The Wii U version of Pokken Tournament was primarily tested for the purpose of this review.
Bandai Namco and The Pokémon Company have pooled their combined resources and talents to bring Nintendo fans a taste of something different. A Tekken influenced Pokémon combat game. As the player, you pit your Pokémon against another in the best of a three round match up to determine the best combatant on the day. As you gain experience you level your Pokémon up and increase your reputation to become the best trainer of the Ferrum region.Taking all the flare and jazz of any typical fighting game and incorporating them into Pokkén was always going to happen. Your pocket monster bursts on the scene with an insane amount of charisma and flair (including some very odd grunts and groans) and is not only equally matched by his opponent but also the surrounding arena.
The first time I found myself actively thinking about this games presentation was at the beginning of my first match and the game was introducing the level that was about to become my battleground. It was a volcanic themed stage and the vibrant colours that formed the pools of lava and embers were remarkable to watch. All the stages have the feel of them being a living and breathing arena and I think was something that has captured the Pokémon spirit without flaw of recreating epic battles through the use of the environment.The amount of detail in this game is marvellous, I have seen things that I haven’t seen before and will never forget like the pointed bodily organ that sits between Blaziken’s legs? The first time that breezed across my screen is surely something I didn’t expect to see.
In all seriousness though, the Pokémon have stayed very true their source material in terms of appearance. When you activate your Pokémon’s synergy attack though each and every one is a sight to be seen, outer planet attacks, thrashing combos with intense bolts of lighting and streams of fire bursting at the seams. Once activated each match is a visual treat to be a part of.
The games HUD during battle is very well structured considering the amount of things that are being fit into the screen. Health, Synergy, assists, avatar plus details and match time all fit in there and are easily to be quickly seen on the fly and didn’t clutter your game space.I love Pokémon; I have been a trainer all my life and love to share a journey with my companions. I also love Tekken; Tekken has solved just about every argument that my brother and I have ever had. Combining them sounds like a great idea to me, right?
Initially I couldn’t have been more wrong, my first half hour or so into the game I was regretting every single second of it. The painfully read script of your guide, Nia and her agonizingly slow tutorials and the long mundane explanations of everything, absolutely everything. For a game that has such a simple formula, pick a Pokémon and fight with it, why did it need to take so long to dance around everything else?Thankfully though once I was left to do my own thing the game really opened up. I could pick one of the 16 Pokémon to go practice with. I found competitive and friendly online matches in an instant and were absolutely lag free. A lag free match, I was so happy! I was able to scan up to 5 Amiibo daily to claim rewards. These rewards are usually cosmetic but can also be in game money to purchase a desired cosmetic item. At the beginning of your experience you will choose certain things about your avatar that identify them as you and unlock the rest of the options as you progress. These customisations are absolutely anything from different hats, scarfs, jackets, background or taglines and quotes. With the tag lines and quotes I found myself having a chuckle to myself. I identified myself to be a “Grappler” and each match was able to ask my opponent “Do you mind if I tear things up?” none of this is essential to the game but adds a bit of humour and makes it a good reflection of you, if you chose to do so.
Concluding each battle you are ranked on your Offensive, Defensive, Skill and Bonus out of 5 and are paid handsomely with in game money and experience for your Pokémon for how you went. The in game money is used to purchase the cosmetic items previously mentioned. As you gain experience your Pokémon levels up and becomes stronger just like in any traditional Pokémon game. This idea though does introduce a lot of replay ability to the game and provides enough motivation to switch around Pokémon until you find what character you want to main with.Now the battles, that’s what we are all here to talk about. Matches are fast and intense as you anticipate your opponent’s movements all the while trying to formulate your own tactics that will see you the victor. Each of the 16 Pokémon specialises in one of the following; Technical, Powerful, Standard or Speed attacks. Certainly all the combatants are capable of a bit of everything but do lean towards one more than the others. As you successfully land repetitive attacks you will switch phases from Field Phase where you can move around quickly and freely in a three dimensional plain to Duel Phase a close quarters 2D fighting plain where you and your opponent deal some serious damage.
Although labelled as a fighter, I feel it is more of a glorified brawler with a very mild need to be able to recite combos, even flirting with button mashing territory. This makes it more than accessible for new comers to the genre or someone looking to experience Pokémon in a different way.
Throughout your battle you will charge what is called Assist Pokémon, currently there are around a dozen pairs of assist Pokémon that offer different types of benefits as you battle. Some can disorientate, heal you or deal area damage. While they do assist you ever so slightly, I just saw the feature as a way to include more Pokémon to the experience.The Synergy gauge is the be all and end all of a Pokkén battle. As you deal or take damage your synergy level rises, once it has maxed out you can activate it to unleash a series of devastating blows to your opponent and finish them off with an outrageous finishing move unique to your Pokémon.
My only other real grief with this game is the lack of selection to the fighters. There are around 720 or so Pokémon and Pokkén has 16 fighters two of which have doubles, Pikachu, Pikachu Libre, Mewtwo and Shadow Mewtwo. I think that these could easily have been simple costume swaps to cover this opening the gates for two more Pokémon at launch but likely we will have to wait for DLC characters to fill that void. Here is to hoping for Blastoise!After my shaky start with the painful tutorial I wasn’t sure I could come back from it but after my first few matches with my pick of the 16 selectable Pokémon and working the finer details out of each I was having a blast. I even found myself utilising the off screen gameplay feature of the Gamepad to play while I was cooking dinner, making this game great for short bursts and on the fly gaming. The easily accessible controls open the game up to fans from either side of the road with some great visuals and excellent online multiplayer. Just about anyone who partakes in a few matches of Pokkén Tournament isn’t going to regret it. We just need some more characters to use.