Pokken Tournament, when I first heard about it, didn’t really grab my attention. I mean okay, we got a beat ’em up exclusively for Pokemon which was only a matter of time. I was honestly expecting a copy of Tekken with Pokemon skins and new movesets.
The story starts with you, a new trainer who wants to be the very best, as usual. Alongside with you is Nia, your adviser. So you fight in the Ferrum League but very soon you encounter a weird Mewtwo (shouldn’t it be like Mewthree by now?) who absorbs Synergy and constantly transforms into its Mega Evolution. Turns out, the power of Gaia, the source of Synergy, decreases by the minute and it has something to do with the Shadow Mewtwo and a mysterious female trainer.
You know how it will turn out of course, there are no twists in this story and everything is straight forward. The writing is acceptable but I can’t help but feel disappointed. We have three cut scenes for the entire story mode (which look fantastic) but other than that… there’s nothing of interest. This story could have been something very cool and I think this game would have profited a lot by going full-anime-clichè-style (i.e. epic final battle with friendship defeating the boss and more cut scenes or something like that).
The voice acting is… just alright most of the time. The main problem is Nia. She is your only adviser (missed opportunity there) and she talks constantly. In order to make something like this work, you would need 50 more lines or more gameplay without commentary for every situation to make an announcer or commentator tolerable. I feel like Nia only has 3 at most for every situation (loose, win etc.). This gets extremely annoying and I turned off the voices almost immediately after I’ve realized that setting the frequency of „advises“ to none doesn’t mean that Nia shuts up. But why isn’t there anyone else you could choose as an adviser? Nia feels, just like the entire story and single player in general, thrown in only few months before completion. It doesn’t feel like it belongs in this game.
If you want to play singleplayer, then there are two options: Single battle against CPUs and the Ferrum League, which is connected to the story mode. Via Ferrum League, you unlock all support Pokemon, the two unlockable fighters and stages. As a trainer, you are ranked within the Ferrum League. That means that you have to fight your way up to the Top 8, then participate in a tournament between those eight trainers, defeat the champion of your rank and move on to the next. You do that four times in total, nothing ever changes except the difficulty of a flawed AI.
The AI is a weird case. Sometimes it’s just brutal while other times it’s dumb as bricks. If you want to easily win every single battle: They can’t handle large beam attacks. Pick Chandelur or Suicune and spam your beam attacks.
Also, you can battle random CPUs from the different ranks which won’t affect your FL ranking and makes it possible for you to level up your Pokemon and earn some money. Money is used on your character in form of clothing and colour. This is actually pretty great, there are so many things you can spend money on and so many ways to make your character look unique. I only would have wished for options on customizing the Pokemon themselves, like changing the colour or give them clothes or something like that. Dressing up your character is good and all but that really shouldn’t have been the focus, considering that we see the Pokemon for most of the time.
I mentioned “leveling up your Pokemon“, every time you fight with your selected Pokemon partner, with whom you do all the battles, you gain experience points. Once it levels up, it gets a skill point. This skill point can be used to either increase attack, defense, support (fills up your support meter faster and stronger support effects) and synergy (longer synergy burst). You can always rearrange said skill points as well, but honestly, I never noticed anything different no matter what I did. I’m sure that the effect was there but it was so insignificant that I didn’t notice, which is good. I prefer beat ’em ups in which there aren’t these skill-point related systems. Maybe there is a way to create your personal OP Pokemon, but if there is one then I didn’t find it.
Alright then, we have covered the singleplayer without even mentioning the gameplay itself. This game is unique within the fighting genre. You have 16 (very well balanced) characters (at the start of the game 14) and a whole bunch of maps as well as support Pokemon. The gameplay works like this: You move with the left joystick or the D-pad (I prefer the D-pad), you jump with B, defend with R, attack with Y,X and A, grab with Y+B, counter with X+A and use synergy burst/mega attack with L+R. There is also an attack triangle: Normal attacks beat grabs, grabs beat counters, counters beat normal attacks. But there are also chargeable X normal attacks which can break counters. Too much regular damage on your counter may cause it to break as well. When it comes to the attack buttons, then Y is (in Field phase) a ranged attack or weak-quick attack (in Duel phase), X is your homing attack (in Field phase) or your strong melee attack (in Duel phase) and A are your special attacks like Gengar’s “Shadow Ball”.
You always start off the match in Field phase, in which you can move around freely and try to get control over your enemy. You can switch from Field phase to Duel phase when you land a hard hit, if you initiate the switch, then your synergy meter fills up quite a bit. In duel phase, the game turns more into Street Fighter in which you are basically in a 2D field and battle it out there. If you land a hit with extreme knock-back, then the battle switches back to Field phase and again, you want to be the one to cause the switch. The synergy meter, once full, can make your Pokemon super-powered, with some Pokemon even turning into their Mega Evolutions. If you, during the synergy burst, press L+R again, then you can use your super attack. All Pokemon have different movesets and strengths, for example: Gengar has one if not the longest synergy burst, but it fills up very slowly.
