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Let’s get this out of the way first off – I’m not what you would call a massive Pokémon fan. While I loved the originals on the Gameboy back in the day along with the odd spinoff here and there (Snap and Stadium I’m referring to you) my interest in the long running series certainly dropped as the years went by. Of course I’ll dip my toe back in every now and again – X and Link a few examples of recent experiments of mine. Which now leads us onto Pokken Tournament.
I’ll admit the idea of a Tekken style Pokémon game sounded pretty cool when I first heard about it. Being able to physically control a critter’s every move – everything from a Thundershock to a Hydro Pump instead of merely picking from a menu to watch unfold was enough to intrigue me. However while these things sound good on paper, how well do they actually pan out in practice? Can you make a decent Pokémon fighter?
The short answer to that last question is yes. After twenty or so hours with the game it’s already apparent that there lay a great, satisfying combat system here. One that takes a few cues from other franchises but manages to craft something that feels unique at the same time. It all revolves around the idea of a simple rock, paper, scissors system – normal attacks beat grabs, grabs beat counters and counters best normal. I found that taking the time to practice and mix my attack patterns up meant opponents had a much tougher time predicting what I’d do next. Those who would spam normal attacks made it easy for me to counter and win the match.
Your Pokémon’s positioning also plays a large role. Battles themselves start off in ‘field phase’, a stance that sees you maneuvering your Pokémon freely around the arena focusing more on the projectile side of things. Manage to deliver enough damage to the opponent and things switch to ‘dual phase’, that sees you in a more familiar traditional 2D fighter situation. Matches can often flip-flop back and forth between the two styles and thankfully it all feels fairly seamless. Never did I find myself confused or surprised by any unexpected shifts and even found myself trying to use them to my advantage at times.
Just like any fighter your moves can be stringed together to form creative looking combos and of course the names of said attacks are pulled right from the original games. Even being a sort of Pokémon casual I picked up on plenty of names.
As you battle you’ll start to charge up your special meter. Once filled you’re then able to unleash a super powerful attack that can eliminate nearly half a health bar and turn the tides of match in seconds. Secondary, supporting Pokémon can also be called into play when another meter fills up. Attacks can either be physical or offer an temporary attribute boost with the more dramatic moves requiring a longer wait. It’s a nice extra layer to what is already a great fighting system and the fact you can pick from thirty Pokémon to back you up means you’ll have plenty of variety to your attacks.
Fighters live or die on their character list and Pokken Tournament feels like a wasted opportunity overall. Don’t get me wrong, the line-up here isn’t terrible but when you’re pulling from a 700 plus history of critters you can’t help but be disappointed by a total that falls just shy of 20. Not to mention the fact this also includes two versions of Pikachu and Mewtwo. However seeing the likes of Lucario, Machamp, Chandelure and Suicune certainly ain’t no bad thing.
Single player options feel minimal but functional here. The campaign features a handful of leagues that see you battling in a series of matches in order to rise the ranks. This is where you unlock outfits, Pokémon and stadiums to battle in. I found myself losing interest after a while, fighting the same Pokémon over and over with little variation to mix things up. You also have the usual training and single match options here too.
Local multiplayer allows two players to battle it out (one on the gamepad and the other using a regular control) which can have an impact on the framerate but overall it works well enough.
Overall the local options lack variety and almost feel like a “work in progress” than a complete package. I did however quite enjoy one little extra…
A rather small but surprisingly addictive feature nonetheless is the game’s avatar customization. With every fight earning you currency, you’re free to splash the cash on new hairstyles, outfits, shades or backgrounds to pimp out your animé pal. With new items entering the store regularly it was often fun seeing what random attire I’d come across next.
Fighting others online has been a relatively pain-free experience, wait times often short and matches lag-free. Of course you’d expect this coming from a publisher known for its fighting pedigree. Sadly however, like its offline feature list, online feels pretty basic compared with other fighters. Maybe I’m being picky and should be happy the game runs smoothly regardless of where your opponent is, but after playing the likes of Super Smash Bros I feel a little spoilt.
All in all I was surprised to see the Pokémon brand didn’t merely feel like an afterthought here – a mere attachment in order to make a quick buck. With a strong fighting system, Bandai Namco has managed to even inject a few Pokémon mainstays the leveling up system familiar to any fan of the series, every match awarding you and you’re Pokémon experience. Rank up and you’re able to improve that particular beast’s power, defense, special or support abilities. It’s a neat little system that while may not be super deep, at least offers you the chance to make your Pokémon unique to you.
Pokken Tournament is a cool idea executed well enough. While the combat itself feels satisfyingly deep without becoming too complicated, the overall lack of content and variety really hurts the value of this full-priced product. A solid start for what could well become an excellent beat ‘em up-styled spin off of everyone’s favourite collectable critter series.
- Combat is satisfying
- Levelling up your Pokemon
- Multiplayer is great fun
- Small roster of fighters
- Repeating Mewtwo and Pikachu
- Restrained modes
- So much potential left untapped