Like the first game in the Tekken series’ crazy spin-off sibling, Tekken Tag Tournament 2 (TTT2) is free from the confines of individual story arcs and a need to play up to the kind of players that could write biographies (and obituaries) of every fighter.

The result is controlled chaos, limitless craziness and a far old dollop of camp. With a cast of roughly 50 fighters and a Soul Calibur V-esque customisation system, the TTT2’s developers have the space and freedom to express themselves and provide players with the opportunity to answer some of those age old questions we all want the answer to.

How deadly would Marshall and Forest Law be as a team? Can Anna and Nina Williams get on for long enough to string a few combos together? Can the miniscule Xiaoyu fight alongside the behemoth Jack without getting accidentally stood on? With character customisation, how far can I see up Asuka’s skirt? Who would win: Panda or schoolgirl?

It’s tempting to write off such silly questions as the wonderings of someone with too much time and too few girlfriends, but the ability to experiment and create unlikely pairings is a huge part of the game’s charm. Yes, some pairings are more natural than others and you’ll want to work out which duo will be your main, but sometimes you want some light relief; unlike other fighting games, the crazy questions and answers provide it.

Why it has taken Namco Bandai nearly 12 years to get back to the crazy is anyone’s guess. I suppose they were more interested in the ‘proper’ Tekken games.

That’s not to say that TTT2 isn’t ‘proper’, there’s a brilliant mix of technical systems and high-speed gameplay here that will satisfy fighting game veterans’ thirst for precision and diversity, without being so complex that it turns off newcomers. As with the best 3D fighters, the idea is to work an opening and launch devastating assaults before they close again.

This being tag team based, there are a few more options for destruction then there might otherwise be. Tag Crash, for example, sees your offscreen fighter dive in with an attack to save a floored partner. It’s remarkably useful when used at the right time and can turn the course of a bout from ghastly to splendid. The system is counter-balanced in that the swooping fighter loses the health stores that slowly build up when out of the action; so time it poorly, or simply attempt to spam the move, and you’re not going to last long.

Tag Throw and the combo-lengthening Tag Assault present the same kind of risk/reward opportunity, while Rage is more of a potential get-out-of-jail-free card. Rage is given to the offscreen screen fighter when/if the active competitor is having the living daylights beaten out of them. As soon as that health bar starts flashing red it’s time to get into the action and start putting the increased damage you’ve just been given to good use.

If you’ve ever played Tekken before you’ll achieve good success without employing these elements, but there’s genuine joy and reward to be had from learning the new systems and incorporating them into the skillset you’ve already got.

While it will take some time to get to grips with the core tag elements, it’s the experimentation with different character combinations that’s the real time sink. 50 characters brings with it a lot of potential; do you want to link speed with power, conflicting fight styles or simply double up a core strength with two similar fighters? There are no wrong answers, and what works for your style may not work for someone else.

Part of the enjoyment comes from playing online against tag teams that you’d never have thought to put together. It can be a valuable learning experience, as can playing someone using a pair you’re familiar with but seeing them employed in a completely new way.

Online multiplayer has been impressively lag-free thus far, but we have been playing before the general public enter the fray. It would be a lie to say that multiplayer is equally as smooth as offline play, but it’s certainly good enough as to not present an obstacle to success. TTT2 uses the same online code as Soul Calibur V, another game with brilliant online functionality (its replay saving also present here), so smooth matches are not all that surprising.

A particularly nice feature is that you can practice combos on a dummy Mokujin while you wait for an opponent to be found, although matchmaking times shouldn’t be an issue until the game is at least a few months old and the dabblers have evacuated.

Like pretty much every beat ’em up ever made, TTT2 is without a particularly interesting single player mode (standard arcade, time attack and ghost modes are your only options) so it’s nice that the online options work as well as they do.

If you’re a newbie feeling a little too timid to get stuck in online then you’ll want to complete the Fight Lab first. The “most comprehensive training mode ever” tag that has been assigned to Fight Lab is somewhat of an exaggeration, but it does give you a solid grounding in the basics that you’ll need to then go on and develop your skills. The paper thin story that has been wrapped around it makes it worth completing even if you’re a pro, if only because of how ridiculously poorly it has been written.

At the time of writing, the online stat-tracking system World Tekken Federation (unfortunately abbreviated to WTF) hadn’t been activated. The idea bears a close resemblance to Call of Duty’s Elite system in that it will store a wide range of stats for you to browse over later – all from the comfort of your web browser.

Everything from how often you use certain characters and pairings to what percentage of attacks you manage to block. In theory serious players should be able to use it to identify weaknesses in their play, while for everyone else it’s simply an interesting sideshow to the main event. It’ll also act as an impartial way to settle those ‘who’s the best’ arguments between friends/lovers/clan members.

If you’re looking for something with depth and speed, but is more accessible and whacky than your average Tekken, then Tag Tournament 2 is going to provide what you’re looking for. The accessible skin blends with the sophisticated core to create what is the most enjoyable Tekken of this generation.

Now, the big question… what will Dead or Alive 5 counterattack with?

Pain train: Dead or Alive 5 introduces Mila [Video]

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