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Review

Pokken Tournament Review

  • First Released Mar 18, 2016
    released
  • Reviewed Mar 15, 2016
  • WIIU
Chris Damien on Google+

Bandai Namco has crafted a fighting game that is deep and rewarding, while also being accessible.

There’s a lot to love in Pokken Tournament, but its most immediate joy comes from something so simple: two Pokemon physically interacting. This may seem trivial to most, but for longtime fans it’s the opportunity to finally scratch an itch that’s been out of reach for 20 years.

Fights in Pokemon have always played on the imagination. Clashes between exotic and captivating creatures are reduced to text boxes and back-and-forth wobbles. It’s like reading telegrams about a fireworks display. Some visual flourishes add a dash of dynamism, but since combatants remain rooted to one spot, the physicality of brawls is lost.

That changes with Pokken Tournament, in which a pint-sized luchador Pikachu can punt a Charizard three times its size in the stomach, wrap its stubby arms around the dragon's thick neck, launch into the air, and Stone Cold Stunner it into the ground.

What a delight it is to witness Nintendo’s iconic Pokemon unshackled, free to leap around and trade blows up close. Better yet, beneath the spectacle is a thoroughly satisfying set of fighting game mechanics. These are deep and technical but, crucially, the accessibility and tactical spirit of the RPG series has also been retained.

Developer Bandai Namco has achieved this by splitting battles into two phases, which Pokken constantly shifts between. In the Field Phase, players use a ranged attack to prod their opponent from a distance. This attack can be executed during sideways movements or jumps and, if charged, will travel further and leave the enemy vulnerable upon being hit. At the right moment, a homing attack can be used to auto-pilot a fighter across the arena and deliver a powerful follow-up.

The beauty of the Field Phase is that it creates strategy in simplicity. Both players have the same objectives and tools at their disposal. Although you can get up-close-and-personal, the focus is on firing and dodging projectiles, maneuvering into an advantageous position, then capitalising. It’s engaging and thrilling in the same way thumb wrestling is: two players pecking at each other, waiting for that perfect opportunity to go for a pin.

Pokken is not just a successful cross-pollination of two game series, it’s an outright excellent entry point into fighting games.

Doing enough damage or landing specific attacks in Field Phase will move the battle into the Duel Phase, where the game becomes Tekken and Street Fighter-like. The two-dimensional plane and smaller field of movement forces direct confrontations, and it’s here the real technicalities of Pokken’s mechanics open up.

Fighting game aficionados will understand the dynamics here instinctively, while newcomers can quickly get comfortable with the logic: Light attacks are quicker than heavy ones, but do far less damage. High attacks are vulnerable to sweeps, while those who attack whilst crouched can be interrupted by standing attacks. Throws are a reliable way to punish players with their guard constantly up. Then there’s Counter-Attacks, which function like Street Fighter 4’s Focus, letting you hit back through an enemy’s assault, but will leave you open if mis-timed.

Strikes are governed by a priority triangle: Normal Attacks trump Grabs, which beat Counters, which crush Normal Attacks. At this basic level it’s an elaborate game of rock-paper-scissors, but there’s depth below the surface. Like with Tekken, combos rely on timed button presses, but it’s not as strict as Street Fighter’s frame-precise requirements. Leaping over a downed opponent and attacking with a crossup makes blocking trickier, and pressuring an enemy into the corner gives way to wall slam opportunities. On top of this are intricacies such as anti-airs, dashing out of Counter-Attacks, and special cancels.

Pokken is a game laced with smart ideas and design feats, but one of the most important is that it offers depth without overwhelming new players. The majority of special moves, for example, can be executed with a single button. With specific timing and more button presses, combos can become complex, but they always seem masterable. The gap between button-mashers and advanced players doesn’t seem insurmountable and, as a result, making that transition is more appealing. At the same time, the systems don’t seem exploitable to the extent that a skilled player can ruin the fun for a casual fan. Do not fear: Tekken’s endless juggles have not made the transition. By beautifully striking that balance, Pokken is not just a successful cross-pollination of two game series, it’s an outright excellent entry point into fighting games.

Layered on top of the core mechanics are technicalities that give the game the variety it needs for replayability. Like all fighting games, there are character pick considerations: Charizard is a lumbering behemoth with massive damage output; Weavile’s attacks are feeble by comparison but can overwhelm in barrages.

Then there’s the unique attributes and abilities for each fighter that cater to different styles of play. Braixen, for example, can increase her damage for a short period, but Sceptile can leech health from the enemy and wage a war of attrition. Pikachu is great at applying pressure, but Machamp can take a beating, and so on.

