Pokkén Tournament (Wii U) Review

By Jorge Ba-oh 28.03.2016 2

Review for Pokkén Tournament on Wii U

It's been over two decades since Pokémon hit the scene, and with it has come a surge of popularity that has yet to wither; a growing number of games, characters, films, merchandise and more. Nintendo hit the jackpot with a franchise that has universal appeal and longevity; followers who have been immersed within the world of Pokémon since 1996/1998, and newcomers who have gotten their ticket in recent years.

Jump back through time to playgrounds of 1998 and you will hear grumblings of fans wanting to play as a Pokémon, stepping into a lush field as a Pikachu, tapping buttons to perform these moves first-hand and being able to freely move about. Up until now there have been some glimpses of being able to become a Pokémon - Nintendo and developers have conjured up the likes of the Pokémon Rumble, Pokémon Mystery Dungeon and PokéPark franchises, which allowed you to finally take control of a critter directly.

However, there still hasn't been a game that involved one-on-one Pokémon battles and tournaments - until now - with fighting experts Bandai Namco leading the charge with an exciting new Pokémon spin-off. After an early look at the arcade version in Japan, does Pokkén Tournament on Wii U satisfy that craving?

It's been some time since Pokkén was first teased, with a cheeky snippet of an unknown project showcased during a montage at a Pokémon event back in 2013. Fans were excited at the prospect of a brand new Wii U game that could have been a fully-fledged home console RPG; an updated Pokémon Colosseum perhaps, but the trademarked name gave it away - this appeared to be a new fighting game. It took a whole year for the concept to become official, with The Pokémon Company working alongside the Tekken team from Bandai Namco to mesh together the worlds of Tekken and Pokémon into a brand new title.

Pokkén Tournament was designed to showcase a different side of Pokémon, a new way to play with the critters that everyone has grown to love over the years. Fortunately, it's not a kart racing spin-off or a shoddy sports effort, but a different perspective to the Pokémon battles; the same sorts of moves but shown in a fresh and intriguing way. At its core, Pokkén Tournament is a fighter and deep rooted with the Tekken base, but there's the Pokémon touch that makes it feel like the RPG games that the series is known for - entangled with strategy and tactics.

The main difference between Pokkén Tournament and contemporary fighters is a shift between two different camera styles, or "phases," during a fight. The first, "Field Phase," sees the camera locked behind the Pokémon and allows for running around freely in all directions, homing in on the rival within the circular arena. Doing enough damage, or getting whacked by a powerhouse blow, shifts the action into more familiar ground: the "Dual Phase." The camera is now locked into a two-dimensional plane and control mirrors the likes of Tekken and Street Fighter, where blows are traded in a more traditional way - from side to side.

At its base, Pokkén Tournament deals a range of different attacks mapped out to single buttons - normal blows, high damage, throws, and counters. Each of these are vulnerable to another type of move; for example, normal attacks can overcome those pesky grabs, counter moves can, naturally, counter normal attacks, and grabs can sneak in on a well-placed counter. It may sound fairly basic a setup compared to the more complex, button-heavy genre entry out there, but there is plenty of depth for those who step in and master the Pokkén Tournament techniques. The little touches in aerial moves, Pokémon-specific specials, and the ease of stringing together combos, keeps the action fun, fluid, and accessible to newcomers, yet with enough depth for seasoned fighting fans.

Screenshot for Pokkén Tournament on Wii U

The strategic element comes through the use of a "Synergy" meter, something that's charged throughout the battle - either by collecting item boxes during the Field Phase or by delivering as much damage as possible. Once it hits maximum level, which doesn't take too long, a souped up state can be triggered, and in some cases this means Mega Evolution. Chunky muscles, a surge of energy, and glowing eyes of a predator on the chase - by launching into this mode at the right time, it could be what topples the balance for a spectacular comeback. It also allows for a "Synergy Burst" move to be triggered - a delicious string of combos that requires that vital first move to connect with an opponent. If it works, a cinematic segments kicks in and sees the Pokémon of choice unleash its trademark finisher.

Support characters are another touch that allow for some of the favourites who didn't quite make the main roster to have their moment in battle, with some stunning the opponent or pelting them with a handful of blows, and others causing stats changes to sway the flow of battle. Both the Synergy moves and support characters may sound gimmicky on paper, but sit nicely within the action - only popping up once or twice in the mix, making their impact that bit greater and something that could be saved for the next round to secure a win.

There are sixteen characters to choose from, and the majority of these critters offer something distinct to the mix, with some being easier to master than others. At the very most basic level, many will react to certain move types in a similar way, launching a projectile or unleashing a handful of kicks or punches, but unique traits come into play with special moves, counters, and the balance of speed/versus strength.


 
Naturally, Pikachu is a contender for first Pokémon. The loveable, adorable electric mouse is fast, resilient and, this time round, has a streak of cockiness about him. Blaziken and Lucario are two warriors locked in a furious battle, each dabbling in close combat and fancy aerial attacks, and are the closest match to those more accustomed to the likes of Ryu and Ken from Street Fighter. The more obscure, yet interesting, Pocket Monsters come in the form of Gengar and Chandelure, two utterly creepy, yet mesmerising, critters that deal more in scares than physical moves. Despite some similarities in physicality, they each bring something unique to the table. The only exceptions really are two variations - one on Pikachu, and the other on Mewtwo - which could arguably have been used up by other Pokémon instead.

