Pokemon Stadium on the Nintendo 64 was an awesome concept back in the day, given that the main games were confined to a tiny 8-bit handheld, having a console game that allowed you to engage in glorious 3D battles was godsend, allowing players to transfer their Pokemon team onto the N64 for some visually dazzling battles that pretty much played out the exact same way as the traditional turn based battles. Still, it was nice to see Pokemon come to life and fully animated. Now this concept probably has lost its appeal in this day and age given that the 3DS has provided gamers with a fully 3D Pokemon adventure in Pokemon X and Y, with the upcoming Pokemon Sun and Mon hopefully raising the bar higher. Still, back in the day we dreamed up a Pokemon game where battles would be a lot more versatile and free flowing than the restrictions of turn-based, something that would be more akin to the way battles were depicted in the Pokemon anime.
When it was first announced that the Pokemon Company and Bandai Namco would be joining forces to develop a Pokemon game called Pokken Tournament, the natural reaction of most people (including myself) was scepticism and apprehension. It’s funny that we constantly criticise Nintendo IPs for not evolving enough, but when they do try something fresh they get criticised even more. Case in point: the backlash endured by the likes of The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, Super Mario Sunshine, Metroid Other M, and Star Fox Adventures. Gamers want change but when it happens they are apprehensive. A no win situation really.
Still, as much as Pokemon gets criticised for being a cash cow, it has actually has a ton of fun spin-offs that often get overlooked, Pokemon Mystery Dungeon is a good example of a polished spin-off not getting the attention it deserves. Now Pokken Tournament was pitched as a Pokemon fighting game borrowing from the Tekken series, and even the name Pokken is pretty much a play on Tekken. Now this pitch isn’t exactly appealing for those who don’t enjoy Tekken style tournament 3D fighters, but the reality is that despite the involvement of key Tekken developers in the creation of Pokken, I am happy to say that Pokken Tournament is the furthest thing from a Tekken game with Pokemon skin. If anything, Pokken Tournament takes the Pokemon battles we know and love into a real time action setting, benefiting from a faster pace, dazzling attack combinations, cranked up visuals, and giving the player far more control and involvement in battles than ever before. Basically, Pokken Tournament is the Pokemon Stadium sequel we always dreamed about.
Pokken Tournament is more akin to the recent string of quality fighting game adaptations we’ve seen for Dragon Ball Z, Jo Jo’s Bizarre Adventure, and Naruto. It has the same cinematic and visual presentation of those games, really making battles as epic as possible. Some of the battle conventions are adapted too, especially in terms of ranged attacks, and the simple but spectacular super moves. That being said, Pokken Tournament has all the right bells and whistles of serious fighting games with cancelling techniques, combo setups, timed counters, and meters to keep an eye on. It’s the best of both worlds really, you get an instantly accessible and appealing fighting game that has plenty to offer in terms of mechanics.
While I don’t see Pokken Tournament replace a more refined tournament fighter like Super Smash Bros., it still has its place as a really entertaining fighting game that makes you come back for more. After all, Pokken made its rounds in the gruelling arcade circles before arriving home on the Wii U. As for the battles themselves, they’re fully 3D and it offers this neat system where you switch between fully 3D planes and 2D planes. When you’re in a 2D phase, it starts to feel like a traditional fighting game. The combo system works in similar fashion as Tekken, allowing you to chain together some neat combinations, but the real fun lies in the range of special and super moves that distinguish each Pokemon in the game’s roster.
There are two main meters to keep an eye on: the Support Gauge and the Synergy Gauge. Support gauge allows you to summon support Pokemon to briefly assist you during battle, while the Synergy meter serves as a super gauge common in nearly all fighting games. Once full, you can activate Synergy mode where your Pokemon gets amped up, and those that have Mega Evolutions transform into those formidable forms. During this state, you can also perform each Pokemon’s ultimate super attack that is simple to execute but dishes out a ton of damage and is a sight to behold. Pokken is a very unique fighting game where simple gameplay systems are backed by deep and sophisticated mechanics, all allowing battles to feel entertaining and yet soundly strategic.
As a package Pokken Tournament has all you need from a fighting release. The Ferrum League mode, which is the main single player offering, has you battle a ton of trainers to work your way to the ranks, structured much like the ever so addictive Quest mode in the Virtua Fighter series. It’s certainly worthile to progress through as you unlock new stages, accessories for your avatar, and more importantly unlock the diverse cast of support Pokemon to summon in battle. The online multiplayer is a thing of beauty, you can find matches anytime and instantly, with superb netcode performance that will keep you hooked the same way as Splatoon. Pokken isn’t going to lose it’s online support any time soon, and seeing how quickly and instantly you can find a match at any given time alone is reason enough to invest in it.
The roster of Pokken Tournament comprises of 16 Pokemon, 2 of them being Pikachus and 2 of them being Mewtwos. Considering it is the first outing, it makes sense to prioritise Pokemon that would translate well into a fighting format, and so having the likes of Machamp makes logical sense. With over 500 of these critters at this point, it will be impossible for the roster selection to please everyone. Still, the roster at its current state gives you enough variety in styles, and these guys also differ in stats such as HP, attack, defence, synergy usage etc. but they can be upgraded thanks to the RPG style levelling system. Obviously, it’s not possible to come up with a fighting move set for all 500 or so of these critters, but Pokken works around this by having a majority of the Pokemon serve as support characters (Marvel vs Capcom 2 did something similar) that can be summoned briefly during a fight. The support can take form of attacks or even status inflicting moves. This is a great way to get more Pokemon included in this game and in future iterations, and that’s good enough in my view.
One of the most remarkable things about Pokken Tournament are its visuals, and it’s a shame that so many of us forget how the Wii U is capable of pumping out some gorgeous graphics with games like Bayonetta 2, Xenoblade Chronicles X, and Mario Kart 8. The Wii U has plenty of muscle, and even the most HD obsessed gamer will take notice of the breathtaking visuals of Pokken Tournament. The graphics are so good that sometimes you just want to play simply to witness the fantastic visuals that make each battle such an epic showcase.
Easy to get into and with plenty to discover, Pokken Tournament will silence all sceptics (it sure silenced me!) for being perhaps the most unique fighting game in the market. The Pokemon Team has made a solid investment in Pokken, creating a spin-off that will take a life of its own and spawn many great sequels (and yes expansions… it’s a fighting game after all…). Pokken Tournament is a must have for any Wii U owner and Pokemon fan, it is great to play on your own with its League mode, and has near unlimited replay value in both online and offline multiplayer. In an age where fighting games are turning into either complex math equations or dumbed down button mashers, a game like Pokken Tournament is a breath of fresh air with its unique gameplay style and absolutely outstanding presentation.
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