Developer: Bandai Namco
Platforms: Wii U
Release Date: March 18th, 2016 (Original Arcade release July 15, 2015)
Price: $89.95 AU – Available Here / $59.99 US – Available Here
As the name suggests, Pokken Tournament is a Pokemon fighting game with a lot of the Tekken development team behind it’s construction. Originally an arcade game released mid last year, it was always pretty obvious the title would see a home release despite early denial from the dev team and Nintendo.
If you’re anything like me and watched the show and played the main series games, you have probably thought at one time or another ‘how cool would it be to actually control the Pokemon in battle’. While we got a little taste of that in PokePark Wii and the sequel, Pokken Tournament now gives us that freedom in a much more full fledged fighting game. Is this everything we dreamed of? Read on for our full review.
Pokken Tournament does contain a light narrative throughout the main solo mode revolving around a mysterious girl and Shadow Mewtwo, with the main plot point being why is this Mewtwo black. The story is mostly told through avatar stills and voice overs which is pretty disappointing especially as the small handful of cutscenes that do pop up look amazing, albeit very similar. It’s a lazy, predictable story and while it gets a little interesting in the middle and the lore kind of ties in nicely with the games synergy gauge mechanic, it’s mostly just a lot of repetition in both dialogue and concept.
There is one line I enjoyed so much that I bothered to write this separate paragraph for it. That is Nia saying how she read up on the Cinnabar Island documents about Mewtwo and him looking different to the black Mewtwo. For those non die hard fans Cinnabar Island is from the original Pokemon games and is where Mewtwo was created. This was a small yet really cool throwback and it’s a shame the story didn’t involve more clever lines of dialogue like this or tie ins with the main series games.
Pokken Tournament is a surprisingly deep fighter and I’m glad the developers didn’t let the Pokemon name water it down. In terms of complexity I would put it just a couple notches below games like Street Fighter and Tekken. Now if you’re a Pokemon fan but not big on the fighting genre don’t let that put you off. Playing the game without mastering the games many advanced tactics will still allow you to complete the game no problem, however if you want to succeed in high level play and go far online, then you’re going to have to work hard in mastering spacing, guarding, the attack triangle, cancels, combo timing, gauge management, supports and more.
The fighting system introduces something unique with ‘field phases’. Basically you begin the battle able to roam around the environment in a 3D space. Here there is more a focus on range attacks. Landing a certain attack or combo will shift the fighting into the dual phase, where the game basically becomes a standard 2D fighter such as Street Fighter and close quarters combat is the name of the game here. Not only is this a really clever system that allows most of the roster to show off their ranged moves effectively, it adds to match variation and strategy, with a Pokemon’s move set changing between the two phases alongside the main fighting mechanics.
The game controls well apart from the slightly awkward movement in the three dimensional field phase that can make it very hard to get close to your opponent and perform a grab for example. Other than that, inputs register quickly and will play out one after another so you have to think about each button press if you want to be effective in battle. You also have plenty of controller options at your disposal so finding you’re favorite shouldn’t be an issue. I recommend the Pro Controller or GamePad personally.
The roster is very small at only 16 fighters, but each Pokemon is completely unique. To me that doesn’t excuse the disappointingly low number of playable characters as there was definitely room for a few more inclusions here (where are Hitmonlee and Hitmonchan!) and a bit more variation in the Ferrum League mode wouldn’t have hurt. However, each Pokemon is represented just as how a true fan would expect and it’s easy to find at least one that matches your playstyle. From the playful quickness of my personal choice Weavile, to the tricky Gengar or strong hitting and imposing Machamp, each Pokemon’s move sets and personality are incredibly faithful to the source material and work perfectly in a fighter. It should be noted it is confirmed Pokken Tournament won’t be receiving any additional DLC, so the roster we have now is final.
As for modes Pokken Tournament has all your standard fighting modes covered and does most of them very well. The one exception to that is unfortunately the main single player campaign, which simply has you fight match after match in the Ferrum League, doing little to vary it up at all outside of the way fights are presented to you such as in a tournament or rank up battle. The story interruptions help break this up a bit, but they are unfortunately few and far between and don’t last long either. For a mode you have to complete to unlock the full experience, it is unfortunately the most boring and also lacking in difficulty.
