Review by xanxus

"Purple pills"

Tekken, as one of the launch titles for the eagerly-awaited PlayStation, established itself as a force to reckon with. With time, Namco successfully produced 2 sequels, still on the PlayStation, that brilliantly improved upon each prior release until it was finally time to move on to the PlayStation 2 where a new Tekken title was coincidentally among the first games to be available on Sony’s second overly-hyped console. And although competition had in a sense increased with the likes of Virtua Fighter and Dead or Alive, with the strongest opposition actually coming from another Namco title, the male genitalia-hardening Soul Blade (this alone should tell you just how fantastic Namco always is as far as 3D fighting is concerned), Tekken Tag Tournament was highly anticipated.

Because of the “Tag” in it, which showed it’d revolve around tag battles instead of the usual one-on-one matches. Because of the interesting story (along with well-developed characters, with a proper storyline for each) that sufficed to prove a proper plot could indeed be implemented in a fighting game while not sacrificing game play and originality (although this had already been proven by the The King of Fighters and Fatal Fury series, both by the now-deceased SNK). But, most importantly, because it was evident Namco was crafting each game with love and dedication, which is probably why each new title turns out to be so shockingly good.

However, Tekken Tag Tournament is a special edition that sacrifices its story for the sake of game play, which, in this specific case, involves implementing the “Tag” feature found in X-Men vs. Street Fighter. While the Tekken series has always been known for having a proper story (which is severely lacking in those goofballs of fighting games that are the Virtua Fighter and Dead or Alive series), Tag doesn’t have any. It’s a shame really, but one that will soon be forgotten once you start playing it and as you discover its ****ing deep game play.

Surprisingly, even without a plot, Tag still offers endings – endings that are relatively short, but that are nevertheless ****ing great, in spite of their length. Some of these endings convey emotion extremely well (which is a bit rare for fighters) while not even having even a negligible story or even some voice-acting. As an example, I regard the Jacks’ thirty seconds of glory (I guess you could really call it that given how it’s mainly about Mishima and Kazama throughout Tekken history!) as one of the most poignant scenes ever featured in any game, easily topping the most revered cinematic of Final Fantasy VII (you probably already know what I’m referring to). It’s a must see, as are most of the other endings in the game. And although some of these can be regarded as filler as they make no sense whatsoever, they’re still endlessly charming.

In this specific case, the absence of a plot is even a blessing, as it allows any character to be featured even though the latter may have died in a previous title. It also doesn’t matter if a certain character should be definitely left out since it is radically easy to just slap him into the game. No character development throughout the game means an explanation is not needed for those fighters that have miraculously returned. And this contributes to give Tag one of the best casts seen in a fighter. Although certain characters have still been left out (I miss Dr. B and the cuddly little Gon of Tekken 3!), almost everybody is back in for some hardcore action from Bruce, the Thai kickboxing freak, to Jun, spouse of Kazuya Mishima and mother of Jin Kazama, without forgetting memorable characters like Armor King (the word “memorable” is actually extremely weak here!).

Of course, fan favorites such as Jin Kazama himself, Heichachi Mishima, the Williams sisters, and Paul Phoenix, among numerous others, are here too such that Tag offers the most brilliant cast featured in a 3D fighter. But we should all sit down and meditate on that single fact (as far as characters are concerned) that makes this game so worth checking out if only for a single reason: Kazuya Mishima is back, and he’s at his peak. His badass attitude, combined with a seemingly impassible nature no matter what happens, definitely makes him the coolest character in the game. And, of course, he also has a stunning array of moves that make him perfect for both beginners and experts alike.

But don’t let this fool you into believing that it’s merely about a small group of characters. Tag’s cast is such that anybody will find a couple of characters that he’ll soon grow infatuated with. And, while Tekken Tag Tournament professes to have the characters use real martial arts such as Lei’s drunken style (directly ripped from the Jackie Chan flick, The Legend of the Drunken Master – as a matter of fact, Lee himself is Jackie) and King’s/Armor King’s believable wrestling moves), it’s always a chuckle to see a bear, a panda, or even a kangaroo fight, among humans, devils and robots. In addition, appearance is deceptive here. As an example, Jack, a huge robot, will appear like an easy foe with his bulk which makes him agonizingly slow, but don’t underestimate him. 3 hits alone from him will suffice to deplete almost all of his opponent’s life, and his speed really doesn’t hamper him that much when he’s being controlled by an expert who eats, drinks and sleeps Tekken.

