Review: Pokkén Tournament

I can’t really say that Tekken and Pokémon have an awful lot in common really. Sure, both series feature two (or more) combatants violently duking it out for seemingly no good reason and they’re both technically video games but otherwise… there are not a lot of similarities to note. So it must have been a hell of a task for the designers at Namco to figure out how to fuse two completely disparate series into one fighting game that represents the best of both. Indeed, it’s a task that Tekken series producer Katsuhiro Harada has often been quizzed on; with the line being that it started off with a basic prototype that was based heavily around Tekken’s gameplay engine, but then quickly branched off into something completely different.

Well he’s not wrong, because Pokkén is certainly unlike any other fighting game out there!

It's super effective

It’s Super Effective! 

 

Now, I should pre-face this review by saying that I am not really a fan of traditional fighting games like Tekken or Street Fighter; the sight of a gigantic combo list brings about an audible sigh from I and the a-typical gameplay of the genre puts me to sleep faster than Jigglypuff’s singing. As far as fighting games go, I personally have a preference for games that go off the beaten path and are perhaps also more approachable, like the Super Smash Bros. games, Power Stone, or even Namco’s own Soulcalibur series. With that in mind, I actually feel that Pokkén offers an interesting blend that may well appeal to fans of both kinds of fighters.

To start off with, the basic fighting gameplay is split into two halves. You have the Field Phase and the Duel Phase, with the former being the one that has you moving freely around the field, attacking with long distance projectile attacks and wide ranged special moves and the latter being the one that has you slugging it out in close quarters combat. What’s interesting is that these phases can be shifted at any time by whacking your opponent with a heavy hitting move; the player that manages to pull this off is given an advantage in going into the next phase. Sounds simple enough, and it is! This system does a nice job of blending the free-form nature of three dimensional movement and combat, with the nuanced and in-depth combat of traditional 2D fighters. It gives matches a very unique kind of rhythm that you don’t normally see in fighting games, where you have moments of intense close quarters combat, followed by more strategic play in the Field Phase, as you try to psyche each other out and search for that opening you need to wrong-foot the other player.

Oh, but that would be selling the complexity very short here… because of course there’s much more to it. There’s a cavalcade of sub-systems in play, such as the Synergy Gauge (this is what allows you to Mega Evolve when it builds up), the Attack Triangle (which should be familiar to Soulcalibur players), Support Pokémon, Skill Levels and customisable cheers from your partner (which do have an effect on gameplay), on top of a ton of potential moves and combos/Poké Combos (yes they are different things) Phew! That’s a lot to keep track of!

Luckily, the game does feature a set of tutorials and good news! They’re very extensive and comprehensive… The bad news? They’re very extensive and comprehensive… and you really are going to need to go through them in order to really get to grips with how the game works. Thankfully they are split up into three different categories to help break things down, but I really must stress the need for newcomers to at least go through the Basics of Battle tutorial; because chances are that you’ll be totally lost without going through at least that one! The veteran fighting game players however will not only be likely to appreciate the in-depth nature of these tutorials, but will also appreciate the Action Dojo and the Combo Dojo, which allow you to practice each character’s moves and a set of 6 combos for each of them.

Overall, the game is perhaps not quite as pick-up-and-play friendly to newcomers as its developers would have liked, given the wide range of different subsystems that need to be taught to the player; however, once that initial hurdle has been overcome, players may find that it’s not hard to play at all. The combo list is relatively compact, taking clear inspiration from Soulcalibur in that regard, as an importance is placed on reading your opponent’s moves and taking advantage of the Attack Triangle (normal attacks beat grabs, grabs beat counters and counters beat normal attacks) in order to turn the tide of battle in your favour. Likewise, the moves themselves are all very easy to pull off, typically requiring just a press or two of a single button alongside D-pad directions and the controls are kept to a simple four button layout; with button combos often being shared amongst characters (again, much like Soulcalibur and indeed, Super Smash Bros.). The decision to name the moves after their equivalents from the mainline Pokémon series is also a clever one, as players coming from the likes of Kanto and Hoenn will be much more likely to remember how to do Volt Tackle or Flamethrower than “Rising Spin Kick 4”.

 

The movelist isn't too long

There is some complexity to pulling off special moves, but they’re all generally pretty easy to grasp and remember 

 

Most importantly though, it’s a lot of fun! Each Pokémon feels unique and very distinct in a way that you don’t normally see in fighting games. While the roster is relatively small in comparison to long established fighting game series (with a total of 16 playable characters at your disposal), I feel that they all feel fresh and distinct enough so as to not make me feel that the game is lacking in that regard; the large amount of support Pokémon available (15 in all, with 12 of them being unlockable) also adds a lot to the variety. The large number of stages on offer (19 in total) is also very impressive, especially since unlike most fighting games, they’re not just pretty backgrounds as they do have a small influence on the gameplay as well; by virtue of being different shapes and sizes and thus, affecting the amount of space you have to move around.

So what about the other modes on offer? Well, there’s My Town, which allows you to customise your avatar and buy silly accessories for it (thankfully with the in-game currency, PokéGold; no microtransactions here!), change your player message and your title (yup, it’s the same kind of one from Tekken and there are hundreds of them to unlock). Speaking of unlocks… it’s gonna take you a VERY long time to unlock all of the accessories on offer as there are hundreds of them and they’re not cheap to buy!

