Review: Pokkén Tournament

There is nothing better than when two different game franchises collide with each other to create something new. Nintendo pulled it off successfully a little over a year ago with Hyrule Warriors – a mashup of Zelda and the Dynasty Warriors franchise – the massively fun and over the top hack and slash developed in collaboration with Koei Tecmo. Now Nintendo have seen fit to take their massively successful Pokémon franchise and team up with Bandai Namco – the creators of Tekken – and weld both series together to create Pokkén Tournament.

Developer: The Pokémon Company, Bandai Namco Entertainment
Publisher: Nintendo, Bandai Namco Entertainment
Reviewed on: Wii U
Release Date: Available Now

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Originally released in arcades in Japan and now ported to console, Pokkén Tournament allows you to take on the role of a trainer in the brand new Ferrum Region. In this new region you’ll not be required to travel the land catching various Pokémon, attaining badges and defeating an evil team. This time around you’ll be taking a single Pokémon partner through battles in the Ferrum League as you work your way to the top.

You can take part in single battles against A.I. opponents or venture into the Ferrum League. There isn’t really any story of note in Pokkén Tournament’s single player game, inside the Ferrum League you’ll undertake battle after battle with a sliver of noteworthy story involving a mysterious Shadow Mewtwo and their trainer who show up sporadically as you advance.

You can also play the game locally with two player where one person uses the Wii U game pad and another uses a pro controller using the TV. Whilst it’s great that there is a mode to play with people locally the only problem with it is that the framerate takes a massive hit, being reduced from 60FPS down to 30FPS. It’s not unplayable, but it’s definitely noticeable and is sure to frustrate the highly competitive fighting game scene especially since Pokkén Tournament is slated to appear at massive events such as EVO. There is a work around where you can link two Wii U consoles together to get 60FPS but it’s definitely not worth it for the average Joe at home.

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Whilst Pokkén Tournament has a small roster, there are some recognisable faces such as Lucario.

There are 14 – technically 16 if you count Shadow Mewtwo and Pikachu Libre – different Pokémon to choose as your partner with differing abilities and strengths such as Charizard, Lucario, Pikachu, Sceptile, Blaziken and more. Unlike the traditional Pokémon games there are no type advantages to worry about. Fire types aren’t stronger against Grass types for example, everyone is on a level playing field.

Pokkén Tournament has gameplay that is simple to learn and master but with an element of deeper strategy underneath, and despite being developed by the creators of Tekken the game has very few similarities to it. For example, matches have two differing phases. Field phase is the phase that a match will begin in, giving you free reign over the full 3D space of an arena. If you manage to land a heavy blow on your opponent in field phase you’ll enter into the duel phase which plays more like a traditional fighting game on a 2D plain. You can use a combination of light attacks, heavy attacks, counters, grabs and air attacks similar to traditional fighting games too.

Throughout a match your Pokémon will also build synergy which can be activated using the L and R shoulder buttons. Many Pokémon will mega evolve in this mode, becoming more powerful and also being able to unleash crushing finishing moves.

There’s also an advisor to walk you through the game, but it’s probably best to turn her off in the settings once you’ve got to grips with the game as she can become frustrating very fast, especially in the middle of a fight.

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There are a massive amount of support Pokémon to pick from.

Pokkén Tournament allows you to call in a great variety support Pokémon to assist you in battle such as Eevee, Frogadier, Diglett, Cubone, Espeon, Umbreon and a lot more. Each support Pokémon is split into three classes – Attack, Disrupt and Enhance – that can give you an advantage.

Whilst the game doesn’t really have a strong single player suite it starts to shine when you take the fight online. You can opt to play unranked matches if you want a more relaxed experience where your stats aren’t tracked or you can jump into ranked matches if you want to be the very best, like no one ever was.

In the dozen matches I’ve played against people there has been very little in the way of lag. Playing against other people in Europe is a relatively smooth and unhindered experience but you’ll start to notice small lag spikes the further afield your opponent is such as in the Americas or Japan. It’s challenging and fun and is where you’ll find most of the replayability in Pokkén Tournament.

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Battles switch between field phase and duel phase.

Every match you play – whether it’s offline or online – will award experience to your partner Pokémon to make them stronger and also award you with in game currency to customise your character. There’s a vast amount of customisation for your trainer, from clothes to hair and accessories. If the Pokémon handheld titles adopted the same amount of customisation Pokkén Tournament has – as Pokémon X & Y dabbled with – it’d be amazing.

Unfortunately Pokkén Tournament suffers from the same problem that many other recent fighting games such as Street Fighter V and Mortal Kombat X have suffered the past couple of years – it just doesn’t have enough content. Single player won’t hold your attention for long, and whilst the online gameplay will sate you for longer you’ll eventually move on to other games. Out of the 700+ Pokémon that could have been picked for the game only 14 made the final cut. Admittedly there are a massive amount of support Pokémon, but some of them could have easily made the cut as actual fighters.

A solid mashup of Pokémon and Tekken
Great amounts of customisation
Online modes are surprisingly good
Single player leaves a lot to be desired
Not nearly enough content
Local play is restricted to 30FPS

Despite these criticisms, Pokkén Tournament is a genuinely solid fighting game. It works, and it works incredibly well. If there were more fighters and a story mode I could get invested in then Pokkén Tournament could easily be a game I’d argue belongs in every Wii U owner’s games library. There may be DLC with more fighters down the line and I might be inclined to jump back when they release. The best way I can sum up Pokkén Tournament is this: it’s a solid and good fighting game that won’t hold your attention for very long. Given its roots as an arcade game, maybe that’s the environment that ultimately suited it best.

The review copy of this title was purchased by the author.
Official Game Site

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