Title: Pokken Tournament
System: Wii U
Release date: 03/18/2016
The main game/story
A fighting game with fan-favorite Pokemon to play as! In the far off Ferrum Region, you take control of a trainer who uses the power of Gaia in order to unite with his Pokemon, challenging the different classes around the region as you investigate the mystery of a mysterious being! A fairly basic story, but thankfully it’s not the kind of story that the game tells you once only to forget about it for the remainder of the experience.
Retaining most of the gorgeous visuals from the Arcade version at a smooth 60 frames per second, Pokken Tournament looks fantastic, with lots of detail to be found around every stage! Those with good eyes may be able to spot a cameo of some miscellaneous Pokemon in the stage backgrounds, along with other neat touches that really make each stage come alive! The only minor fault that I could see is that some of the textures look rather poor on some objects, but you’d need to be looking really hard in order to even notice them.
Of course, since the playable Pokemon themselves are the main attractions of Pokken Tournament, the majority of the detail applies to them, with each fighter being carefully detailed, almost to the point that a few look realistic in a way. (Braixen, Lucario and Gengar are good examples of this) The Support Pokemon don’t look half-bad either despite the fact that they only appear in battle for a few seconds at a time. I highly recommend using a 1080p TV when playing this game.
Music and Sound
Regarding the music, Pokken Tournament is so-so for the most part. While I did hear a nice amount of tunes during the game, I felt the overuse of techno elements made the songs get really stale after a while. If you happen to really like Techno music, then you’ll find a lot to like here, but if you are like me and were hoping for a wide variety of genres, you’ll be rather unimpressed with the OST as a whole.
The other key factor of the sound department in this game are the voices, which you’ll hear very frequently due to your Pokemon having their own voices, (although they are locked to the Japanese voices, which may or may not be a good thing depending on how much you like the Japanese voice actors) along with the voice of your guide, Nia. Nia tends to pop into your battle a lot to give advice, and if you have the default settings for her commands on, expect to get tired of her advice really fast. Thankfully, you can change the frequency of her hints, along with her English or Japanese voice acting at any time. If you simply want to focus on the game without any advice, you can mute her entirely by not choosing either language in the My Town settings for your advisor.
Pokemon games are usually all about the battles, so the idea of a fighting game isn’t too odd of a concept. In fact, the whole game is like a dream come true for those of us who wanted to play a Pokemon game with real time battles, instead of having to use turn-based combat all the time! With a well balanced roster of 16 playable Pokemon to choose from, you pick one as your partner before heading off to battle in the Ferrum League!
Battles are the traditional fighting game fare of one-on-one matches with two out of three rounds, the winner of each round being determined by whether or not they successfully depleted the opposing Pokemon’s Health Points fast enough. Unlike most traditional fighters, however Pokken has these battles take place in two perspectives, the Field and Duel phases. Field phase is a free-roaming battle phase while Duel Phase is your traditional side view phase, each phase shifting to the other once a certain combo or attack has been performed.
Each phase demands that you pay attention to your surroundings as the controls change slightly depending on the phase. For example, my Braixen can easily walk left and right as I use Y to shoot a few fire balls before using a Psybeam in the field phase, which then shifts into Duel Phase due to my successful combo. However since I’m now in a side view, trying to do the exact same button inputs will lead to different moves being pulled off due to the difference in perspective. This small element helps make the game both exciting and challenging at the same time, as you’ll need to have plans in mind for both phases depending on the actions either you or your opponent take during the match.
There are other factors to keep in mind for each battle, too. Before the battle begins, you can choose to have Nia perform a special type of cheer in-between rounds. These can either put a focus on maxing out your Synergy Gauge or Support Pokemon depending on the conditions met during each round, with their respective effect kicking in depending on time. For example, you may want to have it so she will always increase both gauges a little bit in-between every round, or you may choose to have her put a lot of effort into the Synergy Gauge only on the final round for those very close matches!
The other pre-battle choice you’ll need to make is choosing a support set. During local battles, you can choose any set that you have unlocked during the course of the main story, but during online battles and the main story, you can only assign three sets at a time, so choosing the three you like the most can be tricky. These support Pokemon can be summoned when the Support Gauge is full, and they all have their own effects on the battle. Some of them may disrupt your opponent by lowering their attack or stunning them, some may heal you or increase your Synergy Gauge, while others may just simply attack them to help deplete their life bars. (Although they can’t make them drop to 0, so you need to make the finishing blow yourself) Like with the playable cast, some of the Support Pokemon will change their effects slightly depending on the phase. For example, Diglett will charge right at the opponent in the Duel Phase before emerging from underground for one big attack, while in the Field Phase he acts like a Whack-A-Mole and does multiple smaller attacks on the opponent. With a nice variety of Support Pokemon, it’s very important to choose the right pairs for the job.