Pokken is a game laced with smart ideas and design feats, but one of the most important is that it offers depth without overwhelming new players.

Support characters are another of Pokken’s gameplay wrinkles, and a clever way of drawing from the series’ turn-based tactical roots. It allows players to select from a pool of Pokemon to lend a hand in battle. The advantages these support characters provide range from directly attacking the other player with fireballs or point blank uppercuts, to setting up traps and conferring stat benefits. Since the ability runs a cooldown, picking a Pokemon that complements the fighter or the player’s strategy isn’t always the difference between winning or losing, but it certainly helps in getting the edge.

Meanwhile, Synergy is a new ability that has a more profound effect in battle. Over the course of a fight, a gauge is filled by delivering damage and, once maxed out, can be used to trigger a Mega Evolution for the Pokemon that have one, or a powered-up state for those that don’t. In this mode moves are enhanced and the Pokemon also has access to a Synergy Burst. These are powerful cinematic special attacks that, without understatement, are stunning to behold.

Blaziken, an anthropomorphic chicken that fights like Bruce Lee, erupts in flames and leaps into into a furious flurry of kicks, leaving his victim at the center of an exploding ball of fire. Shadow Mewtwo flies into deep space, creates a fireball out of dark energy, and slams it back onto earth like something out of Dragon Ball Z. Machamp, meanwhile, goes full Fist of the North Star and hits his opponent with 1000 consecutive punches (somehow they aren’t turned into Poke-paste).

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Pokken Tournament’s presentation is lovingly crafted, with a slick broadcast style for its battles and each of its 19 stages filled with eye-candy and fan-service. One favourite is Mystery Carnival, a creepy rustic mansion lit by a roaring fire and multicolored Jack-O-Lanterns. It also happens to be haunted by ghost Pokemon, so keep an eye out for the grinning Gengar floating in a doorway. The Pokemon themselves are just as full of life. It’s hard not to crack a smile when Pikachu Libre shouts “PI-KA-CHU” as it pulls of an electrifying frogsplash. If you want to explain to someone why you find Pokemon so charming, this is the game you should reach for.

Out of the box, Pokken is a fully-featured fighting game replete with gameplay modes, customisation features, and a comprehensive training suite. The meat of the single-player experience is its Ferrum League, in which players fight through five skill tiers to be crowned ultimate champion. Each is comprised of qualifying fights, a tournament, and promotion battle against a special trainer. Weaved throughout these is the story of a mysterious trainer and a corrupted Mewtwo, which is a nice touch that alleviates the monotony of grinding through each rank’s many qualifying matches.

Pokken Tournament also has online multiplayer, which GameSpot will be testing extensively when the game is released. This review will be updated to reflect the online experience in the coming days. As it stands, however, the game’s robust single-player campaign and multiplayer mode are already enough to make it an essential purchase.

It’s a testament to the quality of Pokken Tournament that I just wish there were more characters. There’s more than 600 Pokemon now and Pokken Tournament features just 16 of those. Perhaps this is an unfair criticism since this number is similar to most fighting game rosters at launch, but I simply need more. I need Hawlucha.

Nintendo’s Wii U provides a paucity of fighting games, but Pokken Tournament has redeemed that drought by being one of the best on any platform. Frequently magnificent to look at, delicately designed, and rewarding for players across all skill levels, it’s the Pokemon fighting game deserving of a 20-year wait.

Back To Top
The Good
Deep but approachable fighting mechanics
Colorful visuals and charming characters
Lots of single-player and multiplayer variety
The Bad
Ferrum League qualifying battles can grind
9
Superb
About GameSpot's Reviews

About the Author

Tamoor’s Pokken character of choice is Gengar. It has been crowned champion of the Ferrum League and put Mewtwo in his place multiple times. Respect it.
298 Comments  RefreshSorted By 
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Avatar image for deactivated-5a726f07c989c

best game ever

Avatar image for deactivated-5a726f07c989c

my Pokken character of choice is Weavile. It has been crowned champion of the Ferrum League and put Mewtwo in his place multiple times.

Avatar image for blackparrottt
blackparrottt

I just want a 3D open world Pokemon RPG. Not like the ones on the 3DS. I want to have an actual living breathing world like other RPGs, like Fallout, Elder Scrolls, whatever.

You know you want it to happen, Nintendo.

Avatar image for Ovirew
Ovirew

I tried the demo of this a bit at Best Buy one day, but I couldn't really get into it.

