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It’s been more than 11 years since the advent of Tekken Tag Tournament, but this September, the quasi-sequel that helped launch the PS2 will finally get an actual sequel of its own. And according to series producer Katsuhiro Harada, Tekken Tag Tournament 2 is something the Tekken team has wanted to do for a long time – but first, they had to nail the formula.
“We’ve had various updates in the series since Tag, and they’ve all been quite unique in their own right. And they’ve always been viewed differently by the player base,” said Harada, speaking through interpreter and Tekken game designer Michael Murray. “Some were really well-liked, some not…. and then after Tekken 5, we did want to do Tag at that time, but we thought there were still some things we wanted to accomplish first. Like, we thought we needed to add more gameplay mechanics. We wanted to flesh out the character roster as well. That’s why we went into 6 before doing a sequel to Tag.”
Above: Harada (center) poses between a pair of cosplaying models
However, Harada said, Tekken Tag Tournament 2 is so different from its ancient predecessor “that maybe we could even call it Tekken 7.” At its center is a similar tag-team mechanic, with players able to choose teams of two and swap them out at will. The big difference this time is that – unlike in the original game – all four fighters can be onscreen at once, allowing for team attacks, assists and combos that can chain seamlessly from one fighter to the next, or involve both at the same time.
There’s more to it than just ganging up on your opponents, though. If your partner’s built up enough “rage,” you can call them in to save you if you’re being stomped, although this will deplete any health they were trying to regenerate offscreen. Also, like in Tekken 6, players will be able to smash opponents through walls and floors, opening up new areas of the arena. “This time, there’s a new [mechanic] called balcony break,” Harada said. “You’ll knock your opponent of this, like, a ledge. And it kind of looks like a ring out at first, but what happens is, your opponent is dropped down to a lower level, and your partner is waiting below to continue the combo.”
While Tag 2 is clearly pretty tag-team-centric (there’s even a “pair play” mode that enables up to four players to control separate members of each team), there’s also a solo option for players who want to concentrate on just one character. Going up against a pair of fighters who can regenerate health by ducking offscreen isn’t exactly fair, though, so the solo character does more damage, takes less and can slowly heal while staying in the arena. (That said, going solo during our hands-on session still felt like a much bigger challenge than being able to tag in a fresh teammate when our fighters were on the ropes.)
In practice, this all worked beautifully; while the game wasn’t quite finished, 44 of its 50 characters (including boxing kangaroo Roger, hulking Ogre and a strangely young Heihachi and Jun Kazama) were selectable during our hands-on session, and the action was smooth, pretty and lightning-fast. We weren’t quite able to master the intricacies of getting our tag teams to work together during the short play session, but tagging out characters felt as natural and integral to the experience as it does in Street Fighter X Tekken, and experimenting with tag combos was rewardingly fun.
As central as competitive tag action is to the experience, it’s not all the game offers; for starters, Harada said, TTT2 will feature a storyline that intertwines between the various characters’ narratives, with interrelated endings that will give players a sense of the big picture only once they’ve seen a bunch of them. It also takes an interesting approach to the traditional practice and tutorial modes, bringing them together in Fight Lab, a mode designed to not only teach new players the basics, but to give experienced ones a place to hone their skills and build a unique character.
Fight Lab centers on the efforts of a guy named Violet (actually Lee Chaolan in disguise), who’s trying to build the ultimate combat robot (or “combot”). While he succeeds early on, he accidentally deletes all his work while trying to save it, causing his perfect combot to self-destruct and forcing him to start over from scratch. This if, of course, a pretense for getting players to practice various moves in a minigame-centric arena, but it’ll also give players a chance to build their combot into a powerful, unique fighter, cherry-picking their favorite moves from different fighters and adding appearance-altering modifications as they go. This combot can then be taken into online or other competitive play – which raises the question of just how combots will be balanced, and whether we’ll have to go up against competitors who use nothing but combots, but we’re sure we’ll find out as the game gets closer to launch.
With more than 50 available characters at launch, as well as new moves and stages, Tekken Tag Tournament 2 already looks like a pretty expansive package. Harada had one more revelation to drop, though: even more characters will be made available as DLC down the road, free of charge. Roll that into the diverse game modes and fluid action, and it looks like fighting fans will have quite a lot to look forward to when September rolls around.