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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 hitmanxmk
hitmanxmk

You know something is biased and not right when a pokemon game gets 9....

Avatar image for xdeathclawx
XDeathClawX

@hitmanxmk:

You know something is biased and not right when a Batman game gets 9

That's how you sound

Avatar image for manbaku
Manbaku

@hitmanxmk: God forbid the third best selling game franchise of all time happens to make good games.

Avatar image for ronaldmcreagan
ronaldmcreagan

@hitmanxmk:

In all my gaming years, I have yet to play a game that ever felt like a 9. I guess this is the game I've been waiting to play my whole life. But first I'll have to buy a Wii U. I'm sure that will be an investment i'll never regret. Pikachu or bust!

Avatar image for Sound_Demon
Sound_Demon

@hitmanxmk: The point is, the game is fun as f**k. If you don't like it, don't buy it. No one cares.

Avatar image for robbocroft
robbocroft

Seems to me wiiu scores are inflated by the severe lack of games for this platform.

Avatar image for biggamerdude
BigGamerDude

@robbocroft: https://www.google.co.uk/search?q=wii+u+exclusives+list&oq=wii+u+exclusives+list&aqs=chrome..69i57.5002j0j7&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8#q=wii+u+games

Yeah, that's only a bit,

Avatar image for abHS4L88
abHS4L88

@robbocroft:

Hmm, then shouldn't all Wii U games be getting high scores? OH wait that's not the case so no validity to dumb statements like this one just because you can't accept that a Nintendo game has gotten high praise.

It's just as stupid as assuming that 1st party Wii U games sell well because of the "severe lack of games" yet there are numerous quality 1st party Wii U titles that have sold rather poorly.

Avatar image for drocdoc
drocdoc

@abHS4L88: calm down with insults

Avatar image for demonsemen
DemonSemen

PSYDUCK

Avatar image for DanZillaUK
DanZillaUK

@demonsemen: Headache.

Avatar image for GregoryBastards
GregoryBastards

Funny how people are comparing this to Street Fighter....which has been around since the dawn of gaming.

Now i haven't played this game and im sure its a hot one, but im positive its not on par with a game that has seemingly a monopoly in pro fighting games circuit.....and has been around since forever.

One game is about seemingly endless tactics and counters, the other is about making cute yellow bunnies fight each other...i dunno how anyone can compare these two games.....

Avatar image for biggamerdude
BigGamerDude

@GregoryBastards: The point is that SFV is baren.

This game is not.

Avatar image for shadowriku3
shadowriku3

@GregoryBastards: It's funny that the original fighting game now has 3-frame combo timings and no arcade mode.

Avatar image for Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

@shadowriku3: Indeed, the first Street Fighter is actually a Karateka-inspired game.

Avatar image for Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

@GregoryBastards: Indeed. When I heard of Pokken Tournament, the first phrase that comes to mind was "fan-service".

Avatar image for Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

@abHS4L88: Kudos for mentioning that bit about who owns the rights to Pokémon. Not many people know that a company entity has been created just for the purpose of managing the IP - I wasn't one of them, by the way.

Avatar image for abHS4L88
abHS4L88

@Gelugon_baat:

Lol, it's amazing how people are unaware of this considering that almost every single Pokemon game opens up with the companies Nintendo, GameFreak and The Pokemon Company.

Avatar image for Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

@abHS4L88:They just see "Nintendo" first and thought the next ones are not as important.

Still, to give them some benefit of the doubt, do keep in mind that most Pokémon games had been on Ninty's platforms. The association of the IP with Nintendo is not wrongly founded.

Avatar image for iandizion713
iandizion713

@Gelugon_baat: Im not sure what yall are getting at, but Nintendo owns the rights to Pokemon. Nintendo owns majority of Game Freak and The Pokemon Company, along with owning themselves Nintendo. Nintendo owns something like 80% of them. Pokemon is 100% owned by Nintendo.

Avatar image for Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

@iandizion713: Where is your proof that "Nintendo owns majority of Game Freak"?

From what I read at Bulbapedia, Game Freak is a contracted developer.

Furthermore, Game Freak had developed games for non-Ninty platforms and publishers, such as Click Medic for the first Playstation and Tembo the Badass Elephant, which is not even on any Nintendo platform.

Tembo the Badass Elephant wasn't even the first game that Game Freak made for Sega too. It made two games for the Mega Drive - you know, the platform which Sega boasted as doing what "Nintendon't" back in the early 1990s.

