Namco Bandai took over the Xbox Lounge at the Hard Rock Hotel in San Diego on Saturday evening for a Comic-Con International party to promote its upcoming game Tekken Tag Tournament 2.  Various invitees showed up to get a taste of the upcoming sequel, which has been years in the making and certainly satisfied those looking to get into a little action.

The first thing we noticed is how devoted Namco was to making sure partygoers got the idea of how the fighting action worked.  Several stations were set up with deluxe Namco fighting sticks, programmed just for the sake of kicking a little butt.  Several fighting experts were also on hand to provide tips on how to get the most out of Tekken, setting up newcomers with ideas on how to execute combos and counters.  Finally, the game’s producer, Katsuhiro Harada, appeared, talking about all the hard work that went into the game, and greeting fanatics with the opportunity to brawl.  Clearly you can’t get better incentive than that.

Though most of the game’s modes were locked at this point in development (it’s a game that’s still in the works), we were able to battle with a variety of characters.  Tekken Tag Tournament 2 features a cast of over 30 fighters from the game’s series, including oddball favorites like the all-wooden Mokujin and the brawling kangaroo Alex Jr. (complete with a baby kangaroo wearing boxing gloves!).  Other folks we got a chance to try out included the nimble Law, the wrestler King, and the quick-footed Hwoarang.  But don’t worry, staples like Paul Phoenix and Nina Williams continue to provide a pounding as well.

One thing we noticed about Tekken Tag Tournament 2 is how well the graphics have improved over the years.  The game features cinematic intros where the fighters perform a quick pose down and one even delivers an opening fight taunt, if they speak at all.  From there, the action shifts to some sort of fighting arena, be it a beachside resort, an enclosed cage in the middle of an enclosed stadium, or a rooftop with a parade float gliding in the distance.  All of the backgrounds look simply fantastic, as if you’re fighting in real environments compared to stapled-on backgrounds.

But what will really shock you is how smooth the animation is.  Not once did the Tekken characters look jittery or running around with some sort of snap-back bone condition.  They performed like real fighters, especially Eddy Gordo, a free-flowing fighter who uses Capoeira, swinging his arms and legs into a breakdancing frenzy that actually makes for an unpredictable fighting style.  It’s nuts seeing him work.  Granted, Christie Monteiro does the same sort of moves, and looks a lot sexier pulling them off.  It’s your choice who you want to use.

Namco did give us the opportunity to play around with Fight Lab, a trailblazing new tutorial mode where you can actually learn your fighting wares by modifying match rules and conditions, allowing you to practice certain types of attack techniques so they can serve better to your advantage.  Here, we got a chance to set up jumping players (for aerial attacks), as well as blockers who showed you just where they might (or might not) be exploited for a combo.  For those of you who ever wanted to be a master of Tekken, this is the mode for you.  It’s not just “tap tap” as some folks might expect.  There’s some strategy here that fans will not just appreciate, but also learn from.

As for the gameplay, it does have its fair amount of flash, to be sure, but it backs it up with plenty of powerful punches.  Each character is as hard-hitting as ever, and watching the connecting power attacks hit your opponents is quite a sight.  Along with huge flashes of light, you feel the impact of each hit as it collides with enemies, jarring them backwards and preparing them for a possible counter-attack as they get up.  You can block rather easily (hold back on the analog stick and, in some cases, tilt it for a crouching block), and then use the face buttons to punch and kick into connected attacks.  Being able to tag in a partner with the right bumper button is simple, though you have to wait for certain moments – like flashing life bars – to get the most out of them.  If you’re good enough, you can even connect a friend into the match with a diving attack, as you strike your opponent into the air.  We’re still getting used to this technique, but it’s nice.

We can’t thank Harada and his team enough for inviting us out to the Tekken event and give us the chance to beat folks to a pulp after an exhausting day at Comic-Con.  We’re certainly looking forward to the game when it hits our shores for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 on September 11.  Oh, and don’t forget to get one of those swanky fighting sticks.  They rock.