Review by Kane
Reviewed: 08/10/01 | Updated: 02/02/03
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Gameplay
Often mistaken for the fourth episode of the Tekken series -one of the pioneers of the 'realistic 3d fighter' genre- Tekken Tag Tournament is actually a sort of compilation of the precedent games, but this time it makes its great premiere on a new generation console. This game was obviously important for Sony and Namco, still eternal friends, since it was basically the only decent launch title of the PlayStation 2: history seems to repeat itself, because we remember that the first Tekken was one of the PlayStation's first good games. As is the case with most fighters nowadays, this is a straight port from the arcade, and to be honest, Tekken Tag Tournament isn't a new game at all: it was released two years ago in the arcades and had a surprising success considering that it isn't a true sequel.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that Tekken Tag Tournament, as appealing as it may look, is nothing more than a Tekken 3 on steroids featuring all the characters from the series. On a system that seems to 'play the sequel card' (e.g. Gran Turismo 3 A-Spec, Metal Gear Solid 2, Final Fantasy X...), TTT seems perfectly in its place. However, the real question is: "Should it have a place in your collection?"
I must admit that I have always been a fan of this fighting games series... Tekken was the reason why I bought a PlayStation, and TTT is one of the main reasons why I finally got a PS2. And I got exactly what I expected. Before going any further, let me tell you that I am not one of those individuals who trash this game and call it a button masher just because they don't know how to play it. As a matter of fact, calling Tekken Tag Tournament's gameplay weak is one of the most ridiculous and funniest things I have heard in my whole life. It really has everything a good fighter needs: dozens of charismatic characters representing various fighting styles, a complicated engine that has improved over the years and now attains its paroxysm, crystal-clear graphics and a dynamic animation (please allow me ignore the shameful PAL conversion). What did I forget? It's also very fun!
One of the best aspects of this game is that beginners can have as much fun "mashing" the buttons as experts when they try to discover every move and its different properties. There are already a great number of basic techniques to master for all the characters, but a simple look at the move list for each of the 24 characters will make your head spin... It's virtually impossible to know everything the game has to offer, even if you consider yourself a Tekken master. All the characters from the Tekken universe to the exception of Dr.B and Gon -thank god- are in this game, and you will surely find a few fighters to your taste if you're not familiar with the series. From Eddy Gordo the capoera dancer (and also the mashers favorite) to Beak Doo San the Tae Kwon Do master, they are all very different but equally effective.
The controls are top-notch: if you miss a move, it just means you need to spend more time in training mode. You will obviously have a lot to learn if you have never played a Tekken game before, but it also means that the pleasure you will take in this experience will be decupled. Don't worry, the combos are easy to pull off with some training, and playing on the PS2 controller is quite enjoyable for once. Just try not to give up, because Tekken Tag Tournament is a very deep game once you understand it.
Tekken Tag Tournament only introduces a limited number of innovations to the series, and as hinted by the title of the game, the biggest one is the Tag mode indeed. This "new" system that in fact made its first apparition in the obscure SNK game Kizuna Encounter before being exposed to the public by Capcom's versus series, is actually nothing more than a team mode that lets you switch characters at any time during the fight by simply pressing a trigger button. This allows for more strategy because the character that is out of the ring slowly gains some life back. However, contrary to most games that use this concept, you lose the round when one of your character is beaten, so you really have to explore every tactical option provided by this new feature and be careful. What's more, the Namco developers decided to include new tag combinations for particular teams that you will have to discover by yourself, as if the game wasn't already deep enough. Other improvements include new moves and -finally- counters for everyone. Virtual fighting has never been this complicated, but it works perfectly!
Simply put, Tekken Tag Tournament looks insanely good. The characters all look very real thanks to the power of the impressive but still over-hyped emotion engine. No jaggies are apparent, which is rather surprising, but Namco has a history of being able to fully use a console's potential even shortly after its release. SoulCalibur anyone?
The CGI are simply gorgeous, but sadly there aren't enough of them. The endings look more than decent but were done with the game's engine. To earn our forgiveness, Namco included a theater mode so that you can see them as much as you want. The backgrounds are works of art and the amount of detail on them is simply incredible. Not only do they look real and original, but they also have been designed with a great sense of beauty. Truth be told, while SoulCalibur (another Namco masterpiece) probably has more character, Tekken Tag Tournament looks heaps better than the aforementioned title.
Yet, the most impressive aspect of this game is to be found elsewhere: in the quality of the animation. Looking at the characters is a joy because they all seem to be truthful to their respective martial arts. Some of the characters seem to dance while they are fighting, while some others have a more brutal style: many fights are reminiscent of Hong-Kong movies, which surely can't be a bad thing. Indeed, Marshall Law and Lei Wulong look strangely similar to the mythical Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan, but who cares if it is for the best?
The music is quite unimpressive, though. While it serves the game well in the sense that it is very low and doesn't distract the player at all, it is nothing worth remembering after turning off your console. The sounds effects are average: it seems they haven't changed much since the previous installment. Julia Chang still does that irritating noise when you hit her and some of the impacts sound surprisingly metallic. This is definitely the worst aspect of this game.
Each character has his own story and motives for entering the tournament, but this time Namco decided to focus more on the engine than on the story. Therefore, this game has the weakest story in the whole series by far. Despite the non-existent storyline, all the characters have endings, which is becoming rare in fighters nowadays.
With a multitap, up to four players can take part to the action in tag team mode. But as usual, the meat of the game is in versus mode, even though there are a few hidden modes (the bowling game is particularly fun) and lots of characters to unlock in arcade mode. If your friends are into 3d fighters, chances are you will still be playing this game for years.
Tekken Tag Tournament is a good PS2 game that you will probably enjoy a lot, whether you are a fighting game fan or not. It showcases the possibilities of the PlayStation 2 almost as much as Gran Turismo 3 A-Spec and is extremely deep. It is true that it is just an upgrade over Tekken 3, but that doesn't negate the fact that it is one of the best games currently available on this console. If you have played Tekken 3 to death, you might find yourself a bit bored once you have discovered all the new moves, but keep in mind that with the imminent release of Tekken 4 in the arcades, any practice you could get is very precious. If you are not familiar with this series, I suggest you do yourself a favor and rush to your local game store to get a copy as soon as possible. This game truly represents the pinnacle of one of the two major 3d fighter series (the other one being Virtua Fighter).
Rating: 3.5 - Good
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