The Pokemon series has eluded the fighting game genre for some time now, though each game has an abundance of little pocket monsters ready and willing to do battle at their trainer’s command. The [obvious] core aspect that has kept the series from the fighting game genre is the usage of turn-based style battles. But, what might it be like if we were able to control the Pokemon ourselves, with instinctual combos we’ve memorized and mastered, and duke it out within the confines of a battle arena? With the upcoming release of Pokkén Tournament, we now have the answer to that question – alright, maybe it’s a tad bit obscure of a question, but it’s still a valid one!
There is a lot to enjoy and a lot to be frustrated within Pokkén Tournament. So, let’s start with what might frustrate a player. To begin, the audio cues, voice-overs, and music are less than desirable. In fact, the voice-over work in this game is downright atrocious. More than likely, people interested in this title aren’t expecting top-notch voice acting and incredible amounts of captivating story-telling; they’re interested for the competitive fighting of Pokémon. However, I found it hard to listen to even the tutorials – which were incredibly helpful, as far as teaching the game – let alone the rest of the dialogue sprinkled throughout the title. If it weren’t for the option to turn the advisor comments off, I might have played this game with the sound turned off entirely. Though the audio cues during the battles are fine, the music is forgettable, and the voice-overs are annoying. When I play an arcade fighter, I expect repetitive compositions that don’t stick out amongst the gameplay while still managing to be fun. Pokkén Tournament, unfortunately, falls flat in this aspect.
Another aspect of this title revolves around the stages available to fight in. Each stage boasts different characteristics and/or Synergy bonuses, offering a minor amount of strategy before even starting a match. This was a nice little addition to the gameplay, but it was tarnished by the somewhat bland level designs. I would say about 1/3 of the stages didn’t have a whole lot going on in the background. In fact, a perfect example of this can be found in Old Ferrum Town: there are Pokémon wreaking havoc upon each other in the center of town, throwing fireballs and dodging electricity, drop kicking, punching, and countering… all while there is some dude sitting on a bench uninterested in the fight (not moving), some others in the background who are mildly entertained (tiny amount of movement), and other Pokémon watching on as their peers tear each other apart (again, tiny amount of movement). Many stages feel added on, almost as a way to create a larger amount to choose from. Now, there are some stages that I truly enjoyed, such as Haunted Mansion and Phos Volcano, but I was hoping to see some spectacular set pieces to highlight the colorful world of Pokémon.
Something else that might frustrate the player is the amount of playable Pokémon to fight with. There are 16 Pokémon to choose from, but the roster feels a little odd. This is not a complaint on the actual Pokémon fighters, but rather, there are so many Pokémon to choose from that one would expect the most iconic ones to be selected first. This isn’t too big of a complaint from me, since rosters can never fully please the masses, but it’s more along the lines of something that left me scratching my head. I mean, where is my Ivysaur, dang it! This lack of Pokémon really stands out when moving up the ranks in story mode (also known as Ferrum League); you’ll be battling different trainers (essentially just different avatars with no real difference) that use the same 16 Pokémon over, and over, and over again. Sure, there are plenty of Support Pokémon sets to unlock, but I would’ve enjoyed having some more Pokémon fighters to control, rather than use as an item. Something else to note, which may or may not frustrate players, is that there are only a couple unlockable fighting characters.
Now, with all that all out of the way, I can easily sum up Pokkén Tournament in one sentence: it’s ridiculously fun. Where the music, audio design, and stage designs all fall short, the actual fighters (including their animations) and gameplay are quite exceptional. Over the hours of gameplay I’ve played, I’ve found the game to simply be pure fun. There are six areas to select from the over-world map: Local Battle (2 player), My Town (Profile and Pokémon settings/customizations), Online Battle, Training, Ferrum League (Story mode), and Single Battle (against a CPU).