Avatar image for romeothebeast
RomeoTheBeast

@Ovirew: I know I'm a month late but the demo doesn't do this game justice...especially if you like playing online. I liked the demo from the eshop but the tutorial mode in the actual game shows you what this game can do

Avatar image for nintendanXP
nintendanXP

Where is Lickatung? ;)

Avatar image for ocinom
ocinom

Not bad for a dying console

Avatar image for bonzaibillie_99
BonzaiBillie_99

Biased-ass Fanboy Review.
Got it. Played it. This game is nowhere above a 7.

Avatar image for hochstreck
hochstreck

@bonzaibillie_99: Objection! This game is amazing to play. It's clearly one of the next steps in fighting games(compared to Tekken) and definitely one of the best fighting games I have ever played.(And I have played alot.)

Avatar image for romeothebeast
RomeoTheBeast

@bonzaibillie_99: Not even a 7.1? -_- ok... I'll shut up now

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DeathOfChaos

The only thing I have a problem with is how few Pokemon they included as playable fighters. I was really hoping to get a lot more to choose from.

Avatar image for Bastion00
Bastion00

I've stuck to PC for years now. Grew up on nintendo. I'll be getting a Wii U when the new Zelda hits shelves and it's good (which it probably will be). First console I'll own since PS2 and Gamecube..

Avatar image for DanieltheDead
DanieltheDead

So Mewtwo is basically Frieza now?

Also, I didn't catch it...perhaps I glossed over it, but does the Pokemon type play a role in it's battle effectiveness against other types? Water > Fire, etc...

Avatar image for PinkSpider79
PinkSpider79

Oh look another 9 out 10 game for Wii U.... What a surprise

Got to love the haters in the comments, that only hate coz beause they are jealous Pokken Tournament is a more polished game than Street Fighter V a 25 year old fighting series that has lost its way.....

Avatar image for handheldhimself
Handheldhimself

@PinkSpider79: I don't hate nintendo or anything but i am Sorry This game will never stand up to SFV.

SFV has a deep fighting history behind it and as such a ton of its mechanics are well honed and very hard to beat. This looks neat but it looks very simple and doesn't have alot of those fighting mechanics that fighing game players may look for. SFV/SF games take a decent amount of time to get any real skill in while this looks like i could probably get the hang of it in a day or 2 and do alright.

Not bashing on the game or anything but comparing this to SFV is like comparing an apple to another apple that has been carefully and meticulously grown.

Avatar image for TJDMHEM
TJDMHEM

I'm buying this game.

Avatar image for skippert
skippert

Is it me or does he keep forgetting to use certain letters. Stree Figh Ur?

Avatar image for mediainnit
MediaInnit

This game looks fun, been waiting a long time for a Pokémon fighter.

If only I had a Wii U

Avatar image for biggamerdude
BigGamerDude

@mediainnit: There's a lot of reasons to get one. Obviously, Pokken, but there's Smash, Bayonetta, Super Mario Maker, Mario Kart, Yoshi's Woolly World, and more.

Sure, it sucks for third parties, but, if you have a good PC, or a different console you can play there.

Avatar image for ice12tray
Ice12Tray

Ill pay $60 to make Pikachu give someone a Stone Cold Stunner lol

Avatar image for chrishughes571
chrishughes571

Reminds me of the fun I had with Rival Schools back on PS1!

Given the breadth of Pokemon it'd be great to have move on the roster, especially after Nintendo showed how good it manages DLC in Smash Bros and Splatoon!

Avatar image for hermitkiller
HermitKiller

Nintendo is in need of extra cash and releasing this on pc would deliver it big time.

Avatar image for ArabrockermanX
ArabrockermanX

@hermitkiller: I generally think Nintendo needs to just cut a deal with Valve and go PC... They could attempt to make a deal to release an affordable Steam box in exchange for a better rates. That's never going to happen but a man can dream...

Avatar image for nintendoboy16
nintendoboy16

@hermitkiller: No, it wouldn't. Not when the PC audience, much like the PlayStation and XBOX audiences don't really care about what Nintendo does.

Avatar image for ArabrockermanX
ArabrockermanX

@nintendoboy16: That's not even remotely true...

Avatar image for nintendoboy16
nintendoboy16

@ArabrockermanX: Isn't it? Why were they quick to abandon Nintendo games when various third party titles were no longer going to be on Nintendo consoles starting with the N64? Why are games like CoD and Madden, as well as Sony and MS' own first party quick to make their consoles on the top sellers charts in comparison to Nintendo's own games?

