Tekken Tag Tournament 2 feels a bit like a best-of album. Almost everything likeable about Namco's fighting game franchise is on prominent display in the sequel. Dancing pandas, overdone intra-family fisticuffs and deep, varied movesets all unfold beautifully animated backdrops.
There's a huge cast of playable characters too — with cult favourites returning and new warriors debuting and even more on the way as DLC — and multiplayer that supports up to four players. It's definitely a kitchen-sink kind of affair.
I've always enjoyed Tekken more than other fighting game series and while I don't have pro-levels skills by any stretch of the imagination, the experience of sitting down with a preview build of Tekken Tag Tournament 2 felt really familiar. Don't expect any impressions about online play, though, as I'm only allowed to talk about my experiences with the offline modes.
You can play solo in TTT2, and that can mean just one-on-one mano-a-mano action or you squaring up against a pair of opponents. Arcade and Ghost Battle modes replicate the experiences of the past, with the former culminating in boss battles and the latter pitting you against the uploaded profiles of players around the world.
The Combot training is a significant addition to the singleplayer experience. It starts off as a simple tutorial exercise but once you finish up the stages, you can go in a Tuning option, which lets you purchase attacks from other characters' movesets. That means you can have a sweeping leg kick from Xiaoyu, a dunk punch from Craig and a spinning dive kick from armour King all assigned to one Combot. This allows for a truly unique repertoire for your Combot and you'll be able to use it as a character in some Versus mode play.
The most interesting thing about TTT2's mechanics is how they play around with the concept of tagging. As in TTT1 and games that followed suit, players can tag in a partner and have him attack as he rushes in from off-screen. But TTT2 lets the opposing player use his own tag partner to counter the attack. It's a nice bit of tactical layering that makes the fights feel like intricate dances. Then, when I faced up against Unknown, she threw a special move that shoved the on-screen character away and booted the off-screen partner back into the action. Yanking a tag partner who's low on health back into the action is a moe that will surely give fits to those who have to suffer the move in competitive play.
Like other recent Tekkens before it, players get profiles where they accumulate cash and rank. It's fun meta-game that will probably continue to give the game tons of replay value, as that cash lets you buy various customisation options for you to kit your character out in. The amount of variation is pretty stunning in its scope, with hilarious or cool new mixes
The character balance felt pretty good in my past few days with TTT2, with only a few characters who felt overpowered or unbelievably fast. Yeah, Jinpachi and Jun Kazama, I'm looking at you. Of course, the ultimate test of balance will come when the masses get their hands on Tekken Tag Tournament 2, which comes out on September 11.