I’ve been a fan of Pokemon since around the time it came out in the US and own a lot of the spin-off titles in the franchise such as Pokemon Stadium, Pokemon Colosseum, and Pokemon Snap. However, there’s always been one genre that was never made into a Pokemon game; fighting games. Yes the core series and even a few others have one-on-one Pokemon battles, but those are typically turn-based. Even the Pokemon Mystery Dungeon series has a somewhat turn-based combat to them. Imagine if there was a game in which two Pokemon could battle it out one-on-one in real time similar to the anime, minus shouting commands at your TV. Welcome to Pokken Tournament for the Wii U.
Pokken Tournament is a one-on-one Pokemon fighting game that sounds like it belongs in the Tekken series, but the biggest similarities are the name, publisher, and the fact it’s a fighting game. After creating your avatar and choosing a partner Pokemon (don’t worry, you can change your partner at any time) you have several options you can choose from such as online battles, practice, single battles, and league battles. After all, this is a Pokemon game so there has to be a Pokemon League of some sort. It’s recommended that you start out with Practice which puts you through not only the basics of how the game works, but once you get that down you’ll unlock the option to practice a Pokemon’s moves and several combos which lets you get a feel for each Pokemon.
Each Pokemon has their own sets of weak attacks, strong attacks, and special attacks which are things such as Leech Seed, Fire Blast, and other special attacks you see in the core games. During each battle you’ll also have access to a support Pokemon. You start out with three pairs of support Pokemon and more are unlocked as you progress through the Ferrum League. You can have up to three pairs of support Pokemon set and you’ll choose one of those sets prior to most battles, then you’ll choose one of the two Pokemon in that set to use each round (you can switch support Pokemon between rounds). Once your support gauge is filled up you can call in your support Pokemon to activate some sort of effect or deal some damage to your opponent.
You’ll also have a synergy gauge that fills up as you deal and take damage. Once it’s full you can activate a synergy burst which will increase your attack power for a limited time and give you access to a Burst Attack which is kind of like Street Fighter V’s critical arts in that they deal massive damage and can be combed into if timed correctly. You can also pick up some items on the ground during the battle to increase the synergy gauge, but unless you pick up several at once it doesn’t help too much. The drawback to all of this is that while using a Burst Attack doesn’t immediately drain what’s left of your synergy gauge (meaning you’ll remain in synergy burst), you can only use one Burst Attack per Synergy Burst so you can’t spam them.
When you battle opponents outside of Practice mode, you’ll gain gold and experience after each battle. While the gold can be spent on things like avatar outfits, experience helps level up your Pokemon similar to the core games. Each time your Pokemon levels up you gain a skill point that you can use to increase your attack, defense, or the effectiveness of your gauges. Don’t worry if you regret where you put that point as you can reallocate them from the My Town option on the map screen. It is Pokemon so leveling up had to be thrown in somehow, but if you play for a long time with one Pokemon and want to switch it up, your skill points don’t transfer over when you use another Pokemon. In other words, if you level up Braixen several levels and allocate skill points for her, those points are exclusive to Braixen. I understand the concept, but it means that whenever you want to use a different Pokemon you basically have to almost start from scratch to make him a viable contender in battles.
The battles themselves take place in two phases: Field Phase and Duel Phase. You start each battle in Field Phase, which is 3D free-roaming, and after certain attacks or enough damage is dealt you’ll shift into Duel Phase, which is a more standard 2D fighting phase, and the phases can switch back and forth multiple times per battle. Each Pokemon has moves that are only usable in a certain phase meaning that when the phase shifts you have to adjust your battle strategy. While I wasn’t keen on the idea at first it is starting to grow on me the more I play. I’d still prefer if the game chose one or the other (my preference would be a standard 2D fighter), but I have to give them credit for trying something different.