You can make some really stupid looking avatars

Captain Falcon approves of my avatar! 

 

Next you have Local battle, which allows you square off against another player… well… locally, if that was not obvious enough. Here you also have the option of playing Extra battles, in addition to being able to play standard battles (both with skill levels on and off), which is a mode that features power-ups scattered around the stage for you to collect during Field Phase that temporarily increase your stats; it’s not wildly different from normal battles, but it’s a nice little extra nonetheless. As you are probably already aware, local multiplayer has one person playing on the TV and the other plays on the Gamepad screen; yes the framerate gets cut down to 30FPS, rather than the silky smooth (and rock solid) 60FPS of the rest of the game, but the game is still plenty of fun to play regardless and we never really found it getting in the way of the good time we were having playing local multiplayer. It is slower than the other modes, but we were enjoying it enough to not really care.

As previously revealed though, there IS a LAN mode that allows you to connect two Wii Us together (with two copies of the game) if you're crazy enough to get the setup in place and use two TVs (or perhaps two Gamepads in Off TV play - you can pretend it's a handheld game!) and enjoy full 60FPS in local multiplayer. The option is hidden behind an obscure cheat code that is not mentioned in the instruction manual (press L, R, Down on the D-pad and Start at the same time on the title screen) and there are several methods that you can use to connect two consoles together. You can do it Splatoon style where two consoles connect to the same router via Wired or Wireless connections or you can actually directly link two Wii U consoles together with a crossover Ethernet cable (and two Wii LAN adapters); the latter will be the setup used in professional tournaments and would be a pain to setup, so it's nice that they offer an easier way to get the job done as well. What is also nice is that LAN mode automatically unlocks all of the playable characters, support Pokémon and cheers from Nia; something that tournament organisers are sure to appreciate. Since the game isn't out yet and getting another copy of the game is currently impossible, I have not been able to test this mode; as such, this review shall be updated as soon as I get a chance to do so, though I don't forsee any performance problems, at least with a direct and wired connection.

Then there’s the Ferrum League, which is the main single player mode of the game. This mode has you playing against increasingly difficult CPU opponents as you rise up the league rankings. Upon reaching a certain rank, you then get to fight against the champion of each league in the hope of moving onto the next one and seeing the next, well produced, FMV cutscene that forwards the story (yes there is a story… a very basic one, but it is there). There’s not a huge amount to this mode as it basically just pits you in a series of successive battles, with some inane dialogue sprinkled throughout, but the tournament trappings are at least befitting of the Pokémon universe.

And finally you have Single Battle (where you can play exhibition matches against the CPU) and the Online Mode. Wait? That’s it? No Arcade Mode? No Survival Mode? Nope! It is rather barebones in that regard sadly.

Thankfully the online mode’s netcode is top notch. I’ve had matches against players from the US as well as Europe and for the most part, performance was very solid. Sadly though, the online mode is also rather feature light as it does not feature any lobby support, nor does it support voice chat (or indeed any chat of any kind). It does feature monthly and all time leaderboards for ranked matches at least (as well as an option for unranked matches as well) and the option to play against friends, though lacks any sort of friend invite option; one nice feature though includes the ability to set up private matches with a friend with password protected rooms – no doubt useful for those who may want to set up private online tournaments.

I don’t think I need to tell you that the game is absolutely gorgeous, but just in case you can’t tell, it’s gorgeous! The backgrounds are all absolutely brimming with life and the the models, animation and lighting are all exquisitely detailed! I would love to see a mainline Pokémon take place in the Ferrum region! Meanwhile, the music is surprisingly well done. While you’re unlikely to end up listening to these tunes outside of the game, they do a good job of setting the tone and range from battle hardened to whimsical. The same can’t be said of the English language voice work though, which is just absolutely dreadful! Done on a budget of 50p and a half eaten packet of crisps found down the back of The Pokémon Company’s couches, you’ll likely lose the will to live when you hear Nia’s lifeless and robotic “cheers” of support for the umpteenth time. Thankfully though you can choose to switch to Japanese or, probably better still, turn the human voices off entirely.

 

 

Nice to know even your supporter hates you

You know… I’d be a lot less offended if you actually put some enthusiasm behind that line… 

 

Pokkén is a fine fighter, with very unique and very solid gameplay.  There is a fairly steep learning curve going in fresh, but it smooths out pretty nicely once you get over that initial hump.  It’s a shame that there isn’t much in the way of single player content and that can't be overlooked, but the multiplayer is very fleshed out for a game of this type and there’s plenty to keep you fighting with your friends both near and far.  It’s certainly one of the most interesting and enjoyable spinoffs to ever grace the Pokémon series and it’s a fine way to kick off the 20th Anniversary proceedings!

N-Europe Final Verdict

This is a fighter that really is like no other, but it does a good job of appealing to fans of traditional fighting games as well as Pokemon fans, despite the initial learning curve. Shame about the lacking single player content though.

  • Gameplay4
  • Playability4
  • Visuals5
  • Audio3
  • Lifespan3
Final Score

7

Pros

Fresh and unique fighting gameplay
Strikes a nice balance between competitive play and casual play after the initial hump
Lots of fun with a friend
Great netcode

Cons

Not a huge amount of fun on your own
Learning curve is fairly steep, at least to begin with
30FPS in Local Multiplayer without LAN is a shame
OH GOD NIA'S VOICE! MAKE IT STOP!!!!


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