The final boss, Unknown, is truly original – a Mystik-like gal with half a wolf floating behind her. Unknown comes with the Mokujin syndrome. Understand by this that she’ll borrow moves from all players, switching from one combatant’s techniques to another’s easily. She’ll also add her own attacking and defensive capabilities to these, making her a formidable foe. During rounds, the character who isn’t fighting regains some of his life as he waits for his cue. Although Unknown fights alone (which may still be more than you can fathom), she recuperates her lost life faster than you, which will first make you think “Hell, isn’t she ever going to die?” This is exactly when you finally pick Marshall Law and Paul Phoenix, the ultimate team in my opinion, and send her to her demise with one of the most brilliant tag combinations the game supports. Sheer brilliance!

As far as game play is concerned, although this edition features the tagging option, it does little else to change the core of the title. Each character has two punches and two kicks, a left one and a right one in each case, with the tag button being normally assigned to an analog button provided you have the proper controller (which is recommended!). Don’t let this rather simple lay-out deceive you because each character has a mind-boggling amount of moves with some easily exceeding fifty of those. However, what really matters is that the game is extremely beginner-friendly. It doesn’t matter if you aren’t a Tekken aficionado or even if you haven’t even played a fighting game before. Tag is designed such that you’ll be engrossed within hours, and while it is nevertheless hard to achieve the level of knowledge of a real expert who’s been sleeping with the games even since the first Tekken was released, it’s possible to develop decent skills within days.

Most moves are extremely easy to pull, but obviously, some of the most complex combinations are harder to pull and require practice. And combinations make the whole of the game. It is easy to rely only on single moves on the lowest difficulty setting. Against human challengers and on the higher difficulty settings, you will absolutely need to rely on combinations and to know when to effectively pull these. But, even then, barely one hour in practice mode will show that these combinations are not outlandishly hard to pull, as in observed in certain other fighters that require button presses that will make your fingers ache. The first time you’ll witness Armor King’s four or five-hit combos you’ll probably start wondering how great it would be if you could also do such neat tricks that both deal good damage and look cool. Within a couple of days, you’ll find yourself happily performing these same techniques you were marveling at when you first started.

Similarly, each character has moves and combinations that will become relatively easy after some time. Logically, the best moves (ones that deal the most damage) can be exceedingly tough to pull –King’s Rolling Cradle is without doubt the most complex move in the whole game, but this is easily understandable by the fact that it deals no less than 125% damage, which most of the time, suffices to kill the opponent. Moves are gratifying and rewarding at the same time. Most important, they convey the fighter’s personality instead of being merely generic. This, combined with the characters’ looks, makes Tekken Tag Tournament a game where you will with time realize that you’ve simply fallen in love with certain characters. And while it’s true that the powerhouses are among the most popular, I can assure you each combatant in the game has his fans – I myself am a huge fan of Jack (any will do) in spite of his speed and the risks this involves and I know people who instantly go for zany combinations such as Roger and Wang.

The Tag feature is pretty self-explanatory, but Namco still sprinkled it with features and options that contribute to make it far superior to the ones sported by games like Marvel vs. Capcom. Characters thus share tag throws, which involve the first combatant throwing the opponent and the second one appearing by casually jumping onto the downed victim. This tag throw isn’t really superior to normal throws, but it’s visually aesthetic and does have a nice feel about it. Of course, this is nevertheless absolutely nothing compared to the bulk of the game, which allows you to juggle the opponent with one player, continue delivering hits with the second, and tagging back to the first character to finish off the round with an outlandishly powerful move or combination.

There’s nothing more refreshing that using Jin and Heihachi, and having both characters run in and out while delivering powerful hits each time. Such things require practice and good skills, but in the end, this is what Tekken Tag Tournament is essentially about. Some character pairs do present more twin combinations more effectively, but that doesn’t mean a certain pair won’t have any of these. The game has indeed been designed to enable any characters to team up, and even Devil and Jack-2 will be able to overlap moves to deal as much damage as possible (and considering what these two particular combatants are capable of, you can just imagine the result of such an unlikely combination). Some tag possibilities even cause the second player to just run in, deliver a few punches or kicks provided you actually press the desired buttons, and automatically leave once this has happened.

This contributes to make Tekken Tag Tournament deep…too deep for words! The amount of possibilities is overwhelming and the sheer number of moves for each characters means you’ll need months to discover all there is about the game. In addition, the nature of the game itself, which places a strong emphasis on frame rate, speed, bulk and which has different styles of moves (juggles, stuns, counters, etc…), makes it an infinitely gratifying game. Tag requires you to adopt different strategies depending on the situation and who you’re playing as, along with who your opponents are. It serves nothing playing outwardly aggressively against someone like Paul since he’ll gleefully slaughter you and counter all your attacks. Instead, a just balance of defensive and offensive displays will be necessary. Similarly, another opponent may feel like eating every move you throw his way. Here, just test you whole arsenal of moves at him and chuckle at an easy win.