What about the game modes, though? Pokkén Tournament leans more towards the Stadium line of games, where there's a competitive single-player feature, divided up into ranked leagues. As a newbie, naturally you start from the very bottom, facing other newcomers in order to climb up the ranks and enter the last-eight tournament battles. It's a fun and challenging feature, spread across four increasingly difficult ranks. To break up the rounds, there's also a storyline that fits loosely into the dialogue after some fights, as a mysterious trainer and its shadow Pokémon linger in the shadows - what's their purpose? As progress is made through the later stages, the intent seems clearer, but build-up to the main events does seem a bit of a grind - good practice, but sometimes too uneventful.

Screenshot for Pokkén Tournament on Wii U

Aside from fighting, there are RPG elements that help ease the grind and make training Pokémon that bit more rewarding. Each critter can gain experience, which can be distributed across attack, defence, synergy, and strategy. It's a neat way of bridging the worlds of Pokémon with fighting games, and compels players to keep working through to strengthen their team.

Outside of the main leagues are single-player free matches and a handy training area to get to grips with the more unique mechanics. Tutorial features are often overlooked in games of this ilk, but in the case of Pokkén Tournament, it's the place to start when playing for the first time.

Multiplayer includes a local versus mode to compete against fellow Pokémon fans, and solid online options to face off against folk from around the globe. Free matches are available for a casual bash about and getting some practice in against real foes, and Ranked battles are included for more competitive play. In terms of connectivity, matches are generally found within ten second searches and flow without a hitch - at least during the review process here - including fights against folk on the other side of the world, and also those closer to home in the UK.

Pokkén Tournament also includes a fair bit of customisation, too, as there are trainers still involved in the fights - they stand on the sidelines and use headgear to communicate with Pokémon on the field. At the start you can pick gender and a basic look, but in-game currency can be used to tweak quite a number of avatar features - from the numerous outfits to even whether they have freckles or not. Trainer customisation was a much loved feature in Pokémon X and Pokémon Y, so it is a good addition to see return here. Got amiibo, as well? Each one can be used to unlock cash and goodies - one per day - by tapping them onto the GamePad.

Screenshot for Pokkén Tournament on Wii U

In terms of visuals, the game is one of the stronger looking titles in the Wii U library, full of colourful detail and neat nods to the series' aesthetic. Bandai Namco could have gone with fairly generic, Tekken-esque dojos instead, but these arenas have been designed with the Pokémon world in mind. It is quite easy to imagine, and perhaps drool over, the world of Ferrum being realised in a future Pokémon RPG game. Most importantly, though, it runs just as well as it looks, flowing in a striking 60fps without a hitch - visual effects and all.

Make the Pokémon stand still for a moment and the stunning soundtrack comes into focus; an eclectic mix of different themes, some heavy rock compositions, club rompers from an '80s Friday Night Disco, as well as serene, delicate mixes that contrast the more action-driven melodies well. Battles aside, these pieces are worth a listen as a standalone soundtrack, which is quite a feat coming from a fighter.

In terms of replayability, beyond the initial tournaments and stat building, Pokkén Tournament achieves fighting-game-syndrome, where you enter that period of opting to learn some under-used characters, play others online, or go that final step further and have a crack at professional tournaments. There's enough content and variation in characters to last, and online is proving to be performing solidly to keep the fights coming in thick and fast. The default roster itself is fairly limiting, however, and no DLC is planned at the time of this review, so it would be ideal for at least a few additional characters to become available going forwards to pad it out somewhat.

Screenshot for Pokkén Tournament on Wii U

Cubed3 Rating

8/10
Rated 8 out of 10

Great - Silver Award

Rated 8 out of 10

Pokkén Tournament ran the risk of seeming like a bog standard fighter with Pokémon skins, but Bandai Namco and The Pokémon Company have served up a unique Pokémon setup that delivers a fun, flexible, and easy-to-learn experience for fighting fans. With so much history behind the franchise, there was a lot riding on getting it right, and this sits firmly within the legacy as a must-have Pokémon entry to add to anyone's collection. Despite there being clear conventions from fighters in its roots, Pokkén Tournament feels more like an exciting new take on Pokémon battles rather than an attempt at a standard Pokémon battle-fest.

Developer

Bandai Namco

Publisher

Nintendo

Genre

Fighting

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  8/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  10/10 (1 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

Comments

Played this with friends yesterday. We couldn't figure out the controls, and the in-game tutorial was less than helpful (for example, I don't think it said anything about how to grab, and the move effectiveness wasn't touched on at all). It just felt like every battle was completely random, like whoever started a combo first would automatically win. I want to study up on how to actually play it and then get back in, because it seemed like a lot more was going on than we could figure out, lol.

NNID: crackedthesky
My blog, mostly about writing: http://www.davidjlovato.com

Going through the single player mode now

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