Review: Pokkén Tournament (Wii U)

The Pokémon spin-off fans have been waiting for!

By Marc Deschamps. Posted 04/19/2016 10:00 Comment on this     ShareThis
The Final Grade
grade/score info
1-Up Mushroom for...
Strong gameplay; great use of the established world; online battles are fast and fun
Poison Mushroom for...
The game could use more modes and fighters; single-player mode can get repetitive at times

In the early days of the franchise, Pokémon spin-offs had a pretty strong reputation. Pokémon Red and Blue saw North American release in late 1998, and 1999 quickly gave fans a pair of spin-offs: Pokémon Pinball and Pokémon Snap. Both titles were embraced by fans and critics alike, setting a strong precedent for quality very early on. Since then, even though the main series has remained strong, the spin-offs have become a bit of a mixed bag. Fortunately, Pokkén Tournament is another strong one, providing something different for Pokémon fans, while staying true to the heart of the franchise.

At its core, Pokkén Tournament is a mash-up of Pokémon and Tekken. The 3D fighting game has players directly controlling the pocket monsters themselves in a standard, best of three match-up. Battles start in Field Phase mode, where players are free to move throughout the field of battle using long-range attacks, then shift to Duel Phase mode, where the battles get up close in a more traditional fighting game format. Controls are easy to learn and fairly intuitive, with attacks directly influenced by the main series games (though the game contains no type-matching). As the fight goes on, a pair of gauges fill up. The Synergy Gauge allows certain fighters to Mega Evolve, and others to simply become stronger. During this time, players can perform a special Burst attack, dealing heavy damage. Filling the latter gauge will allow the player to call in one of the game’s support Pokémon, which perform a special move before quickly departing.

Pokkén Tournament features 16 Pokémon fighters from the history of the franchise. The developers picked a strong set of fighters for the game, with each Pokémon generation getting at least one representative. While some fans may question the addition of Pokémon such as Chandelure over more popular options, it helps the roster feel much more unique and diverse. The game also features 30 support Pokémon, which are selected in pairs. The support Pokémon are a nice strategic addition, but long-time fans will undoubtedly wish there were more playable characters. With more than 700 Pokémon, it’s impossible to make everyone happy, but there are plenty of other characters that would have been a strong fit. Fortunately, downloadable content seems only inevitable.

Some franchise spin-offs simply slap familiar characters into different genres, but Pokkén Tournament feels like a natural extension of the brand. Bandai Namco did a fantastic job of making the title feel like a part of the existing Pokémon world. Levels take place in a new area known as the Ferrum region; each one features familiar Pokémon in the background, with tournament and promotional battles taking place in arenas reminiscent of Pokémon Stadium. The game’s story mode explains that Synergy Stones, found only in the Ferrum region, allow trainers and their Pokémon to fight in sync with one another, explaining why the player is actually controlling their Pokémon partners in Pokkén Tournament. Most players likely won’t need an explanation for Pokémon fighting one another, but the effort to make the game fit in with established Pokémon lore is certainly appreciated.

While Pokkén Tournament’s single player mode has a lot to offer, it’s easy to imagine some casual fighting fans will find themselves burnt out on the game’s single player campaign. The campaign offers a number of battles (which get progressively more difficult), but the smaller roster does make it repetitive at times. Luckily, clearing through the Ferrum League helps to unlock more support Pokémon and trainer customizations. Customized avatars don’t make any sort of difference in the main campaign, but it makes online battles feel more like a real competition between trainers. That’s where Pokkén Tournament really shines. Battles are easy to find, there isn’t the slightest hint of lag, and they’re fairly quick, providing a nice incentive to hop on when players don’t have a lot of time on their hands. Matches follow a similar format to Splatoon and Super Smash Bros., with an option to play ranked battles, or just for fun.

The biggest detriment to Pokkén Tournament is the fact that it’s hard to not want more. The game has a lot to offer, but fighting game lovers and Pokémon fans alike will crave more of everything. As mentioned earlier, more fighters would be nice. A mode allowing users to bring in multiple Pokémon would have also been a welcome addition. Other fighting games (like Marvel vs. Capcom) allow players to choose multiple fighters, and in a spin-off of Pokémon, it would only make sense to give players the chance to switch at some point. It could certainly add another level of strategy! Players may find themselves wishing for more fighters and options, but, if anything, this proves that Pokkén Tournament could (and should) grow as a series on its own.

Pokkén Tournament is a very solid Pokémon spin-off. Giving players the chance to actually control the pocket monsters themselves in battle has long been something fans have wanted to see, and this title certainly provides. Pokémon spin-offs haven’t seen a large number of sequels over the years, but Pokkén Tournament just might be the perfect console compliment the main series has always needed. Now, let’s hope the NX gets a sequel that can take it all one step further.

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