Yeah, I believe the pro "Nintendo should be third party" crowd are as political (translated: BS) as Donald Drumpf.

Avatar image for ArabrockermanX
ArabrockermanX

@nintendoboy16: Ya, that was a nice pile of bull sh*t you spewed from your mouth. "Why aren't people buying a console for 2-3 games they want if they want those games?" Is the proper question to sum up your questions and the answer is bluntly obvious, people don't want to pay $300 for a platform that only has a few games they want... No one saying Nintendo should go third party is saying they are going to take the market by storm(well maybe some are) just that they'll do better than they are now.

Avatar image for nintendoboy16
nintendoboy16

@ArabrockermanX: Of course, the "we don't want to spend X amount of money to just buy some games" excuse. It's BS then and it's BS now. The PlayStation/XBOX/PC audience, despite claiming they'd like Nintendo third party and on their consoles (which they only want for boasting rights), have since moved on from Nintendo and couldn't care less for the next Mario/Pokemon/Zelda/Smash/Kirby/Star Fox, etc, when they could take the next CoD/Battlefield/Madden/Assassin's Creed/any traditional fighter/Elder Scrolls/Fallout/any other JRPG by the likes of Atlus or Square over them.

SEGA and Atari are fine examples of what Nintendo should avoid in becoming. I can't believe people actually want this to happen again.

Avatar image for manoogian
manoogian

uhh why is mewtwo black and why does it send a spirit bomb to destroy the planet?

Avatar image for ArabrockermanX
ArabrockermanX

@manoogian: Because somebody thought this was DBZ.

Avatar image for seven7swords
Seven7Swords

That is funny... At release, the very first Pokemon fighting game is more complete than Street Fighter V and Pokemon isn't even Namco's flag ship series.

What where you thinking, Capcom?

Avatar image for biggamerdude
BigGamerDude

@seven7swords: You do know they did it for their championship right?

Avatar image for ArabrockermanX
ArabrockermanX

@seven7swords:

I'll answer in Capcom's place .....

Avatar image for n-brace
N-Brace

After watching the review, I'm still left wondering if this game would appeal to someone who has not played a pokemon game in decades?

I'm so out of touch with the ever increasing roster of pokemon I only recognize a few in this games already minimalist roster!

Avatar image for Burncsb
Burncsb

@n-brace: Don't really think you need to be too close to Pokemon development in terms of new monsters and such. Specially if you consider this review about how well balanced and developed the game was, it's, basically a very well made fighting game, that it has pokemons is simply extra fun. Besides it is easy to read and understand a bit more about the monsters you have not been too close to in the past few years or even a decade.

Avatar image for mirage_so3
mirage_so3

16 pokemon, and they chose the chandelier?

Avatar image for Kain0067
Kain0067

I think the phrase should be, "without overstatement."

Avatar image for hermitkiller
HermitKiller

This is developed by Namco Bandai, so there's a pretty good chance this will end up on pc as well.

Look what happened to Dark Souls series.

Avatar image for ArabrockermanX
ArabrockermanX

@hermitkiller: Who develops it and who owns the IP are two different things man... I would like to see it on PC but there's not a possibility of that happening.

Avatar image for xdeathclawx
XDeathClawX

@hermitkiller: Only in your dreams :)

Avatar image for Stebsis
Stebsis

@hermitkiller: Souls isn't developed by Namco Bandai, and this is Pokemon which is owned by Nintendo, Namco has no say if this goes to PC. Would be great if it did for obvious reasons but this is still Nintendo who do not publish games on PC

Avatar image for catalli
Catalli

"The game is thrilling, like thumb wrestling"

10/10 will buy XD jokes aside I didn't know of the existence of this game... it doesn't look to shabby

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Pokken Tournament More Info

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  • First Released Mar 18, 2016
    released
    • Arcade Games
    • Wii U
    Pokken Tournament is a new fighting game from Tekken developer Bandia Namco that will be launching in 2015 for Japanese arcades.
    7.1
    Average Rating37 Rating(s)
    Please Sign In to rate Pokken Tournament
    Developed by:
    Bandai Namco Games
    Published by:
    Bandai Namco Games, The Pokemon Company, Nintendo
    Genre(s):
    3D, Action, Fighting
    Content is generally suitable for ages 10 and up. May contain more cartoon, fantasy or mild violence, mild language and/or minimal suggestive themes.
    Everyone 10+
    Fantasy Violence