Since Pokémon burst on the scenes in 1998, imaginations of what it would be like to participate in a real-time battle have become a daydream among the fanbase. Pokkén Tournament on Wii U does its best to give us a sense of exactly that.
The game is a mashup between The Pokémon Company and Tekken producers Bandai Namco Studios. The result is a surprisingly concrete fighting game that walks newcomers to the genre through the intricacies of the system, while still providing the depth you’d expect from a quality fighting game to cater to seasoned pros.
Pokkén Tournament story mode follows the players’ journey through the Ferrum League. In the Ferrum Region, Pokémon aren’t battled in the traditional sense. For some unexplained reason, the power of the Synergy Stone allows trainers and their Pokémon to “become one”, in a sense. The more the Pokémon battles, the stronger the Synergy bond gets allowing it to Mega-Evolve and unleash powerful attacks.
As you progress through league matches, a black Mewtwo appears and attacks before disappearing. A mysterious girl is seen running off after it. These story segments happen every now-and-then while progressing through the three leagues. While it has some cool cut scenes at times, it feels tacked on and almost a distraction to progressing though the solo matches.
Pokken Tournament
On the other hand, progressing through can feel unrewarding. Players earn money which can be spent on changing clothes on your avatar, which then only pops up at certain times. Otherwise, Pokémon will gain experience points after each match. Increasing the Pokémon’s level gives the option to increase its stats like Attack and Defence which can help out in later stages, or the daunting online matches with other players.
The matches themselves have a dose of innovation in the form of phase switching fields. At the start of the match, the Pokémon are positioned far away from each other on the field. In this ‘Field Phase’, you can unleash long range attacks and move around the field quickly. Land a strong hit and the phase will switch to ‘Dual Phase’. Here your long range attacks are turned off in favour of melee attacks. Landing a certain type of hit will force your opponent out of Dual Phase and into Field Phase. This is a great addition as it allows you time to recover from falling victim to repeated combo hits.
Support Pokémon can be called in after a certain amount of time has elapsed. These appear on the field and attack the opponent, heal the player or add some effect like decreasing speed or attack depending on the Pokémon. The idea is sound, in reality the best Pokémon to use are the ones with powerful attacks that can push the opponent away. The rest seem to do little to prolong what are otherwise very short matches.
The game also introduces a “rock, scissors, paper” mechanic where certain attacks are strong or weak against others. It becomes important to watch your opponent closely and be ready to guard against attacks, or use counter attacks to your advantage.
Pokken Tournament
Failing to do so will get you through the story mode without much challenge, however take the battle online — where the real players are — and you’ll feel like you’re playing a different game. Online players mean business and wont hold back, even in non-ranked modes. Luckily, battling here earns experience points should you win or lose, so keep training and assigning buff points based on the weaknesses in your playing style.
Luckily, Pokkén Tournament includes a fairly robust, if slow going, tutorial and practise mode. Studying the games mechanics closely and practising move combos against programmable CPUs can help improve your game.
Visually, Pokémon has never looked better. The characters have great fur textures that help them come alive, and motion captured animations adds to the believability. Battles become a breeding ground of beautiful, if repetitive, effects. While more could’ve been done to spruce up the stage backgrounds, looking closely reveals some hilarious situations with spectator Pokémon.
Unfortunately, the included roster of playable characters is a slight let down. On one hand, 14 (with two unlockable characters) feels fairly par for the course of fighting games. On the other this is a franchise that has memorise character names in blocks no smaller than 150 for the past 20 years. It would’ve been impossible to include all of them, but 16 seems a little irksome. Thankfully, of those 16 there are some colourful inclusion, a highlight being Gengar who has some very quirky moves.
Pokkén Tournament feels like a game designed for first timers taking a dip into the fighting genre, however keen attention to detail by the developers has yielded a robust experience for veterans to show off their skills in online matches. As such, Pokkén Tournament is a game you’ll be revisiting for years to come.

Editor's Rating

Presentation 8.9
Gameplay 9.0
Engagement 8.5
Overall Impression 9.0
Pokkén Tournament pits Pokémon together in brutal battles in a setting that's newbie friendly but with enough baked in quality to satisfy veteran players.
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Ty Muddle

Ty Muddle

I cut my gaming teeth on a Commodore 64 my siblings and I found stashed under my parents bed. It was the early 90's and the strange computerised images were a novelty for a young kid living in a rural Australian town. It would be some years before I was introduced to a simple word processor powered by a Apple II my grandfather found at the dump but it didn't take much to spark a love of writing and video gaming that would continue through my life. My first "modern" console was, like most people in Australia at the time, a Sega Master System II. In those days you'd hire games from the local video store. I always loved flipping to the back of the game manual to see the cheat codes other players would scribble in the "Notes" section.

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