this a daunting experience for those new to the franchise.
The game teaches the fundamentals through a silly five chapter story involving Tekken 4's lovable Combot. Here you'll learn all about releasing punisher moves, air juggles and tag combos. But the game doesn't just show you what to do; it challenges you to use them in several different scenarios. As a result, I felt like I truly understood what Tekken Tag Tournament 2 was expecting from me.
Along with being a strong teaching tool, this mode has a lot of fun giving Street Fighter a hard time. A lot of the training stages play out like a one-note Saturday Night Live skit. Some of your favorite Capcom characters are here, but not like you've ever seen them before. The writing is clever and the jabs at other fighting franchises are a welcome change of pace. This is one of the few times where a tutorial has not only engaged me, but made me laugh at the absurdity on screen. I came away excited to play Tekken. What's more, I came out knowing that this wasn't just a half-step.
But as I started to tackle each of the game's single and multiplayer modes, I started to lose some of my initial enthusiasm. It all started with the single-player arcade mode, which has you fight a bunch of tag team matches before making us face off with the sinister boss. This plays out exactly like any other Tekken game, only this time around there are two people on each side. Once you've cleared the stages, you get a fun ending cinema and spit back out to the main menu. It's all very familiar.
There's also the ghost battle, where you challenge one team of enemies after another. Here you'll see fighters wearing all kinds of wacky outfits and sporting accessories. This approximates the sensation of playing in the arcade, where you're playing a never ending line of people with their own customized characters. Along with seeing all sorts of unique costumes, you'll also be able to level up each of your characters and earn money that can be used to customize each of your fighters.
Most of the other modes are the type of thing that comes standard in fighting games. You get a survival mode, which involves the player fighting through as many stages as possible before running out of health. There's the time attack mode, where you clear a series of stages as quickly as possible. You will also find a couple variations on the versus mode, including one where each player gets to be on the same side.
Much like the single-player options, the online multiplayer modes are also a mixed bag. You get the standard ranked and player matches, as well as a Tekken channel that allows you to watch replays of past matches. Interestingly the game allows you to form a team and get involved in the world arena. Here you can jump into a social area where you can simply chat or jump into a fight. This is a fun idea that isn't completely original, but nevertheless done well.
I did run into some match making problems early on. There's no reason why my low level fighter should be matched up with a "Master" (their term, not mine) on a 20 game winning streak. That aside, I was impressed with the online performance. Even after playing dozens of matches, I only ran into a few laggy rounds. Namco has done an excellent job of allowing you to filter for certain types of latency, making for a smooth experience through and through. Even waiting for a match to open up is painless, as you're whisked away to the practice stage while you wait.
Whether online or off, I found myself conflicted with the fast-paced action. So much of Tekken Tag Tournament 2 revolves around air juggling combos, which can sometimes make the game feel cheap. An experienced player can go an entire round without letting the other person hit the ground. This felt unbalanced and made me yearn for the days of Tekken 3.
On the other hand, those fighting fans who have kept up with the series now have the most comprehensive Tekken game ever made. It's hard to deny the impressive roster of characters and the thousands of moves this title brings to the table. I marvel at the 59 characters and have no trouble believing that this will tide veteran players over until Tekken 7 is announced.
If there's one thing both experienced players and newcomers can agree on, it's that Tekken Tag Tournament 2 looks phenomenal. The game boasts an impressive selection of stages, each more impressive than the last. I really like how a simple parking lot fight is highlighted by the setting sun. Another stage has us battling on a fishing boat, making us seasick with each wave. There's a holiday-themed winter wonderland level that looks like it came out of the biggest budget Christmas movie of all time. Even the more mundane levels are improved with destructible walls and floors you can slam your opponent through.
The characters are also beautifully designed. The classic characters are all stunning, especially Jun Kazama. Ogre has never looked more ferocious and you can feel every single punch Jack-6 lands. The special moves are visually stunning and it's hard not to fall in love with how fluid the animation is. This is the best Tekken has ever looked. If this is what Namco can do with the aging Xbox 360, I can't wait to see what is up their sleeves with the next generation consoles.
When it comes down to it, I wish there was more to do in Tekken Tag Tournament 2. The presentation is superb and there are almost too many characters, but there just wasn't a lot to do. I miss the silly mini-games Namco would add into their releases, like Tekken Bowling. As long as we're collecting all of the characters, why not include the best of these mini-games? Sadly, that wasn't on Namco's agenda. Instead we get a bunch of predictable modes. Next time around, Tekken will have to step up with the kind of fighting game story we saw in Mortal Kombat and Dead or Alive 5.
This long overdue sequel delivers everything you expect from a Tekken game. I'm talking about crazy endings, explosive action and tons of characters. Unfortunately, Tekken Tag Tournament 2 only features a limited amount of modes and relies too heavily on air juggling combos. I suppose no Greatest Hits collection is perfect.