‘Tekken Tag 2’ biggest brawler yet

Dust off your boxing gloves and prep a training montage, because the next installment in one of the most popular fighting game franchises is back and bigger than ever. With over 50 characters to learn and a complex and fun new tag-team mechanic, “Tekken Tag Tournament 2” is a massive fighter that will keep the thumbs of would-be karate kids busy til kingdom come.

The “Tekken” games are probably the most well-known fighting game series after “Street Fighter,” and for good reason; gamers have been karate-chopping and drop-kicking alongside its playable characters since 1994. Over the course of the series’ history, players have been given the option to do battle as boxers, grizzly bears, ancient Aztec monsters, kung fu masters, cold-blooded assassins and Russian robots sporting mohawks, and “Tekken Tag Tournament 2” brings back nearly every single playable character in the series’ history for a roster that will thrill fans and intimidate newbies.

“Tekken” is arguably one of the most complex and difficult fighting games to master, but the controls are quite simple; each of the four face buttons controls one of your character’s four limbs. Special moves are generally easier to do than in 2D fighters like “Street Fighter,” and there are no super moves to worry about. Battles often hinge on attacks that launch the enemy into the air, where they can be “juggled” with additional hits before being spiked to the ground. Practicing your juggles will take a lot of time, but the game allows for enough creativity to make your investment feel worthwhile. Take into account the enormous stable of fighters, each with a hundred or more attacks and their own specialties, (such as a kangaroo with long-range kicks and a masked wrestler with extra-damaging grapples) and it’s clear to see that “Tekken” offers diligent gamers one of the deepest combat systems around.

“Tekken Tag 2” plays essentially the same as “Tekken 6” but with the added ability to tag in your partner for special tag throws and tag assault combos in which both of your characters take turns attacking the enemy for a short time. However, if one of your characters loses all their health, you lose the round, regardless of how much health your other character has. Therefore, learning how and when to safely tag in and out is key to victory, as well as learning which characters complement one another. For instance, is it better to pick two offensive characters, or mix in a defensive fighter as well for a more balanced approach? Players also have the option to play as just one character, which is a blessing for new players who haven’t yet learned the ropes with one character, let alone two.

“Tekken Tag 2” doesn’t do much to teach the uninitiated how to understand the game’s deeper strategic layers, but there is a short and very entertaining Fight Lab mode that will walk them through basic controls and game concepts like blocking, dodging, and counterattacking. As the players progress they unlock new moves for a customizable fighting robot character named Combot, which can be used to battle your friends when finished. It’s a shame that Fight Lab doesn’t dig deeper to teach players advanced skills, but its wacky sense of humor makes for a fun diversion and a memorable initiation to the combat’s broad strokes.

Other than Fight Lab, the modes are pretty standard fare for a fighting game. Vastly improved this time around is the game’s online versus component, which runs much more smoothly than its predecessor “Tekken 6” did, and features in-depth stat-tracking and leaderboards. The other main attraction in “Tekken Tag” is the customization mode, which lets you dress up and accessorize your characters, though the options are severely less impressive than in the previous game. In fact, most characters are stuck with sharing the same generic items, and unique items are acquired somewhat randomly and rarely.

“Tekken Tag 2’s” presentation is top-notch, with a catchy and customizable soundtrack, gorgeous arenas to do battle in, expressive faces and smooth animations, and neat effects like hair and clothing getting dirty during the fight. Each character is granted his own beautifully-rendered and often hilarious ending as well, though unlocking all of them would take quite a while.

“Tekken Tag Tournament 2” is an all-you-can-punch fighting bonanza that feels like a love letter to long-term fans and a great hopping-on point for newcomers. It is slim on extra modes but practically overflowing with interesting and diverse characters, which makes it a real contender in the world of fighting games.

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