Play any Pokemon game and you’ll probably come away with the same conclusion. The battles are a lot of fun but it’s a slow drawn out process as you take it in turns to launch attacks back and forth. When you come to the Smash Bros. games or the Anime series the fights are a lot more energetic and exciting, as Pikachu bolts around in a flash of electricity or Lucario launches devastating aura spheres. Thankfully the guys and gals at Bandai Namco are now giving us those fast, lively fights. With Nintendo’s collaboration they’ve created a game that blends the Pokemon universe with elements from their own fighting franchise Tekken.
Pokken Tournament is a 3D fighting game with a very unique twist. The Phase system allows you to switch between a 2D and 3D battle plain in the midst of battle. Dual Phase is you’re more traditional fighting setup, close ranged fighting with crunching combos and limited movement. Field Phase on the other hand puts you in an open 3D arena environment where you have time to plan you next move, and ranged attack play a more crucial role. Deal a heavy blow in Field Phase and you enter Dual Phase. Deal enough damage in Dual Phase and you return to Field phase. The switch between 2D and 3D initially sounds like it could be a mess but it actually plays out seamlessly and it’s a very enjoyable experience, as not only do you get to experiment with switching between different techniques but you have time to plan strategies in the flow of battle.
You are guided around the world by your Advisor Nia who also acts as your trainer during the fairly thorough training tutorials. The game features a couple of interesting mechanics from support attacks, Synergy Bust mode and the slightly overpowered charge counters. I say slightly overpowered as they’re easy to pull off, deal high amounts of damage and they’re usually difficult for your opponent to break or avoid. Before matches you can select a Support set consisting of two Pokemon to assist you in battle. Each Pocket Monster has their own distinct perks; there are your Attack types like Frogadier, Disrupt types that can push back enemies like Fennekin, and Enhance Pokemon like Eevee who can provide perks such as HP recovery. On top of that some can even have status effects that can buff or debuff yourself or your opponent.
There’s plenty of mechanics on offer and enough depth to them to keep fighting aficionados happy, but for those who’d rather utilise typical button mashing techniques there’s plenty to keep them happy too. Each character has a breakdown of their attacks so people can learn and get to grips with their move-sets, but this isn’t one of those games where the precision of you button taps are crucial. Pokken Tournament feels a bit more forgiving with its inputs so that fresh fighters can get a bit more out of it. The best way of determining whether or not a fighting game is enjoyable I feel is through its local multiplayer support. Thankfully this game doesn’t disappoint. To work around the fact that you switch between 2D and 3D fighting phases they’ve made it so that one player plays on the gamepad and the other on the television. For the player using the TV they have a very handy choice of controller option including the pro controller, classic controller or the slightly more awkward Wii remote and nunchuck. There is a distinct drop in framerate down to just 30 but unless you’re a diehard fighting fan, that’s not really going to be a problem.
While the combat is very enjoyable there’s unfortunately not a lot to do. In the single player mode you compete in a number of league matches to make your way up the rankings. After those matches there’s a tournament scenario and after that you move on to a promotional match with the current leagues master. It takes some time but there is a short story that revolves around the appearance of a Black Mewtwo. It’s an enjoyable mode but it can only last a couple of hours. Beyond that there’s local and online multiplayer, a practice mode and central hub town and that’s all you get. In your home town you have the option to customise your avatars appearance and titles using currency earned from fights, which is very nice side objective. It’s not a huge addition but obtaining new items of clothing or a title that saying you’re the next ‘up and coming trainer’ does help add a sense of achievement every now and then. Plus this is an avatar that is going to be with you both offline and online so it’s nice to deck them out in your own way to give them a bit of personality.
Now though we come to the most disappointing thing about Pokken Tournament, the character roster. There are only 14 fighters available with another 2 unlocked from the single player league mode. In a franchise where the number of unique monsters is more than 720 it’s really disappointing, particularly when this line-up includes two Pikachus and two Mewtwos. Each fighter does have their own style of fighting, and it’s fun experimenting with each of the characters, but it’s a thrill that doesn’t last long and you’ll quickly clamp down on you two or three favourites.
Pokemon has never looked better. Environments and character models are highly detailed, and everything is bright and enticing. Fights are over the top and flashy with lots of bright varied attacks, differently coloured hit sparks and lively Burst Synergy techniques. Even the animations are flawless, every combo, grab and burst execution comes out smooth and they feel very fluid with the controls. Each Pokemon even has their own distinct characteristics; Braixen for example (my personal favourite) is given a charming sassy teenage girl personality, and you can’t help but smile at Pikachu performing suplexs in a Mexican wrestler outfit.
Beneath the stunning visuals there’s an interesting deal of mechanics to learn which brings a fresh approach to the fighting genre. For non-fighting Pokemon fans the systems are easy to pick up, and the single player modes are a great way of easing them into arduous battles ahead. It’s just a shame there’s not more to do, and only having 16 characters is a bit of a let-down when you know the franchise has hundreds more. Pokken Tournament is a must get for any Pokemon fan, replacing the slow battles of the main series and providing us with the fast, energetic duels we’ve come to see in the Anime and Smash games.
This review is based off a review code of Pokken Tournament provided by Nintendo.
This review was originally published on the site GamersFTW which unfortunately has now been taken down. It’s been published on my personal blog, DanielVaughanReviews, out of respect for the developers/publishers that were kind enough to give me review copy of their game.