The My Town mode allows you to change how you are represented in game with your avatar, title and greeting. The Avatar is basically just an image you change up with a fair amount of style and clothing options. I always like small customisation things like this but it is ultimately rather pointless, being more of a money sink so you have something to put all your gold toward. Also pointless is amiibo functionality, which just unlocks something random regardless of the amiibo used. Here you can also change a couple settings to your liking, so if you don’t like the constant chatter from the games announcer for instance you can turn her right off.
Tutorial mode is fantastic for introducing people to the game and even fighting games in general. It takes the player step through step on basically everything they need to know with a few visual examples and times where the player can try out what they’ve just seen for themselves. It can get a bit much to remember everything as the tutorial constantly throws new information in your face, but if you take it slow and repeat it a few times you should know everything about this game’s fighting system in a few hours.
In addition to the tutorial and your standard free training mode, the exhibition mode that takes you through every single one of your Pokemon’s move one by one is a fantastic way to learn about your arsenal of attacks. Lastly for practice mode, the combo trainer will take you through six combos unique to whatever Pokemon you chose that you can try to master and earn a clear grade for.
Online mode deserves a huge shout out. Matches are 90% lag free and even when lag does occur it has minimal impact on the fight. Finding an opponent is incredibly streamlined and breaks between matches typically last 20 seconds or less. The community is also surprisingly great, only once in over 40 battles did I face a rage quitter, which is probably partially due to the fast nature of the game but also thanks to the penalty put in place to stop people disconnecting. The rank system (which I believe is borrowed from Tekken) also gives a bit of encouragement to keep playing and earn that next distinction.
Lastly free battle mode and local mode let you have one on one battles between the CPU and a real person respectively. In local mode on one TV and the GamePad the frame rate is halved to 30FPS which doesn’t hurt the gameplay too much surprisingly but it is noticeable. There is a rather complicated and expensive way to set up a LAN if you have the resources and the payoff is two TV’s running the game at 60FPS which is pretty cool. The fact they bothered to put in a LAN mode is pretty impressive, but I can’t imagine the average gamer will ever make use of it.
The Pokemon look stunning here, with a more realistic look over standard 3D models seen in past games. The textures of fur and skin look great and really pay respect to the look of that Pokemon. Combat looks equally stunning with special effects all over the place, nailing that fast and flashy feel that makes for some truly epic looking fights and combos. Equally as good looking is the UI and the menus, which all sport a clean, modern arcade feel to them.
I don’t have too many negatives here at all. Sometimes the arena backgrounds can look rather pixelated if you look closely but it’s not really an issue when your focusing on the battle. In a similar vein the shadows on Pokemon can appear jagged in what must have been an optimization technique. If they were the only two shortcuts I could find for the developers to achieve a smooth 60FPS at 1080P then I would say I’m cool with that.
Combat noises add to the weight of each battle and classic arcade game chimes are heard constantly as a gauge becomes full or you nail a counter or are awarded a new rank. It’s all par for the course for an arcade fighter but it’s clear, loud and sounds great.
As for the voice acting you’re assistant Nia is definitely the person you will hear the most. I feel she might have a bit too much to say but she has the ‘arcade announcer’ voice down pretty well, even if she could bring her pitch down a little. Other voice acting from random characters scattered scarcely through out the story is pretty terrible though. The first League leader Travis can barely be heard and slurs his words together while other actors seem really unconvincing in their delivery. There is an option to switch the audio to the original Japanese track if that’s your flavor which is a nice bonus.
The soundtrack is more akin to a Tekken game than a Pokemon title and honestly I was surprised no classic Pokemon themes made it in here in any form. What you will get though is a lot of high energy electro and a few rock songs as well which compliment the fast paced battles nicely and really get you in the zone. The songs also incorporate elements of the stage they play on, such as the Dojo music having a Japanese feel or the haunted house track featuring some eerie melodies. There are quite a few memorable tracks here as well which I’m sure many will enjoy (shout out to the Tellur Town Autumn theme and Rayquaza stage theme). Overall the audio is a big success.
Pokken Tournament is a great Pokemon game and probably a better Tekken game. The fighting system is deep yet simple enough on the surface to allow the game to be enjoyed by those of all levels. While the story mode and roster are unfortunately pretty weak, the game doesn’t put a foot wrong in other areas with top notch graphics, sound and very well executed training and online modes. This is a great collaboration between Pokemon and Tekken and I would recommend it to fans of either series. If you’re a fan of both then it’s a definite pick up.
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