Way back when on the Nintendo 64, we had Pokemon Stadium. The Pokemon came to life, battling in glorious, blocky 3D. My mind was effectively blown. Now many years later, never would I have thought that the makers behind Tekken, would create a Pokemon fighter game. This is how I imagined Pokemon Stadium back when I was kid.
Seeing Pikachu burst into an attack against a towering, much larger beast that is Charizard as it readies it’s flaming breath, brings back those childhood memories. Now I can finally live them in Pokken Tournament.
Full disclosure here, I’m not the best at fighting games. Honestly. I’m pretty terrible but I enjoy Pokken. It’s easily accessible to those new to fighting games and it offers those that always seem to defeat me with ease, the deep mechanics that one would expect from a company that’s bread and butter has been fighting games for over 20 years.
At first glance, Pokken’s unique Field Mode and Duel mode may be a bit overwhelming but I found the flow between these two modes breathes new life in fighting games and is a well-designed mechanic that is honestly quickly grasped. While in Field mode, there is an open 3D playground to battle in, creating intense bouts of dodging projectiles and quick maneuvering. Duel Mode pits players face to face in a much more closed in environment, needing a bit more calculated thought. Some attacks can trigger a phase shift and the move sets for each Pokemon may change depending on which mode players are in.
Pokemon can punch, kick and even Stone Cold Stunner their way to victory with simplified inputs and combos, much more lax than say Street Fighter’s frame counting and precise button execution. Think more, Super Smash Bros., with specials being carried out with a single button and/or the addition of a directional button.
The rock paper scissor mechanic behind Pokken allows for an even playing field. It’s all about how players read their opponent and how players react, like all other fighters. Turtling Charizard giving you a headache? Grab him and toss him across the stage. Pikachu Libre smashing the punch button? Utilize your counter attack and strike with an epic combo.
Players caught in the corner or feel the battle is swaying in the favor of their opponent, have the ability to call upon a support Pokemon to assist in battle. The use of these supports vary from healing players Pokemon, buffing up statuses, disrupting the opponent’s attack or even providing an attack of their own. The supports add depth and can really save you if utilized properly.
Each Pokemon comes equipped with a Synergy Gauge that builds up over the course of a match. Once filled a Pokemon can unleash this energy becoming super charged with stat increases and for those that have a Mega Evolution, they’ll evolve. In this buffed up mode, attacks and specials can become more powerful. Pressing the L and R button can unleash a devastating Burst Attack inflicting high chaotic damage. Think of this as an Ultra from Street Fighter or say the Final Smash from Super Smash Bros.
I do want to address a few missteps in Pokken Tournament. Don’t go into this expecting a story mode for each of the Pokemon. Don’t go expecting alternate costumes for your Pokemon. None of that exists here and it does hurt the game a bit.
The only story mode, the Ferrum League, is a grind. This consists of fighting your way up in the rankings to place at least 8th, participate in an elimination tournament, then challenging the champion of that specific class. It’s all pretty cut and dry, battle after battle, punctuated by the appearance of Shadow Mewtwo.
If I were to be honest, the story and mystery surrounding this Mewtwo is all rather paint by numbers and mundane. To be fair though, it does break up the monotony of fighting CPU player after CPU player as you grind up the ladder. If only briefly.
After every battle experience is gained to level up the Pokemon in four different categories. Defense, attack, synergy and strategy. Players can use the money they’ve obtained battling it out in the Ferrum League to customize their avatar with things like, scarves, or button up vests. For those that have Amiibo handy, simply place up to 5 per day on the Wii U Gamepad for the chance of getting some type of award. This could be more clothes, money or titles. The Amiibo do nothing else, which if you have Amiibo can be a let down but in my case, I wasn’t to bothered by it.
Nowadays for a game to survive, a fighting game no less, it needs to have a competent online structure. Pokken Tournament has two pillars of play. If you value being the very best like no one ever was, ranked battles will be your playground. If you just want to spar with a pal, friendly matches will suit you. No need for friend codes here, unless of course the other party isn’t your friend, at that point you can enter a Battle Code. During my time with the online play everything functioned as should. There wasn’t any noticeable lag or disconcerting issues. It feels better than say Smash Bros if you’ve ever played that.
There is local play which kills the frame rate by half allowing one player to play from the Wii U Gamepad and one using a pro controller on the TV. This surely isn’t an ideal situation for tournament play but to battle it out with a PokePal next to you it serves it’s purpose.
I forgot to mention Nia, your assistant of sorts as you make your way through the Ferrum League. As soon as you boot the game, she’s there. Holding your hand, telling you about all the options. She questions your every move, annoyingly cheers you on, gives you grief if you accidentally brush across your left or right bumper buttons, insists that she played some vital part in your success…..thankfully you can turn her off, to some extent. She’s there, always…..you can change her outfit though, as if that helps.
Ever since turning on that GameBoy and hearing the theme song and witnessing Nidorino and Gengar going at it, I’ve always wanted this. Pokken Tournament is my childhood dream, the spectacle of Pokemon duking it out in the over the top nature that is a child’s imagination. Perhaps even better than that. I’ve always known one thing, Pokemon are inherently fighters, especially when you dress them like a Lucha Libre.
Aside from a few issues, the lack of extra content after the Ferrum league, it’s mind numbing story and the annoying Nia, Pokken Tournament is a solid fighting game.. It will be interesting to see how this game evolves given how it is one of the few fighters on the Wii U. If you have a Wii U definitely pick it up. You won’t be disappointed.