Pokken Tournament Review

By Blair Nokes on April 24, 2016

Celebrating its twentieth anniversary this year, Pokémon continues to release goodies in all flavours for fans of the franchise. We were given a taste at two new mainline titles coming towards the end of this year "“ Sun and Moon, and to coincide with this news and the anniversary in general, we've been treated to numerous mystery gift freebies, and even the eShop releases of Pokémon Red, Blue and Yellow. On top of that, they announced an interesting spin-off game with a talking Pikachu as a detective. A few years prior, fans were teased with a static image of Blaziken and Lucario in what looked like an urban city. Theories and speculations were through the roof as to what this was hinting at.

Eventually, the Pokémon Company and the developers over at Bandai Namco Studios announced their partnering for a Pokémon-themed arena fighting game to hit Japanese arcades. Called Pokkén Tournament, fans quickly ascertained that this was to be handled by the team that worked on the Tekken series, as the name implies a marriage of the two franchises. In reality, the biggest comparison to Tekken is the duality of the fighting planes, which I will get to in a moment. Thankfully, the demand for the game was high enough to warrant a Wii U port, and an international release. Having spent enough time on and offline, Pokkén Tournament has easily become a top fighting game for the Wii U, but it's not without its faults.

The game tries to shoehorn in a story to give players a purpose for doing the things they do. It's a bit of a mixed bag; on the one hand, I really dig the idea that we are in a new region that is dedicated to brawls and augmented battling systems "“ that aspect rocks. Plugging in yet another iteration of mega-evolutions with the gimmicky "shadow crystal" seemed like a cheap way to use the newly advertised "Shadow Mewtwo" who now has 3 Mega-evolutions. Shadow Pokémon aren't necessarily new ground for Pokémon to cover, as we've had exposure to them back on the Gamecube with Pokémon Colosseum and Pokémon XD: Gale of Darkness.

In short, you are a created male or female character that is embarking on the Ferrum region for the first time. You get to pick your favourite Pokémon of the roster to train alongside, where you will compete in various cups and tournaments to unlock the "gym leader" of each tier. The story entwines Shadow Mewtwo into the mix when he virtually drops in out of no where and you're left to face off against him, with a mysterious trainer at his side. Every win grants you in game currency which can in turn be used to purchase cosmetic upgrades for your player, to further its personalization.

Certain wins also let you unlock side Pokémon who serve as support figures, similar to the Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm series, or to a lesser extent, Marvel vs Capcom. There are thirty in total, but the come in packs of two, to try and keep things balanced. It's a neat mechanic, that has a lot of potential comboing off of with your main Pokémon, but it seems like there could be so many other entries to the mix. I'm also going to be a tad contradictory here and point out that the main roster is only 16. It's pretty low for typical fighting games, and it's disappointing to see that there are more support characters. This is a series that has over 720 creatures at their disposal, so a total of 38 seems like they barely scratched the surface. Another petty nitpick of mine is the typing they decided to run with. When this was first announced, my mind raced with all the Bipedal or fighting type Pokémon they could go with. Outside of the obvious choices like Lucario, Machamp and Blaziken, Pokkén features rather peculiar entries that only seem to be placed out of popularity. Gardevoir became a fan favourite, and I'm assuming Sceptile is inserted to go alongside the other Hoenn starter, Blaziken. But Chandelure and Suicane were weird to me.

Before I go on, they are tremendous characters in game, so I'll give them that; my point is that these were considered for a fighting game, before Pokémon like Hitmonlee, Hitmonchan, Heracross, or Pangoro. Pikachu also takes up two slots in the game. I get it, it's Pikachu and it's the Pokémon mascot for all of time, but two slots in an already tiny roster is a missed opportunity. They offered a Luchador variant for Pikachu, complete with some wrestling moves to boot. While adorable, they could have easily placed Hawlucha "“ a Pokémon that's actually lucha libre themed. The obvious reasoning is that there's most likely going to be paid DLC at a later time, where we can buy and unlock more to the roster. Even if that were the case, I just find it really odd that a fighting game dealing with Pokémon has more non-fighting types in it. For those who picked up the day one copies, they were given an amiibo card with Shadow Mewtwo being a character you can unlock once a day. Currently there's no mention of additional amiibo support, or whether or not there are going to be future Pokémon amiibo card, but it seems like the most likely avenue to release hundreds of Pokémon instead of releasing figure after figure. Fans who bought the game after can rest easily knowing you can still unlock Shadow Mewtwo by simply beating the story mode.

The gameplay can be surprisingly deep. It's a four button fighter, with two planes. Field phase is when the game moves more freely about the 3D arena; this comes in hand for your Pokémon's projectiles or homing attacks, that can either keep players away, or reel them in to transition to the dual phase. The dual phase is when the camera shifts to a 2D perspective, like a traditional fighting game. This is where the bulk of the comboing happens, as each attack has four additional moves with directional input. They offer a variety of answers, but some Pokémon are definitely a little more overpowered. I'll get this out of the way now "“ Mewtwo is nuts. You can unlock the regular version of Mewtwo about three-quarters of the way through the campaign, and he seemingly has an endless assault. He has a full-ranged ki-blast that can deal some hefty damage despite its pesky cooldown, has some crazy aerial grab combos, and his Synergy finisher is brutal. I'm not ashamed to admit I've used him if I want to quickly gain ranks online. Synergy moves are when your Pokémon's synergy meter builds, allowing them to unleash a highly stylized finishing move, similar to Mortal Kombat's X-ray attacks. I've been extremely impressed with the fighting system in Pokkén Tournament. It's fun, easy to pick up, and is a bit rewarding if you put a bit of time into it.

You can battle players online in ranked or friendly matches, to really test your skills outside of the predictable AI you face offline. One tremendous feat they offered right off the bat is a penalizing system for rage-quitters, or those who exit a match, mid-match, out of frustration. Players who choose to quit midmatch will lose a portion of their in-game currency. A good penalty system in place to ensure a smooth and fair community, unlike the recent Street Fighter V, which is only just addressing their lack of a penalty system for ragequitting despite being out for months.

The visuals for Pokkén Tournament are great. The Pokémon themselves have good detail to their models, and the attacks look and feel very polished. The arenas are a mix of interesting, to bland, with fans hoping for more fan-favourite settings be released, like any of the gyms from the 7 generations. One neat little Easter Egg is the Magikarp Festival level; it's actually inspired by Bountiful Sea, a stage from Tekken Tag Tournament 2. It's not a showstopper by any stretch of the imagination, and it is clear the arcade hardware is definitely better than what's in the Wii U, but it's clean, polished, and runs at a stable framerate "“ which is probably the most necessary aspect of a fighting game.

Final Thoughts

Overall, Pokkén Tournament is a great brawler, and a solid console exclusive for the Wii U. The Pokémon name alone will ensure generous sales, and the fact that it's a solid game is just icing on the cake. I'm still a little disappointed at both the roster size and the slots they chose to fill an already limited roster, and the supports being nearly double the roster, and at the same time limited to what we could have access to. Hopefully the game's popularity will result in future DLC containing more stages, and more importantly more Pokémon to battle with.

A sensible penalty system for ragequitters ensure.
The two phases of battle is a great way to keep battles entertaining and on your toes. The gameplay system itself is also surprisingly deep.
Machamp’s poses.
Limited roster, with Pikachu consuming two of them as is.
There aren’t as many fighting type Pokémon. It seems pretty weird for a fighting game.
The amiibo support was a give, but being exclusive to one card while six Pokémon amiibo figures exist seems odd.
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