Please note: I originally wrote this review for The Game Bolt, the original review can be found here.
For the longest time I thought that Pokkén Tournament was just Tekken with a Pokémon skin, and I was glad to find that it isn’t, despite how good a Tekken game can be. Pokkén Tournament feels like an amalgamation of many different fighting games, taking cues from a whole range of the genre’s best. At first, all of the different aspects of a fight in Pokkén may seem overwhelming, but after a couple of hours with the game, you’ll come to love all the nuances of a Pokkén battle.
A fight in Pokkén takes two major viewpoints of the genre and does its own thing with both. In ‘Field Phase’ you get the long distance and homing attack style fighting more akin to Namco Bandai’s own 3D anime fighters, such as the 3D Dragonball Z fighting games than the Tekken games. Using the right attack, or dealing a substantial amount of damage switches the fight into ‘Duel Phase’, which is more similar to Street Fighter. In Duel Phase combos are the key to victory, especially if you can corner your opponent against a wall. The usual fighting game idioms are present and correct: you can grab, counter, block and have three types of attacks – light, heavy and Pokémon attacks (in Field Phase, you have long-range, homing and Pokémon attacks). Pokémon attacks are the heaviest attacks you can use, and each of the 16 playable Pokémon have unique Pokémon attacks, despite the game containing two Pikachus and two Mewtwos. Each Pokémon attack offers a powerful move based more on the type of the Pokémon that they have in the mainline series.
The fighters are designed very well, with each one offering a wholly unique fighting style (well, Pikachu and Pikachu Libre share some moves, but they are different enough thanks to their largely altered movesets and categories: Pikachu Libre is a speed fighter, whereas Pikachu is categorised as a standard fighter). The small roster brings up its own issues, but as a stepping stone into the mad world of Pokkén the relatively small number of playable Pokémon allowed developers Namco Bandai to create a well rounded, largely balanced fighter that caters to a whole range of personal play-styles. Blaziken (who I mostly played as) for example offers up a well rounded fighter with a good amount of health, has powerful Pokémon moves and is adept enough at both long and close range fighting. However, his Pokémon moves damage his own health and he builds up his Synergy Gauge rather slowly.
Every fighter has different strengths and weaknesses, but Charizard and Garchomp are perhaps a tad overpowered. Both Charizard and Garchomp seem to dish out more damage than the other fighters, whilst they both seem to take a bit less damage overall. More time with the game will properly allow me to establish if the game features any ‘broken’ Pokémon, but I’ll give Namco Bandai the benefit of the doubt and argue that the game is balanced enough that any Pokémon can beat any other. What’s more impressive, however, is that each Pokémon is great fun to use, and while it would have been impossible to please everyone, Namco did a good job at incorporating Pokémon throughout the franchise’s generations even with the small number of playable Pokémon. To make things a little better on the roster front, there are 30 Support Pokémon to choose from, which come in pairs.
The Support Pokémon come in three types: Attack, Enhance and Disrupt. Attack does just mean that they attack when you call them to your aid (once their gauge has filled). Enhance buffs your fighter, either with increased attack, defence or speed. Disrupt damages your opponent’s stats, but a Support Pokémon with the disrupt ability can also hurt the enemy – just like an attack one can decrease opponent’s stats. Each Support Pokémon also charges up in different amounts of time; Slow, Average, Normal or Fast. My personal favourite combinations to use were Reshiram and Cresselia, Mismagius and Ninetails, and Cubone and Diglett. Each set of Support Pokémon offers different bonuses, so choose wisely!
A big part of what makes Pokkén so fun are the ‘Burst Attacks’, which are very simple to pull-off. As mentioned above, each Pokémon has a Synergy Gauge, which fills up as the battle ensues, but it can be sped up by landing strong attacks and picking up blocks of ‘power’ off the floor during the Field Phase. Once this gauge is full, a quick press of L and R together puts your Pokémon in ‘Burst Mode’, which Mega-Evolves some Pokémon and changes the colour a bit of those that can’t Mega-Evolve. But for each Pokémon Burst Mode achieves the same thing: It makes you quicker and stronger. Once activated, Burst Mode only lasts a small amount of time, and once every time it is activated you can use your Synergy Burst attack (with another press of L and R together) which, if it hits, dishes out a huge amount of pain.
Each Burst Attack is gloriously flashy, and each one is great to watch, especially in local multiplayer. In the single player and online, Pokkén Tournament maintains a slick 60fps, but in local multiplayer this unfortunately drops to 30fps. Now, for some this would cause major upset, but I didn’t really care, I was having too much fun to notice once the fighting started. The same goes for the graphics, and soundtrack. The graphics are actually superb, with very detailed character models, but the resolution is low, and it looks sub-720p being upscaled, giving the game an overall fuzzy look during battles. The bright colours and bombastic action do take your mind off of the lacklustre resolution, but it is a little disappointing. The soundtrack too, is a little disappointing; I was hoping for some classic Pokémon tunes but remixed for the battles, but what we get is a little underwhelming, sounding like pretty standard fighting game tunes.
Another area of the game that is a little disappointing is the single player content. The single player has all the modes you’d expect, like training, tutorials and free battles, but the main meat of the single player is the Ferrum League. The Ferrum League sees you choose one partner Pokémon (you don’t have to, but it is advisable) and take on the League to climb to the top of the Chroma League, becoming the champion. There are four leagues to battle through, with some fluff about Shadow Mewtwo and Synergy stones thrown in to make the whole thing a little more interesting. Fighting your way through the leagues is quite dull, as for each one you take on five battles at a time, to raise your rank up to the top eight in order to take part in a knockout 8-way tournament. Winning the small tournament grants you the ability to take on the league leader to climb up to the next league. It’s all presented rather dully as well, with basic menus and character designs that look a little out of place within the Pokémon universe.
The menu design and design of avatars could have done with more involvement from the lovely people over at The Pokémon Company as it is all a little lifeless, clashing somewhat with the flashy presentation of the battles themselves. The voice-acting is worse than the designs though, sounding like a bunch of uninterested actors got paid very little for a project they didn’t care about. My least favourite thing about the Ferrum League though? A lack of any real challenge. It’s meant to get harder each league, but after just over 100 fights, I lost just three, barely breaking a sweat in many of them. The lack of challenge didn’t help the overly repetitive nature of the Ferrum League, and neither did the lack of Pokémon in the game – you do get tired fighting the same ones over and over again.
The fights are great fun when there’s a bit of challenge to them, and playing local and online multiplayer is where Pokkén truly shines. You get a real feel for each of the Pokémon, the 30 Support Pokémon, Cheer Skills and strategies playing multiplayer. You see combos you didn’t know were possible, and there are still not many better feelings than besting a friend or relative in a one-on-one fighting game. It’s a shame that the single player offering is dull, but there is enough content in the game to last you a while and you will keep coming back to play online matches, as the fights are ridiculously fun.
As you’d expect, with all the different attacks you can use, Pokkén Tournament is rather input heavy, but this is not anything new for the fighting genre. The initial learning curve though is fairly tiresome, as you’re presented with dull tutorials that explain all of the intricacies of the game; rest assured, this is not an easy game to explain to first-time players. Whilst it all sounds confusing, I think Pokkén Tournament is worth your time and effort, as it is fun enough for any age, and is deep enough for fighting game enthusiasts.