In Ferrum League, the player rises through four different ranks to “be the very best that no one ever was!” (Sorry, I had to add that in) – Rank D, C, B, and A (or Green, Blue, Red, and Chroma Leagues). To get to the tournament, the player first has to fight through the massive amount of other trainers wanting to get into the tournament bracket. Rising through the ranks depends on how well the player does in five-match runs: fight five trainers in a best of three, with wins versus losses and the ranking of the defeated trainers determines how far you jump in the ranks. Once the tournament bracket is reached, the player fights opponents in a “do or die” best of three match, attempting to make it to the semi-finals, then he or she battles for the top spot in the league. Once the tournament is completed, there is a “promotion” battle to see if you are worthy of moving up to the next rank. All the while, there are shenanigans happening with a certain Pokémon always messing things up for you – I won’t ruin it if you’ve managed to keep yourself from any information for this title, but I’m willing to bet you already know who I’m talking about.
Two player mode is extremely fun, with one player using the GamePad screen, while the other uses the TV – this caters to the fun addition of Field Phase in battles. My Town lets you choose which Pokémon will be your partner when heading into Ferrum League, which three Support Pokémon sets you want (think of these as essentially items that either attack, disrupt the other opponent, or enhance your stats), and customize your avatar. There are plenty of clothing options, each costing Pokémon Gold (PG). Another thing to note regarding partner Pokémon (your actual fighter Pokémon) is that they can be leveled up. I thought this would be a fun element from the traditional Pokémon games to help add some depth to the character roster, but leveling up is way too easy and offers only four different aspects to enhance: attack, defense, Synergy, and Support. It was an interesting mechanic in this type of game that I would’ve liked to see expanded upon.
Online mode worked well, with only a tiny bit of lag between button presses and the consequent action. The online gameplay options are standard affair, including ranked and friendly matches. Players can use a battle code to fight against friends or simply take on strangers from across the globe. While waiting for an opponent, the player faces off against a CPU fighter. Once an opponent is found, the CPU battle is immediately interrupted and the online match begins. Everything felt fluid, and worked very well. Now, I got my butt handed to me a good amount of times, but that was purely due to my lack of skill. The battles never felt off or too unbalanced, and I had a great amount of fun, even in all my losses.
As briefly mentioned before, each battle consists of two different fighting modes: Field Phase and Duel Phase. The fight starts in Field Phase, giving each player control of their fighters in a 3D environment – within arena confines, of course. Once a certain type of hit is landed, typically a hard-hitting one, the phase changes to Duel. This back-and-forth between the phases continues through each match, keeping the fights fresh and fun. I was a little wary of the constant switching at first, but I found it to be very entertaining, adding to strategy (since some moves change between the phases) and keeping things fluid. Duel Mode is the more traditional fighting style many are familiar with; opponents knock each other senseless on a 2D plane. Pressing up or down on the D-pad changes the stance of the fighter, offering a new set of attacks (“Y” button essentially being light, “X” being mid, and “A” being heavy attacks). The “B” button is for jumping, pressing the right bumper pulls up a shield, pressing the left bumper triggers your Support Pokémon set you’ve chosen for the match, and pressing both bumpers simultaneously triggers your Synergy form (a gauge builds up as the matches continue, with both hits and damage taken contributing in different amounts). Nothing felt too overpowered or out of place, and the Pokémon that are part of the roster were all fun to test and learn to play with.
Ultimately, I have enjoyed Pokkén Tournament through it’s different frustrations. The game is incredibly accessible, yet I see potential for the competitive scene to take hold of this one, purely because, well, it’s a pretty solid Pokémon fighting game. You may question the value when solely looking at the roster, and you may be disappointed in the missed opportunities with the presentation for many of the stages, but dang it, the game is outright fun. Whether honing skills against a CPU, taking on a friend with the excellent two-player mode, or duking it out with fellow trainers across the globe, Pokkén Tournament is a fun addition to the fighting game genre. “Pikachu [Libre], I choose you!”
A review copy of this title was provided.