These are the basics, there are also attack cancels, dodges etc. but these are better off being tested by yourself. Oh, I forgot the support Pokemon. Before every match, you choose a set consisting of two Pokemon and one cheering style from Nia. One match works in the „best-of-three“ way and before every round starts, you choose one of the two support Pokemon. Their effects can range from healings to actual attacks. They slowly charge up during the battle and, depending on your cheering, may immediately be filled up once you’ve entered round 3. Other effects via cheering are also possible.
I really enjoy the gameplay of Pokken Tournament, it’s balanced and it uses a new gameplay mechanic perfectly in its first entry. There are many maps and all 16 fighters, even the “clone” characters, play differently. I guess the best way to describe the learning curve of Pokken Tournament is, with the in-game tutorial, easy to play but very difficult to master.
On your world map you can go to different locations. We’ve already covered single player against CPUs, so there are four locations left: Local, online, my town and practice. I don’t think I have to say anything about practice other than it’s a good way for training.
Local multiplayer works fine. One player plays on the GamePad while the other one is playing on the TV since this style of gameplay requires everyone to have his own screen. I didn’t really notice any frame rate drops or even a graphical downgrade during local multiplayer. It works fine, even though some more modes would have been really cool to spice up the variation when it comes to having friends at your house. The only thing I am kinda confused about is as to why there isn’t a local LAN mode. This would eliminate the need for Player 1 to always use the GamePad and it would have been great for tournaments, since everyone could use his preferred controller.
Online multiplayer works fine as well. Even with my extremely slow internet connection, I got a somewhat decent ping out of the matches. You have essentially two modes to play, one for fun that won’t affect your global rating and ranked battles. There are online leaderboards and your rank, once you play online, is on there. After you finish battles, like in singleplayer, you earn money and experience points. Like in singleplayer, you use the skill-points leveled up Pokemon. I don’t really like that honestly. I would have wished for an option to turn off the skill changes.
My town is where you buy stuff and customize your character, change the unlockable, not really interesting at all clothing for your adviser, set the frequency of advises, options and change your character’s partner Pokemon as well as your standard set of support Pokemon. It’s a nice and simple addition, even though I would have strongly preferred a hubworld to be honest. The game just basically begs for an inviting and charming hubworld like in Splatoon and with a franchise like Pokemon, you wouldn’t even need to look very far into the series to fill it up with life or activities.
Musically speaking, these aren’t your usual Pokemon melodies. In fact, I found the OST here strangely underwhelming for a fighting game with only a few songs sticking to mind. All the songs fit and none annoyed me during my playtime though so I would say that it’s a solid OST that has some tracks that stick out and exceed the others.
If we look at the graphics though… what happened here? While the Pokemon (support and fighters) look sharp, the backgrounds look horrible, almost all of them. Mewtwo looks kind of washy in close range but that doesn’t even compare to background characters. They’re ugly, not only that, they’re ugly sprite animations. This applies to almost every stage, just what happened here? The arcade version looks great and similar games like Tekken Tag Tournament 2 have already shown that backgrounds in fighting games on Wii U can look spectacular, so what is this game’s excuse? The Wii U is capable of so much more than what is shown in this game and I’m sorry to say but this game is, graphically speaking, with the exception of most Pokemon models, pretty ugly that not even the art design can fix.
What is this game doing good for it’s genre?
It’s an innovative new fighting game I would love to see more of in the future, especially coming from a huge franchise like Pokemon, the amount of possible fighters is basically unlimited. The fighters look mostly good, the music is solid and there’s a good amount of stages. Multiplayer works nice. Gameplay itself is balanced and never unfair. Character customization is an addition that makes sense, although underutilized. All new gameplay elements work fantastic.
What could have been improved?
Singleplayer components lack content, variation and motivation.
Having only one adviser in the entire game was a huge mistake.
Local LAN would have been awesome, work on your graphics in many, many ways so that it looks actually somewhat good. Pokemon customization would have been very appreciated as well.
A hubworld would have been wonderful for immersion and the story had some potential but leaves everyone with a sour taste. The stages needed a bit more personality and detail but both of these are traced back to the lackluster graphics. The AI is very breakable and more additional modes like challenges etc. would have been awesome ways to fill up the lacking content, especially when Field phase is very suited for that (obstacle courses etc.). Record many, many, many more lines for your advisers next time so they don’t become annoying after a few matches. Make all the important content unlockable via multiplayer as well because it’s often not a good idea to lock characters and stages behind the singleplayer in a fighting game. Online mode uses the Skill Pokemon without an option to turn that off.
This game is a very solid first game in a (hopefully) new fighting game series with tons of potential. Sadly, the content and the shoved in singleplayer alongside with the graphics carry some heavy problems with them.
Personally, I might play it from time to time and I would love to see more of Pokken Tournament in the future, especially considering what can be done with it. As of now, there isn’t really a reason why fans of Pokemon need to play this or why newcomers should play it. It’s a solid game but except for new fighting mechanics, there’s nothing of interest. The game itself in terms of content etc. is just average at best. We need more and I really hope that we get more.
Version: Release Version