Pokémon meets Tekken
If someone had asked me a few years ago the odds of seeing a Pokémon fighting game with heavy influences from Tekken, I would have replied something along the lines of “when Tepigs fly.” These days, however, the folks at Nintendo are clearly having a lot of fun mixing and matching game franchises to see what clicks, and it seems like there are few limits to what they’re willing to try next. Take the last few years as example: In 2014 we had the Dynasty Warriors meets The Legend of Zelda game Hyrule Warriors (with a 3DS port just released), last fall gave us the Mario Party-esque title Animal Crossing: amiibo Festival, and just before the new year we got Pokémon Picross, a hybrid game crossing two of Nintendo’s popular game franchises. And that’s just off the top of my head.
So here we are, it’s 2016, the long-awaited 20th anniversary of the legendary Pokémon franchise, and Pokkén Tournament is definitely real. As the game’s title, a portmanteau of Pokémon and Tekken, implies—this is a real-time, 3D arena fighting game that combines the characters and rich history of Nintendo’s Pokémon franchise with the flashy, frenetic fighting style of Bandai Namco’s popular Tekken series. Sounds too preposterous to work? Let me assuage any doubts you may have straight off the top—these two franchises combine exceptionally well together, resulting in the most exhilarating, intriguing, and mechanically sound Pokémon spin-off series to date. It just simply works.
Platform: Wii U
Release Date: March 18, 2016
Developer: Bandai Namco Studios
Publisher: The Pokémon Company
Modes: Single-player, Multiplayer
ESRB Rating: E10+ (Everyone 10+)
Welcome to the Ferrum region
Being a fighting game and all, Pokkén Tournament is, unsurprisingly, light on story and heavy on action. Still, the game does offer a brief explanation of why Pokémon are battling one another for supremacy in combat stadiums, and how Pokémon Trainers contribute to their success. The story begins with you, a new Pokémon Trainer, arriving in an island region known as Ferrum where prestigious tournaments are regularly held to crown battle arena champions. After customizing your avatar, including gender, skin colour, face, and more, you’ll get introduced to Nia, a chirpy battle trainer who welcomes you to the Ferrum region and gives you the grand tour.
Soon thereafter Nia bestows upon you a Battle AR, which is a special device Pokémon Trainers in Ferrum use to link up with their Pokémon. How this gadget works is loosely described, although it doesn’t make it any less mysterious: using an embedded Synergy Stone, Battle ARs enable Pokémon Trainers (like yourself) to synergize with their Pokémon, effectively syncing your thoughts and actions to help guide them in battles. It’s not like we really needed an elaborate rationale for why we’re controlling brainy, brawny, battle-ready Pokémon, but it’s nice to see Bandai Namco go the extra mile.
Rise the ranks in Ferrum League
The first destination I visited on my quest to Pokkén Tournament superstardom was the single-player Ferrum League mode. Here you’ll battle your way through increasingly challenging leagues (Green, Blue, Red, and finally, Chroma), while unlocking new Support Pokémon to aid you in battle, and new stages to compete in. You’ll also learn about a shadowy, sinister version of Mewtwo bent on draining the power from Synergy Stones to weaken the bonds between trainer and Pokémon, threatening the entire fate of the tournament. It sounds dense, but the mood is kept afloat with buoyant dialogue from Pokémon Trainer opponents between matches, and the constant words of encouragement from your perky mentor-slash-cheerleader, Nia.
Don’t be fooled by Ferrum League’s incredibly easy introductory division, the Green League, as higher ranking leagues can pose a serious challenge. In order to move up a rank, in each league you’ll need to battle your way to the top 8, then pass a Promotion Test against a strong opponent. Along your journey to the pinnacle of the Ferrum League, you’ll need to contend with 16 rival Pokémon, including the one determined to destroy the whole tournament: Shadow Mewtwo.
