Before I begin this opinion piece, let me make one thing clear: I love Tekken. Katsuhiro Harada’s beat ‘em up is the reason I bought a Sony PlayStation instead of a Sega Saturn, the reason I took up martial arts, and the reason my teachers rarely received my homework on time. From the moment I performed my first 10-hit combo at the age of ten, I was hooked. Consequently, I’ve purchased every instalment across all three PlayStation generations, become at least competent with every character, and taken part in a variety of official tournaments. In brief, I’m pretty handy.
When Namco Bandai unveiled the console version of Tekken Tag Tournament 2, I was giddy with glee. The original Tekken Tag Tournament on PS2 was an excellent title, chock-full of game modes and unlockable content, and thus I was really looking forward to losing myself in its sequel, reacquainting myself with my favourite fighters and experiencing TTT2’s evolved tag mechanics.
Alas, I am sorry to say that after a few days of playing time I’ve not had as much fun as expected. Why? Because the game’s AI has proven to be cruel, unrelenting and cheap.
Now before anyone reacts to this statement with the ever-mature response “you just suck”, I do acknowledge that, as I’ve grown older, my reaction times, hand-eye coordination and propensity for anticipating attacks are not what they used to be. Nonetheless, aficionados will know that the single-player element of Tekken titles has always catered to a broad range of skill levels by providing five difficulty settings: Easy, Medium, Hard, Very Hard and Ultra Hard. Years ago, I would play on Very Hard. Nowadays, I tend to play on Medium – and I’m ok with that, because I can more than hold my own against actual players. Feel free to challenge me at your peril (*winks*).
So, the day prior to release, my pre-order arrives. I insert the disc, complete the enormous 8GB install, and head straight for Arcade mode (difficulty set to Medium by default). My duo of choice comprises Marshall Law, my go-to combatant, and Jun Kazama, whose 10-hit combinations I can recite from memory. Stages one through six are a breeze. I cut through my foes’ defence like a knife through butter, and even manage to pull a few perfect matches out of the bag.
Then, I reach stage seven. My opponents are Mishima Zaibatsu head Heihachi Mishima and his father, Tekken 5 boss Jinpachi. The announcer yells “Fight!”, and I’m bounced around the room like a sphere of polybutadiene. Twice.
In my wisdom, I decide to change tactics, substituting my aggressive approach for a more defensive, tactical one, and with a bit of patience I overcome and progress to stage eight. True Ogre is my sole adversary. It’s two against one – a doddle, I think, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. After successfully landing a few devastating combos seconds into the match, I’m launched into the air by a sneaky uppercut and beaten into submission by a series of bounds and juggles. My ego bruised, I persevere, but the same happens again for another three rounds until a lucky Dragon Fang secures me a “Great” victory. I breathe a huge sigh of relief, but I’m not done yet; stage nine begins to load…
Jun Kazama is my sole adversary. It’s two against one – a doddle, I think. Déjà vu, anyone?
Predictably, I took a battering. Each time I went on the offensive, Jun would instinctively intercept my advances with an impeccably timed assault, and then rinse and repeat the same four moves until my health bar was depleted. Unable to beat her, I resigned to joining her, and executed the cheapest combo I knew repeatedly until I triumphed over the vicious little cow.
Once the credits had finished rolling, I dove into the options menu to adjust the game’s difficulty setting, convinced I’d lost my touch. With Easy now selected, I returned to Arcade mode, picked the same tag team, and hoped that attempt two would result in a less embarrassing outcome. As before, stages one through six were child’s play, but as soon as I reached Jinpachi and Heihachi I was forced to relive the experience described above. There was no mercy, no leniency, and fights were certainly not ‘easy’. If the AI’s first bound move connected, all I could do was endure the punishment until I either a), landed and managed to retreat, or b), perished (which was the more common conclusion). Changing the difficultly level appeared to make no difference whatsoever.
Please don’t misunderstand me here; I have no problem with accepting a loss, and I’m certainly not suggesting that I should be able to defeat computer-controlled fighters time and again without fail. However, in my view an ‘easy’ opponent should not be able to perform bounds, juggles and combos with the intuitiveness, timing and precision I would expect from a comparatively harder equivalent – or even a masterful human counterpart, for that matter.
Personally, I feel a patch is required. My belief is that videogames should be accessible to everyone, irrespective of their ability and experience. In this case, I fear that newcomers will purchase Harada’s latest title having been enticed by the influx of near-perfect review scores that have been published since September 11th, only to have the its ruthless, seemingly clairvoyant AI make them feel extremely unworthy.
To borrow the words of Metacritic user ‘John718’, Tekken Tag Tournament 2 as it stands currently is “not for the casual gamer”.
UPDATE (Sept 20th, 2012): Since this article was published, here and on N4G, many more players have told Harada that TTT2’s Arcade mode bosses (Jun especially) are too tough – even on the easiest difficulty setting. Finally, Tekken’s head honcho has realised this is a problem, and 26 minutes ago he tweeted that he plans to fix it:
Make enough noise and people will hear you.