Over the last couple of decades, the Pokémon franchise has become one that we all know and love, spawning some of my personal favorite turn-based RPGs of all time and some much beloved characters for players new and old. Even if you don’t know what Pokémon is, I’m sure that you know what a Pikachu is, right?
Since the initial series installment, the core mechanics of Pokémon have remained the same throughout every game, aside from some spin-off titles that change the formula, but these spin-off games are usually so different from the main series that they’re incomparable.
For a long while now Pokémon fans, myself included, have been hankering after a game that allows them to pit two Pokémon against each other in an intense 3D battle, replicating the energy that can be seen during the animated series that they’ve all seen. I think every Pokémon fan has their idea of a perfect Pokémon fighting game, and they have had probably since they first experienced their first Pokémon game.
Enter Pokkén Tournament, a new spin-off instalment in the Pokémon franchise brought to us by the Tekken team over at Bandai Namco. It is a game hoping to fulfil the dreams of thousands of Pokémon fans that have always wanted to be able to replicate the action packed events of one of their favourite animated shows.
So, what exactly is Pokkén Tournament and the more important question: is it any good?
Well, if you’re familiar with the Tekken series of games, you should feel right at home with Pokkén. I’m no fighting game professional by any means; I will admit I’m rather skilled at Super Smash Bros., but when it comes down to traditional fighting games I’ve never been the best at games like Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat or the previously mentioned Tekken. Even though Pokkén shares a lot of likenesses with Tekken, I didn’t feel too out of my out depth when playing Pokkén for the first time, I wasn’t a master of it by any means. I’m still nowhere near that and I doubt I ever will be, but I felt like I could hold my own weight in a battle against the AI without too much trouble.
Like I said, if you’re familiar with Tekken, or even similar 3D fighting games like Soul Calibur, you should feel right at home with the combat mechanics here. Each battle consists of you and your opponent choosing one of 16 available Pokémon, ranging from series veterans, such as Charizard, Pikachu and Gengar, to some new entries, such as Pikachu Libre, which is, if you couldn’t gather from the name, Pikachu dressed up like a luchador. And Shadow Mewtwo, an evil version of one of Mewtwo who also serves as the protagonist for the game’s story. When it comes down to fighting, Pokkén is a pretty solid affair, which is good because it’d be pretty naff if the fighting bit of a fighting game wasn’t very good, wouldn’t it?
Battles have two different phases that are switched between throughout the battle. Each battle begins in one of two phases, known as the Field Phase, where both players can run about in a 3D environment, firing projectiles at each other to try and land some chip damage before landing a heavy move, known as a Phase Shift. Once a Phase Shift is landed, the battle switches into the Duel Phase, where the players face off in a 2D playing field. This also changes the controls of the game to those that people who have even the most basic experience with traditional fighting games, and just like traditional fighting games, Pokkén does come equipped with an in-depth move list. It has an extremely deep fighting system that could keep players hooked for a very long time, but it is not too complex to the point where more novice players, such as myself, would be intimidated to the point where they wouldn’t be able pick the game up and have fun with it.
When you boot up Pokkén for the first time you’ll be prompted to create a character with possibly the most basic character creator that I’ve seen in recent years, only allowing you change basic features such as your hair, eye and skin colour. I understand it is a first in the Pokémon series, as far as I’m aware of, but with the features available being so primitive and basic, I almost didn’t see the point of the character creation even being a feature. After creating your character to the best of your ability, you’ll be greeted by Nia, your guide to the Ferrum Region, who serves to explain the rules of the game, how to play and all of the game modes that you can choose from.
There are six things to choose from when reaching the main menu of Pokkén, each of which serve as locations across the Ferrum Region. These six things that you can choose from consist of: Ferrum League, My Town, Local Battle, Single Battle, Practice and Online Battle.
Local Battle, Single Battle, Practice and Online Battle are all pretty self-explanatory, with Local Battle being the mode where you can face-off against your friends sitting in the same room as you. Single Battle is the same thing but instead of fighting your friends you can fight against a computer player. Practice is where you can, you guessed it, practice your skills in attempt to get better at the game, which is something that I should probably use more often. In Online Battle you can, as the name suggests, battle players all across the world in the same way you would against a computer, or against a mate sat a metre away from you. Single Battle is a sufficient way to hone your skills and bide your time when you don’t have friend to play against, but where Pokkén really shines is the multiplayer; you can choose to play over the internet against randoms, or with a group of friends at some sort of social gathering. If you’re anything like me, you rarely have social gatherings, almost never where video games are involved, and the mode you might frequently go for would be the Online Battle mode.
Ferrum League acts as the tournament and story mode for Pokkén. It is a single player mode where the player can choose to partake in various levels of an eight character elimination bracket style league mode, fighting your way to the top of the bracket to be crowned the winner of that league. You earn your way through the ranks to eventually battle the league champion, which, as it plays out, isn’t actually any different to any other single player battle, but it does add a sense of ‘oh wow, I’m getting good at this’ when ranks and statistics are added to each fight you win. This is nice for me who doesn’t stand a chance when it comes to fighting actual players.
With each league you win, you unlock more pieces of the story, which follow the same stature of most fighting game story lines, being a pretty basic one. So, what’s the skinny? To cut it short, a mysterious black Pokémon, Shadow Mewtwo, has been draining the Gaia, which is the energy that bonds the human characters to their Pokémon through the use of Synergy Stones, from the Ferrum Region and he must be stopped. To stop this, you are required to fight your way through Pokémon championships. Typical fighting game stuff where the story progresses through you winning fights, essentially. Nobody really plays a fighting game for the story though, right?
The other menu option is My Town, which is just a location where you can further customize your character with clothes, accessories and other hair styles, which was a nice discovery because, as I previously mentioned, the initial character customization was, at first impressions, really poor. Oh, and you can, in traditional fighting game fashion, add a title card to your profile that can be seen by other players that you play against online.
When it comes down to the nitty-gritty, Pokkén Tournament is a solid fighting game in most aspects. The combat mechanics are deep and captivating, making for some truly intense fights, the music and visuals are stunning and just enhance the overall experience, and, most importantly, it’s a ridiculous amount of fun, especially when played locally with a group of friends. I feel where Pokkén falls short is the character roster. The Pokédex consists of over 700 Pokémon now and Pokkén only houses 16 of them, 15 if you don’t count Pikachu Libre as a separate Pokémon. And I understand it would be ludicrous if a fighting game had 700 fighters, and that’s not what I think anyone was expecting, but limiting the roster to just 16 fighters was a little disappointing.
But still, Pokkén Tournament is a fantastic fighting game, whether or not you’re a fan of the series, or fighting games for that matter, but even though it’s managed to pry me away from Super Smash Bros. for a little bit, it hasn’t managed to steal the crown that Smash has with me. Let’s be honest though. I don’t think any other fighting game ever will. Ever.