Intense, arena-style Combat
The mark of a good fighting game is always ‘easy to pick up, difficult to master’ and Pokkén Tournament embraces this mantra to a tee. All moves are performed by button taps, or button plus a direction, including your basic ranged and homing attacks, as well as special Pokémon attacks taken directly from the series. What differentiates a novice player from a pro here is understanding the attack triangle—normal attacks beat grabs, grabs beat counters, and counters beat normal attacks—and using this to your advantage. With proper timing, reactions, and reads on your opponent, any attack can be countered to sway the battle in your favour.
While other fighting game series have attempted to integrate elements of 2D and 3D combat, such as Tekken or Virtua Fighter, none has succeeded at fusing together multiple combat planes like Pokkén Tournament. The game does so in a very novel way: matches begin in “Field Phase” where you can freely move around the arena in 3D space, and after connecting with specific, powerful moves, movement instantly switches to traditional 2D combat, called “Duel Phase.” Strategies are very different in each phase, with Field Phase focusing heavily on projectiles and positioning, while Duel Phase emphasizes combos and hard-hitting attacks. After connecting with high-damage attacks in Duel Phase, you’ll knock your opponent back and re-enter Field Phase, restarting the whole cycle. It’s amazing how seamless these phases transition back-and-forth, with the combat staying fluid, and dynamic, throughout the entire match.
When you’re in the mood to get some training in, head on over to Ferrum’s Techne City to enter practice mode. Here you can practice moves from the full roster of Pokémon combatants, including fan-favourites like Pikachu, Lucario, and Charizard, to quirky characters like Chandelure (literally, a chandelier) and the scrappy, pint-sized Weaville. There are four main types of Pokémon—standard, technical, speed, and power—and in the dojo you can test them all out to see which style(s) you prefer.
Several training sessions are offered in the dojo, and it’s here where I learned many advanced techniques that helped me perform better in battle. I was really impressed with how deep the combat goes, from charging attacks, to piercing attacks, to guard breaks, to synergy burst, there’s a tremendous amount of battle mechanics to learn and master. On top of all your character’s moves, there are also more than two dozen Support Pokémon you can call upon in matches to unleash offensive attacks, add buffs or heal your character, and weaken your opponent. The more time you invest into Pokkén Tournament the more you’ll learn and the better you’ll get, encouraging you to spend time to improve your game.
Challenge friends and players around the globe
Pokkén Tournament includes multiplayer modes, both offline and online. Selen Island is the location you’ll want to visit for two-player local battles, where one person will use the Wii U GamePad and the other person has their choice of a Wii U Pro Controller, Classic Controller Pro, or the Pokkén Tournament Pro Pad. Expect a drop in framerate from a buttery smooth 60 frames per second in single-player, to half that amount in multiplayer, likely as result of having to render the image on two screens (your TV and Wii U GamePad). Still, even at 30 frames per second, the action moves along surprisingly quick, and there’s next to no drop in graphic fidelity.
Venture over to Neos City for online multiplayer, a mode where you can opt to play Friendly Matches or Ranked Matches against players from around the world. While I rarely had to wait very long to find an opponent, I liked how you’re automatically matched with a CPU opponent if it takes more than ten seconds to find you someone to play against. As soon as a player is found, you immediately exit the CPU bout and enter the match against the live player—a nice touch. For the real competitive type, you can keep track of your global and regional standing in the online leaderboards, ranked by the number of points you’ve received from fights, or total number of wins accumulated.
Pokkén Tournament is an excellent fighter that both Pokémon and Tekken fans are sure to enjoy. With its gorgeous 3D graphics, slick controls, deep combat mechanics, and diverse range of characters, this is a game that will appeal to both hardcore fighting fans and newcomers alike. Practice your moves in the dojo, take on AI-controlled opponents in Ferrum League, or go online and challenges players from around the world—the choice is yours.
+ Beautiful 3D graphics, including Pokémon and arenas
+ Easy to play, challenging to master
+ Fluid combat, great integration of 3D and 2D combat
+ Lots of modes: single-player, training, local multiplayer, online multiplayer
– Limited roster of 16 characters
– Framerate drops to 30fps in multiplayer
Lasting Appeal/Replayability: 4/5
Overall Rating 4.1/5 (82%)