Pokémon is a game series that I have played on and off since 1998, and even though it’s a game that I proudly display love for with various t-shirts, books, and miscellaneous objects, it’s one that in recent years I’ve found myself moving further away from…
That was until I first heard that there would be a Pokémon fighting game where instead of commanding the Pokémon, you would actually control them. In that moment, for the first time in years, I had genuine excitement for an upcoming Pokémon game. That level of excitement carried on from the game’s release in Japanese arcades, to its release in Europe on Wii-U, to right now when I take to my Wii-U daily to do a few rounds in the offline league, and then jump into an unprecedented amount of fights on the online side of the game.
So let’s start with a review of this gem of a fighting game, starting with the characters. Pokkén Tournament isn’t perfect with its selection of characters but it would’ve been impossible for it to be so, considering Pokémon has over 600 characters and no developer in their right mind would try for a roster that big. Instead, you’re restricted to a choice of 16 characters, with 14 being available from the beginning. There’s a good mix of speed, power, balance and technical fighters, making for a balanced roster, but one that I can’t help feeling is missing something. This is no fault of the developers, but with any series with such a huge range of characters, someone’s favourite is always going to get missed off… and my favourite, Snorlax, is nowhere to be seen.
I started my journey into Pokkén with Pikachu Libre, a Pikachu dressed up as a Mexican wrestler who has a higher speed stat than regular Pikachu. Together we stepped into the practice leagues to begin learning all of the intricacies that Pokkén has to offer, and it has a lot to offer. We started with the game itself, which takes a battle arena approach, having a “Field Phase” where you’re quite far away from your opponent, can move in three dimensions, and use mainly projectile attacks to fight. There’s also a “Duel Phase”, which is much more like your traditional fighting games, being a two-dimensional fighter focused on melee attacks and combos. We learnt how to switch in between these two phases and where our strengths and weaknesses were. We then began to learn the basics, such as projectile attacks and blocking, and we moved all the way up to advanced tactics such as “Counter Attack Dash Cancel”, which I couldn’t work out how to do. Unfortunately, the tutorial just carried on going, and I still can’t do the “Counter Attack Dash Cancel” as I haven’t gone through the tutorial again. Thus, the only downside is that if you fail a lesson, it doesn’t keep repeating it until you succeed, it just skips to the next lesson. It isn’t game-ending, but pretty annoying as you have to go back in and do the whole tutorial to re-learn anything you missed.
The next step after we’d taken the practice by storm was to move up into the real leagues, the Ferrum League, that is. Instead of having a traditional arcade story mode, Pokkén has a league system, where fights gain points and points mean a higher placing in the league. This continues until you reach the top of the league and get promoted to the next league. Honestly, it’s a bit of a grind with too many fights in each league, and until you get to the top leagues, the game is kind of a walkover with no real challenge and every opponent having a similar fighting style. This is of course a moot point, because a fighting game isn’t meant for playing against the computer; a fighting game is for fighting against other humans, either online or in the same room as them, and any fighting game worth its salt needs to offer great multiplayer.
This is, in my opinion, where Pokkén Tournament really shines and takes its place as one of the fighting game greats. It has a fantastic net code from what I’ve played and I’ve never had to wait more than a minute for a fight, having sometimes as many as 5 or 6 fights in a 10 minute period. This speed of online matchups makes it so you’re never bored waiting for your next opponent, and means the momentum you gain from fighting varying opponents never withers. Online is also where you get the most challenge, with already pro-level fighters ready to take you on. This normally is unbelievably daunting with fighting games, but not so much with Pokkén, as even in a fight where you’re vastly outclassed, you know that only a few seconds later you could be fighting someone you stand a chance at beating. It’s that kind of balance online that for me ranks it above a lot of the more established “hard to learn, hard to master” fighting games.
Pokkén Tournament is one of my new favourite fighting games, one that hopefully spawns a franchise and carries on being a competitor in the fighting game scene. It’s easy to pick up and play but with it’s levels of intricacy for the more advanced player, it offers something for everyone, and is definitely one to pick up if you own a Wii-U, are a fan of Pokémon or just love fighting games.
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Author – Hal, Plymouth store