The Ferrum League serves as the game’s main single player mode. Here you’ll start out with a league ranking of D and you’ll have to work your way through a few sub-leagues starting with the Green League. You’ll be ranked at the bottom of the barrel and will have to do sets of league battles to get your rank up. After each set of battles you’ll be ranked up depending on how you did. Once you crack the top eight you can participate in a single elimination tournament and by winning that you can take a Promotion Test to qualify for the next league ranking. I like the concept but it can feel slow and tedious at times. The number of participants gets bigger with each sub-league and you have to finish every battle in the set to rank up. Backing out at any time during the set will negate your progress in that set, but you’ll keep any gold an experience you’ve earned. What’s more is that I’m not sure how the game calculates how much you rank up, whether it’s just your win-loss record or how you do in each battle. Either way you’ll have to do these strings of league battles several times over to get into the top 8 and it can get tedious after a while.
As you progress you’ll also come across a girl and her Mewtwo, but this is no ordinary Mewtwo. The first time you fight it you notice that it’s darker than a normal Mewtwo, has a lot of HP, and is pretty powerful, definitely more so than any battles you’ve had up to that point. As the story progresses you keep hearing about how other trainers have come across this “Shadow Mewtwo” but didn’t stand a chance. Now you not only have to progress in the Ferrum League, but also figure out just what’s going on with this Mewtwo.
Finally, let’s talk about one of the most important aspects of a good modern fighting game: online play. As of the time of this review online functionality is up and running pretty smoothly, though that may change at launch depending on how bogged down the servers get. However, it’s not perfect. Don’t get me wrong, I was able to get into a few battles, but it was what I found leading into the battles that I have to nitpick on. When you go into online mode you can choose either a ranked or friendly match. After that you’ll choose your Pokemon and support sets and up until then you can back out. After choosing your support sets the game will search for an opponent for ten seconds. If the game can’t find an opponent you’ll get put into a CPU battle. If it does find an opponent though, you’ll go straight into that battle, and that’s where my issue lies. You can’t tell if your opponent has a good or bad connection and you can’t choose from a list like in Ultra Street Fighter IV. The game just gives you an opponent regardless of their connection. It’s not a major issue, but I’d hate to get randomly paired up with someone with a bad connection, though prior to the game’s launch I’ve had no connection issues.
Something I will give Nintendo and Namco Bandai credit for is that they’ve taken rage quitting into consideration. If you rage quit during a ranked match you’ll lose some gold and will be given an automatic loss. The good news with that is that you’ll get penalized if you disconnect at any time after your opponent is chosen. The bad news is that losing some gold isn’t all that much of a penalty. Granted you may also lose a bit towards your online rank but I’ve only found an opponent a few times during my review and lost each time so I didn’t have any rank to lose. The only major issue I can see with online battles is that while your Pokemon can gain experience after an online battle, I’m not sure if level is taken into account online. The match-up screen doesn’t show a Pokemon’s level but in the couple of online matches I fought in, I was taking some really heavy damage from only a couple of moves. Now granted I’m sure some Pokemon such as Machamp may deal more damage overall while having their own drawbacks, plus I’m definitely not the best fighting game player around so I’m chalking most of it up to skill, but without knowing if a Pokemon’s levels and skill points are taken into account it could mean that online battles could be very one sided for newcomers.
I kind of had my reservations with Pokken Tournament when I first heard about it as I was thinking it would play like Tekken which is definitely not my best fighting game…in fact it’s probably one of my worst. Thankfully I’ve been enjoying my time with Pokken and while it’s not going to become my favorite fighting game, it’s still a rather fun game, though not perfect by any means. The playable roster is a decent size at fourteen Pokemon, though I do question a couple of the choices. While very few of the roster are fighting-type Pokemon, most of them are viable for a fighting game. Why there’s two versions of Pikachu I’ll never know other than it’s the series mascot, plus we have a friggin’ chandelier on the roster before more obvious choices such as Hitmonlee and Hitmonchan.
If you’re a fan of Pokemon and fighting games, you’ll likely enjoy Pokken Tournament. The tutorials will help anyone new to the game ease into it and the ability to learn each Pokemon’s moves and combos in Practice mode can help players find which Pokemon and fighting style works best for them. I will admit that I wish the Ferrum League would go a bit faster as it can take a while to rank up enough to go through the main tournament, especially once you hit the later leagues that have more participants to go through, plus if you want to use a different Pokemon you’ll likely have to go through single battles with the CPU to level them up. Beyond that though Pokken Tournament is a fun experience for trainers who have been wanting actual one-on-one real time Pokemon battles.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.