These things aren't likely to be what a majority-owned subsidiary of Nintendo would do.

Avatar image for iandizion713
iandizion713

@Gelugon_baat: I believe it is estimated that Nintendo owns 54-60% something percent of Gamefreak. Nintendo owns the majority of its shares. Nintendo owns Gamefreak. They also own majority of The Pokemon Company.

Pokemon consist of Game Freak (which is owned by Nintendo), Creatures (which is owned by Nintendo), The Pokemon Company (which is owned by Nintendo) and then Nintendo themselves.

So not only do they own a lot through Nintendo, but also through the other three companies since they own so much of them.

Avatar image for Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

@iandizion713: Where did you even get these numbers? Is it this two years old GameFAQs thread? If it is, I don't see any source in that thread.

Avatar image for iandizion713
iandizion713

@Gelugon_baat: It use to be on the Game Freak wiki, but its all changed now. Youd have to dig deep to find out more and its also rumored that Nintendo owns much higher percentages now. If you look on Nintendo's wiki, youll see Game Freak is still listed as being owned by Nintendo, its just we have no new numbers.

Game Freak is like many of Nintendos companies, they act on their own like a separate company. Hal Laboratory for example. Its owned by Nintendo but acts completely independent.

Avatar image for Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

@iandizion713: Rumours are not truth. Also, I am looking at the revisions of the Wikipedia page for Game Freak. For example, this one, dated 8 September 2013 - there is nothing on ownership.

Avatar image for iandizion713
iandizion713

@Gelugon_baat: Just keep looking, also look at Nintendo's wiki and it lists all the companies they own.

Avatar image for Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

@iandizion713: "Game Freak" is a phrase that doesn't even appear on Nintendo's Wikipedia page. In fact, right at the bottom of the Wikipedia page which lists Ninty's development teams, Game Freak is an affiliate - not a subsidiary.

(HAL Laboratory is also an affiliate, not a subsidiary.)

Also, I have been looking back a few dozen revisions of Game Freaks' Wikipedia page - there is nothing on ownership.

What you believe may be nothing more than made-up rumors - or possibly, a result of confusion about the differences between affiliates and subsidiaries.

If you are going to convince me, you are going to have to show me some links - all the research that I have done thus far does not convince me about what you are saying.

Avatar image for iandizion713
iandizion713

@Gelugon_baat: Do you know what an affiliate to a company is? Hal Laboratory and Intelligent Studios are affiliates too. This is all Nintendo's affiliates,

Creatures, DeNA, DigiPen, Game Studios, Game Freak, Genius Sonority, HAL Laboratory, Intelligent Systems, The Pokémon Company, and WarpStar.

Avatar image for Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

@iandizion713: Affiliates are not owned by the company that they are associated with.

Like I said earlier, you might be confused about the difference between subsidiaries and affiliates.

Also, WarpStar is not an affiliate. It's a subsidiary of HAL Laboratory.

Avatar image for iandizion713
iandizion713

@Gelugon_baat: Affiliates are connected to the company they are associated with. So yes, it does mean Nintendo owns part of them. How much? Take a guess.

Again bro, Hal Laboratory owns 50% of WarpStar. Warp Star and Hal Laboratory are affiliates of Nintendo in which Nintendo owns a percentage of both their shares. Nintendo is beast!

Avatar image for Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

@iandizion713: At most, the parent company would own only a minority stake in an affiliate - that's as far as I would agree with you about Nintendo's ownership of its affiliates.

With that said, I want to remind you that Game Freak has developed games for Sega, even during the time in the past when Sega was Nintendo's direct competitor (how ever weak it turned out to be). A majority ownership by Nintendo will have blocked this.

Avatar image for iandizion713
iandizion713

@Gelugon_baat: You are right. Also to even qualify to be an affiliate, the parent company has to own 80% or more of its voting stock.

Avatar image for Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

@iandizion713: Your claim about that qualification by ownership percentage is incorrect.

Avatar image for iandizion713
iandizion713

@Gelugon_baat: "

"IRS regulations state that a parent company must possess at least 80% of a company's voting stock in order to be considered affiliated." http://www.investopedia.com/terms/a/affiliate.asp

Thats where i read it from.

Avatar image for Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

@iandizion713: Your source came from a passage which is associated with taxation, not business operational control.

Also, the Investopedia link that you cited actually refuted what you said in its first passage, but you cited the second one because it so happens to match your belief.

You are cherry-picking.

Avatar image for Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

@iandizion713: That's more likely.

