Let’s see if this truly is as excellent as it is bizarre.
Pokkén Tournament on Nintendo Wii U
We’ve seen them, we’ve caught them, we’ve trained them, but seldom have we ever been Pokémon. Pokkén Tournament has arrived, and with it comes the dream come true to taking complete control over the action-packed battles we’ve always envisioned in our heads. Sure, there have been Pokémon movies and TV episodes by the truckloads, but Pokkén Tournament finally allows us to drop the role of a mere spectator and duke it out ourselves.
Yes, this is a fantasy brought to life for many fans of the Pokémon franchise, but how does it all play out? Excellently.
Pokkén Tournament shines in many areas, but, with it being a fighting game, fans of the genre and Pokémon alike will be glad to know that the combat mechanics are a marvel. Like any game in the main Pokémon series, each contender feels wholly unique with many opportunities for different styles of play. Of course, this is the preferred formula for any fighting game, but Pokkén brings a fresh and vibrant new take on the genre.
While there are some adorable Pokémon featured in the game, make no mistake, this game is complex. Thorough and simple tutorials can ease any player into learning the mechanics at a pace that isn’t so intimidating. Pokkén Tournament isn’t quite a game you can just pick up and play, but it’s also very accessible once you’re shown the basics.
The developers at Namco Bandai have done a phenomenal job executing their talents as veterans of the fighting game genre. With over 700 Pokémon to date, it couldn’t have been an easy task to choose which contenders will make the cut and how they would fight. Ultimately, though, each one’s moves contain just enough utility and flair to make the game feel wild and spectacular, all the while feeling surprisingly balanced.
Like any properly balanced game, each Pokémon does have their own strengths and weaknesses, directly in relation to the strategies necessary to excel with them. Naturally, it’s great to see those brave enough to get in close combat be given the power they need, and those crafty enough to set up traps and projectiles be given the firepower they need. No single move guarantees victory if it’s spammed, as each move has both its benefits and its risks. This is the key to satisfying combat; each player, no matter what contender they choose, has just as much of a chance at winning.
Content-wise, Pokkén Tournament has just what it needs. With tons of different unlockables, customizing your avatar and title adds a very nice touch and incentive to keep fighting on. While there is an alternate color for each Pokémon to use in battle, it’d be nice to see some more options for cosmetic customization.
Nevertheless, on a technical level, the game looks as good as it plays, with a surprising amount of detail on each of the Pokémon, vivid visual flourishes to embellish every battle, and all running as smoothly as one would hope. When entering a local battle, however, it definitely doesn’t stay at the regular 60 frames per second you’ll see throughout the rest of the game.
This issue is only skin-deep, though. It’s one of the compromises that likely had to be made in order to allow the game to provide asymmetrical gameplay, with each local player receiving their own full screen, one on the GamePad and on the TV.
Online matches are another story, though, with nothing in the way of making it the intense experiences they ought to be. Matchmaking is quick, and the servers run wonderfully, evidenced by the fact that we didn’t experience any lag whatsoever. Like its single player, there are plenty of points and ranks to rack up, giving further incentive to really go at it with other people from around the world, not unlike the online functionality of Tekken games, Namco Bandai’s primary fighting game franchise. Fighting game fans who are all about obtaining the highest rank are sure to have a ball with the goals available.
In the tradition of fighting games, there isn’t very much in the way of plot here, but storytelling has never been Pokémon’s strong suit anyway. In spite of that, the Ferrum League single-player campaign is still plenty of fun, as it pits players in several tournament settings that make victories feel all the more satisfying.
The soundtrack pervades every aspect of the game, providing suitably heart-pumping tracks to successfully amplify the excitement at hand. In the style of Tekken, the music fills each battle with the necessary intensity, but it never gets grating or repetitive, which is an impressive feat. Plus, battles never take too long anyway, so settings and music never outstay their welcome as it is.
Throw in a large variety of stages to unlock and engage in, each with their own sizes and qualities, and it’s easy to see how Pokkén Tournament can stay fresh for a long while.
Overall, Pokkén Tournament delivers above and beyond what was expected when considering the complete package and the quality of it all. For the chance to finally make those dreams come true of being Pokémon in the heat of battle, Pokkén is well worth it. There is certainly a learning curve to the game, but skill and perseverance are sufficiently rewarded. The core mechanics are approachable but complex enough to let players find themselves improving all the time, no matter which of the many fighting styles they gravitate to the most.
Simply put, variety is this game’s middle name. Yes, its birth certificate says “Pokkén Variety Tournament.” We’ve seen it. Don’t argue with us.
From the expertly crafted combat mechanics to the wildly different contenders to the stages and customization options to unlock, Pokkén Tournament proves itself to be another excellent addition to the Nintendo Wii U’s library for fighting game fans, Pokémon fans, and everyone in between. Plus, you can be a luchador Pikachu. Just let that sink in.