However, it must be noted that the majority of the stages and Support Pokemon are locked until you progress through the main story, which is where I unfortunately have a few issues with the game. To start out with, you must go through each league in a set order, only unlocking the next set of Support Pokemon, stages and Nia costumes upon beating the leader. That sounds fine in concept, but in order to even fight the leader of each league you must go through multiple sets of five league matches, where depending on how many games you win you advance further in the league. When you reach the top eight, you then must have to win a bracket-style tournament where if you lose even once you must retry from the first round of the tournament, and upon winning that you can finally challenge the league leader, where the limited number of Pokemon begins to become incredibly apparent.
Sure, each Pokemon was carefully balanced so that they all play in their own unique way, which I really appreciate since it means that there are no clones in the current roster, but when you are likely to fight the same few Pokemon in succession in the single player because of it, that ends up making the single player feel stale, especially when you end up with a league match roster where two CPU opponents use the exact same Pokemon. This eventually led to repetitive battles that felt boring to play due to the tough CPUs not coming until later in the game, and honestly made me get so bored that I gave up on the single player by the time I reached the Red League tournament. Considering the fact that you are required to beat these boring leagues in order to unlock every stage and support Pokemon (along with two different forms of Mewtwo), it’s disappointing how you have to go through all sorts of boredom to have Pokken show its full potential.
Local multiplayer isn’t much better. While it DOES use two controllers, due to the way the game functions it has to replicate the effect of double Arcade cabinets, which Pokken Tournament does by putting one screen on the gamepad and one on the TV. Unfortunately, it also locks it to 30 Frames per second, making the game feel rather odd to look at after seeing the smooth action in all the other parts of the game. Still, it’s nice to see that commitment was made to get local multiplayer working on the Wii U even with some sacrifices, and there’s even LAN support for tournament play, which retains the 60 FPS and smooth gameplay.
Thankfully, the biggest saving grace for this game is the Online Multiplayer, by far the best mode in the entire game even for those who may not usually care for online modes. In most fighting games, I typically avoid the online battles due to there being little point in battling outside of having some fun matches with your friends or getting a spot on a leaderboard, but Pokken was the exception for me. Upon playing your first match, you are given the rank of E5, and depending on your win ratio, you’ll eventually rank up to rank E4, E3, and so on, all the way to rank A1. This essentially gives you a very good reason to jump online and test your skills, as every opponent online will have their own strategies and support pairs. Due to the fact that you are no longer playing against Computer Opponents, the limited roster won’t be too much of an issue since the variety of each Pokemon’s moveset leads to an exciting experience with almost every match. The more I play online, the more tough opponents I face, which ends up feeling like an addicting sense of “just one more win”. By far the majority of my time was spent in Online, and I’m pleased to report that there’s little to no lag at all if you have a good internet connection. Even during the rare moments when I fought an opponent with a bad connection, the lag didn’t last for long, and the game still ran as smooth as ever during my playtime. With online leaderboards for you to compare monthly rankings with your friends, and you have a superb online mode that’ll no doubt lead to hours of gameplay.
Fighting games are the hardest genre for most reviewers to describe, and Pokken Tournament was no exception for me. In the end, I felt that it’s a decent fighter with a well balanced roster, an excellent battle system along with an addicting online mode. Unfortunately, if you were hoping to buy Pokken Tournament and have a Single Player story with lots of variety, you’re out of luck due to the repetitive nature of the League battles. Since you’re required to beat these matches in order to unlock more Support Pokemon for the online modes, (along with titles to customize your trainer further) Pokken Tournament ends up feeling like a chore to play at first. Thankfully, the addicting Online mode balances things out a bit, and I do encourage you to bear through the single player in order to make the most of your online experience. Playing with friends is a blast and the online scene is a challenging experience. It’s just a shame that in order to get the most of it you need to go through a lot of filler first.
I give Pokken Tournament a 7 out of 10, and only recommend it to those who love well balanced fighters with a focus on online, along with those with a lot of patience to unlock everything in the single player. For those hoping for a rich Single Player experience to keep you occupied, you may want to look elsewhere or wait for the game to go on sale, since at the moment it’s $60 to purchase, which is hard to recommend considering how the majority of the fun comes from the online. Still, if you want to get a feel for the battle system, there’s a demo available on the Nintendo eShop for those who are interested.