Avatar image for iandizion713
iandizion713

@Gelugon_baat: Yeah, i accepted i was wrong in Nintendo owning majority of shares of Game Freak.

So lets guess. Nintendo owns 30% of Game Freak, 30% of Creatures, 30% of The Pokemon Company, and 30% of The Pokemon IP.

Avatar image for Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

This article has not been listed under the Review tab. I had to visit the main page to look at it, and man, I don't like the main page.

(In hindsight, maybe I should have just used Google Search instead.)

Avatar image for lukey52
lukey52

Man the guy reading the review in the video sounds so bored with it all. If it's really worth a 9 we could at least have had someone enthusiastic talk about it.

Avatar image for Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

@lukey52: I get the impression that he's exhausted when he made the video.

Avatar image for ShimmerMan
ShimmerMan

lool 9?

Avatar image for haanabi89
Haanabi89

Someone who isnt in love with pokemon should have reviewed this. For all I know the game is great but I feel like he slapped a 9 on this just because he gets to play as some of his favourite pokemon in a 3D setting.

Avatar image for Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

@haanabi89:I agree, but I will also point out that there will be people who will argue against this, e.g. one of the easiest complaints that they would make is that the reviewer "doesn't know anything" about Pokémon.

I have seen this before from Nintendo die-hards. It will be a damned-if-you-damned-if-you-don't outcome for the site that publishes the review.

Avatar image for haanabi89
Haanabi89

@Gelugon_baat: I see where youre coming from. What I meant though was someone less biased. Maybe someone who has played one or two of the games but isnt a die hard fan you know what I mean? That being said such a person probably doesnt exist at gamespot. Hopefully the next nintendo console is backwards compatible so I can play some of these titles.

Avatar image for DoomSky
DoomSky

@haanabi89: Ultimately this is a game for Pokemon fans so it makes sense to me someone with long term experience with the series reveiws it. Being a fan to me does not mean immediately loving anything with Pokemon on it, I certainly dont like the Mystery Dungeon series for example.

It's clear from the start that part of the reviewers enjoyment came from being able to actually control and play as a Pokemon if that doesnt excite you then you're probably better off looking elsewhere unless you really want a 3D fighting game and only own a Wii U.

Avatar image for crunchb3rry
crunchb3rry

I wish Nintendo would make a normal, traditional Pokemon game for the Wii U. Maybe I'd play one for the first time since the original Game Boy Colorless. They just keep screwing up everything. The new Starfox doesn't really remind me much of Starfox, the new Metroid is a disaster and a hint that to expect something like Metroid Prime 4 is going to happen *maybe* for my great grandkids to play and enjoy. My biggest confusion is why Nintendo just doesn't care to take advantage of 1080p for sprite-based games that would look absolutely phenomenal in HD? Like why not even do something like remake Link To The Past in HD? Or old Mario games simply re-released in HD but otherwise unchanged? Nintendo could do this with minimal development other than replacing graphical assets, and make 10x as much money as they would on a "innovative" sequel that nobody really wants.

In the case of Pokemon, I get that it's Nintendo's choice to have a franchise meant to uphold handheld sales, refusing to do a console version. Even Advance Wars (which is all but dead) was mainly a handheld game, with a disappointing "spinoff" console version. I just don't friggin' get Nintendo. They're worse than Square when it comes to having any kind of pulse on their consumers. Square is dropping the ball on the FFVII remake...but at least they're trying.

Avatar image for abHS4L88
abHS4L88

@crunchb3rry:

What the heck are you talking about? GAMEFREAK handles the development of Pokemon and since you're clearly ignorant on the subject, Nintendo doesn't completely own Pokemon so they can't and won't just make decisions on the franchise without GameFreak's consent.

If the new Star Fox doesn't remind you of Star Fox, then I don't know what the hell you're thinking when you hear the words Star Fox.

Also what would be the point in rereleasing A Link to the Past or the old Mario games in HD? Those types of games still look good on full screens and it's not like the gameplay needs any updating so what you're asking for is basically a waste of time and money, lol at the "innovative sequel that nobody wants" yet their remasters/remakes rarely sell anywhere near as much as their brand new games.

Avatar image for crunchb3rry
crunchb3rry

Cool, fine. You win.

Avatar image for iandizion713
iandizion713

@johnl: Do you mean $47? That would be the price preordering using Amazon Prime.

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, Nintendo, The Pokemon Company
    Genre(s):
    Action, Fighting, 3D
    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