The way strategy occupies such a preponderant role throughout the game definitely contributes to help Tag steer away from the mindless masher (although this is possible on Easy, you may just forget about it onwards and run for your life). While you are actually playing with 2 characters with the unused one slowly but surely gaining some of his life back, you lose the round once a character is defeated. This makes knowing when to effectively switch combatants crucial, as a slight mistiming in pressing the Tag button may cause you to lose to a whimsical Bryan Fury. Moreover, with well-timed hits, it is possible to prevent your opponent from tagging, and the vice-versa also holds. With such a devilish concept, it is no surprise that Tag remains a frantic game throughout, where a single glance sideways may prove fatal to your combatants.

Other than the Arcade mode, this PlayStation 2 port includes bonus ones, including a fun but totally forgettable Bowling Mode, along with the usual Survival and Time Attack modes, among others. Arcade mode itself is a double-edged sword, as it is possible for the two characters of a single team to be controlled by two players. This logically enables 4-player parties with 2 players on each team, but this is more liable to engender real fights when any player in any team screws up. With the multitude of characters, endings and outfits that can be unlocked, Tag enjoys a really long life span, enhanced by the fact that there’s so much to discover throughout the game. There’s no denying Namco worked hard to make Tekken Tag Tournament a deep game destined to last really long.

While Tekken 3 had somewhat disappointing graphics with blocky polygons always getting in the way, Tag is a visual feast. Granted, it cannot compare to its closest competitors (Virtua Fighter, Dead or Alive), but the character designs are jaw-dropping and the backgrounds are extremely well-detailed, which is more than I can say for the aforementioned titles. The character outfits themselves are extremely well-drawn and smoothly animated, which puts much emphasis on the combatants’ personalities. Jin’s flamboyant pants have a decidedly stylish aura about them and Marshall Law is basically wearing Bruce Lee’s clothes shown in his most popular flicks. The fighters’ animations make things look even more lifelike, with each single motion enjoying a high frame rate, and the blows and flinches are well executed. The design and animation of certain moves themselves are more than enough to show how much effort was put to make Tag a visual accomplishment.

Similarly, Tag beholds the zaniest collection of backgrounds seen in a 3D fighter so far. They may not offer the interactivity found in Tekken 4, but the level of details is simply astounding. The settings themselves are varied and appropriate – from a school yard with students performing student stuff while others are merely watching to a gloomy temple, Tag makes sure each and every background looks as realistic as possible. Foot prints appear as both combatants trod in the snow, and leaves are scattered around as one fighter succumbs to a well-placed move and is sent reeling into the ground.

Unfortunately, the audio fails to be as stellar as the visual presentation. The only memorable tracks are Law’s theme, a marvelous piece that perfectly overlaps techno strings with an upbeat rendering, and the powerful ending theme. Otherwise, the remaining themes fail to make much impact. These are passable as best and never really suit the atmosphere of the game, which is a shame since the gloomy backgrounds could have done with better orchestrated pieces to make Tag even more impressive. This is thankfully counterweighed by the nice sound effects, which range from blows to groans and which are very well done. Characters cry out as they’re hit, and each blow has a distinct feel about it. It’s a pity more voice-acting wasn’t implemented (such as pre-fight speeches), but this is not really detrimental to the whole game.

Nowadays, the fighting genre is witnessing a never-ending battle between Tekken 4, Virtua Fighter 4, and Dead or Alive 3. People just like to compare these games and fanboys of a party will never tire thinking of poor reasons to bash the other games. Many long-time Tekken fans actually think that Tekken Tag Tournament is infinitely superior compared to 4. I do not. While I agree that Tag still has that unbeatable cast and the new tagging feature, I nevertheless regard 4 as the most technically accomplished and think it’s deeper. Moreover, I also think that Tekken Tag Tournament mercilessly rips through the piles of fecal matter that Virtua Fighter 4 and Dead or Alive 3 are. This alone should tell you just how this game is fun. The control is perfect, and the visual representation, while not comparable to Tekken’s direct competitors, still shines like gold. And while the audio is disappointing, the exciting game play more than makes up for this and any other little flaw that is present in the game.

Reviewer's Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

Originally Posted: 06/09/03, Updated 06/10/03

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