This time it feels faster. Tekken 6 died as a spectator sport after Bob, at first glance a morbidly obese take on Street Fighter’s Ken, became the default choice for competitive players; at 2011’s Evolution championship, half of the eight finalists played as the tubby blonde fighter. But the real difference comes from the return of the tag mechanic 12 years after PS2’s Tekken Tag Tournament. With players taking two fighters into battle, and switching them mid-combo, it invites comparisons with the recent Street Fighter X Tekken, which borrowed the mechanic from Namco.
What results is a forced expansion of Tekken’s classic control system: there’s still a button for each of your chosen fighter’s limbs, but there’s now a fifth with which you can switch characters. As in SFXT, tagging a partner mid-battle is a risk, and should only be executed when your opponent is on the floor or a significant distance away. Safer options include tag throws – activated with a simultaneous press of tag and right punch – and tag cancels. But the latter, in contrast to SFXT’s freeform combo system, can only be performed after a handful of each character’s moves.
Tekken 6 introduced the concept of Bound moves, which slam airborne opponents into the ground and keep them in place for long enough for a combo to continue. They’re here, too, and are used to set up Tag Assaults, which keep both characters onscreen for a second or two. It’s during these brief moments that Tekken Tag Tournament 2 is at its most stylish.
This is a game for old hands, the sole concession to newcomers coming in the form of Fight Lab. It’s a tutorial of sorts that puts players in control of Combot, a robotic fighter whose moveset expands as you progress, pilfering from the game’s roster of over 50 characters. You’ll finish it thinking you’ve got a good grasp of TTT2, but you’ve not learned how to play the game, just how to play as Combot. Soon, you’re locked into the core Tekken loop of dipping into the pause menu’s command list, experimenting, mucking about, but never being entirely sure you’re improving. And now you have to learn two characters, not just one.
For experienced players, though, this is as fluid as Tekken has been for years, the tagging doing much to revitalise a combo system that, with its over-reliance on juggles and wall combos, was in danger of growing stale. But it’s taken a 12-year-old mechanic to do that, and other games in this increasingly crowded genre boast a deeper level of mechanical complexity as well as a more generous welcome to newcomers. With the back catalogue pilfered, the lingering question is where the series can possibly go from here.