Platforms: PS3 (version tested) | Xbox 360 | Wii U | Arcade
Developers: Namco Bandai
Publishers: Namco Bandai
One of the disadvantages of being a dogsbody games journalist who likes a few too many genres is that, unlike Hermione Granger, time is limited. The days when I could happily pour hundreds of hours into specialist fighting games and take on all-comers (locally, of course, these were the days before broadband) are long gone. It's been twelve years since the original Tekken Tag Tournament turned up as the PS2's killer launch title, and I still have a pang of satisfaction from remembering how a friend bought the bundle on day one, and then lost ten games in a row to me. Back in those days that was enough.
Of course that wouldn't happen any more. The reflexes are gone, the combos have dribbled out from my brain. My old arcade stick sleeps in the attic, preferring to remain a dusty link to the past than allow me to run my now-amateurish hands over its buttons. Practice makes perfect, you see, and my mind had wandered off to other places, other genres, and other games. I though I was pretty good at fighting games.
Skullgirls disabused me of that notion this year.
But Namco Bandai are looking to lower the barrier of entry when it comes to Tekken Tag Tournament 2, and this is where the new Fight Lab feature makes its mark: providing a fun tutorial and training mode that not only walks newcomers through the basics, but also allows players to come away with a new playable fighter, customised to their on preferred style of play.
The setup is suitably bizarre. Lee Chaolan's alter ego Violet, in between sipping mimosas on his tropical island and exchanging comely looks with his secretary, is trying to built the finest combat robot in the land. You are given control of the Combot, and tasked with guiding the cyborg through a bunch of training simulations, outfitting it with further combat parameters, and testing its capabilities. The basics of high, medium, and low attacks, hit timing, launchers, combos, and juggling are all explained to a backdrop of dancing bears, as fat sumo cyborgs hurl pizza at you, and try to take you out with giant trays of sushi.
An initial fight against a knight in gold armour has you shake down your visored foe for coins,shattering his armour with a final blow to reveal some fetching red underwear.
We said it was a bit odd.
But the baby steps nature of it all means that progression rarely falters, with a smooth-yet-fast learning curve to see players right. Button mashing is coached out of you as you face giant knitted bears that can only be taken down with bound moves, and furry, cave-dwelling ballerinas that require juggling combinations of the skills you've learned thus far.The aforementioned pizza-flinging fatso is only susceptible to aerial attacks. It's a simple system, one that's been tried elsewhere, but it feels perfectly balanced and very well paced here. The colourful flashes on off-kilter humour do much to disguise the tedium that can set in when it comes to a lengthy tutorial. It's a patient process, but one that delivers an emphasis on precision without punishing you too much.
But the best bit of the Fight Lab is that you can customise the Combot along the way, outfitting your cyborg with the movesets that you want, and the colour schemes that you like. By the end you'll have a fighter tailored towards a fighting style of your choice, upgradable as the game progresses and you unlock new characters and new moves, and ready for use in any offline or non-ranked online mode.
The depth in bone-crunching fighting action is still there, of course, matched by an expansive character roster that's been carefully overhauled to try and make palette-swap characters like Tiger Jackson a little more distinct. Indeed, staring at the 50+ tabs in the menu is somewhat overwhelming, the clock counting down as you furiously scan the tiny thumbnails for someone you recognise.
There's a family reunion for the Laws - Mssrs. Marshall and Forrest - and a return for Kunimitsu, enhanced with some lightning-fast ninja attacks. There are some playable bosses in there that you might recognise too: with Angel and Ogre (Tekken 2 and 3 respectively) the obvious calls, Devilish incarnations of Jin and Kazuya in the mix too, and perhaps a rather surprising inclusion in Jinpachi, who was a horribly cheap bastard in Tekken 5.
There will be some who shake their heads at the recent signs of fighting games opening themselves up to new audiences through increasingly important tutorial modes. Make no mistake,what we saw of the Fight Lab won't make a huge difference to a newcomer when faced with a fighting genre veteran. It won't turn you into a legend, nor will you suddenly become adept at fighting with every character that the game has to offer. But it might just be the difference between a frustrating experience and a fun one, particularly when it comes to Pair Play - which will see four players duking it out in 2-v-2.