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Pokken Tournament Review

  • First Released Mar 18, 2016
  • 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
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 
GameSpot has a zero tolerance policy when it comes to toxic conduct in comments. Any abusive, racist, sexist, threatening, bullying, vulgar, and otherwise objectionable behavior will result in moderation and/or account termination. Please keep your discussion civil.

Avatar image for louixiii


Avatar image for Richardthe3rd

"I need Hawlucha."

We all do Tamoor; we all do.

Avatar image for cleevergreen

If I can play as Trubbish and Garbodor, I'm in.

Avatar image for deactivated-58bd60b980002

Sounds like it plays exactly like a Naruto game

Avatar image for haanabi89

@Coco_pierrot: thats what it looks like too

Avatar image for Cruxis27

GS has become so freaking inconsistent in their reviews.. Many are fair but the rest are completely biased. Yes I know differences of opinion and all that. But maybe they should consider having more than one "official" review from different people just so we can get an opinion from all angles. Or not

Avatar image for bigcrusha

@Cruxis27: There is... It's called Metacritic

Avatar image for TimmyDKJR

@bigcrusha: But that site is filled with people who go 10 cuz i like it or go 0 cuz i dont like this feature.

Avatar image for Gelugon_baat

@TimmyDKJR: @ahpuck: Indeed, I agree. Metacritic's user reviews are full of people who can't make convincing arguments.

Avatar image for ahpuck

@TimmyDKJR: You can't trust user reviews in Metacritic, but you can see what the industry reviewers think about the game and get a better idea of the game's potential.

Avatar image for TheLeftHandDoom

I've never played a Pokemon game in my life. I haven't owned a nintendo product since the original NES. But, this game's graphics look like they're 15 years old. It looks like PS2 graphics.

Avatar image for abHS4L88


So you came on here just to prove what an ignorant hater you are? Got it.

Avatar image for sawyer1201

@TheLeftHandDoom: You need glasses dude!! Seriously!

Avatar image for Def-Trex

@TheLeftHandDoom: Yeah ok when was the last time you played a PS2?

Avatar image for Chico86_basic

@TheLeftHandDoom: Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight...

Avatar image for tshipe

I'm gonna trade The Division in for this . NOT

Avatar image for Gelugon_baat

@tshipe: Apples and oranges.

Avatar image for bigcrusha

@tshipe: What's The Division got to do with this game? Just because GS scored it higher, by no means does the score transcend genres.

Avatar image for leviathanxx

Very generous score considering how much grind there is and how small and poor the roster is. I guess the mechanics make up for it but I don't think I'll be buying until confirmation of dlc and its pricing, if we get any.

Avatar image for Slannmage

Everyone else giving it a 7/10, another mediocre Nintendo filler title.

Avatar image for Sound_Demon

@Slannmage: Yep, lets bash Gamespot because the reviewer had a different opinion than other reviewers. How dare he.

Avatar image for abHS4L88


Half the reviews are 8+, you seem to have a distorted concept of what "everyone else" means, that or you're just an idiot.

Avatar image for bunchanumbers

@Slannmage: Since when has 7s been mediocre?

Avatar image for Yomigaeru

@bunchanumbers: That's been the general perception for a while now, though I'm not sure why. Most review scales have 70% as good, but somewhere along the way many got into the mindset that "anything less than 80% is undesirable".

Avatar image for crunchb3rry

@Yomigaeru: The difference between a 9 and 10 is pretty arguable. It's just easier to slap a 7 or an 8 on everything, so that when a 9 or a 10 comes out, it holds more consumer review value. It's dumb, but serves its purpose.

Me, I don't read crap-ass reviews anymore. I just get on Twitch and find somebody playing the early stages of the game and watch for a while. Because then it's me deciding if I want the game or not, as opposed to a paid reviewer, who (like some on this site) are way too jaded to be reviewing games with the kind of open mind a consumer would have. Plenty of games that got terrible reviews, I loved. Plenty that got great reviews I grew tired of pretty fast.

Avatar image for Oogazi

@Yomigaeru: anyone who still bases their judgment on a numerical value isn't someone who has a justified opinion.

Avatar image for nl_skipper

@Yomigaeru: Yea it's really ridiculous now to the point you can't even look at the number because it's pretty much a 7-10 scale. You really just need to read the review and come to your own conclusion, which is what a good detailed review should allow someone to do.

That being said, nothing will ever stop people fighting over review scores as though someone else's review is supposed to align precisely with your own made up score...

Avatar image for Joo_Phish

Looks great but I only like about 5 of the 16 fighters you get to pick, mostly all lames and why are there two pikachus and two mewtwos instead of 2 totally different characters. Been waiting for this for years but I really wish they would make a full on pokemon game with these mechanics, meaning wandering through grass or a cave and entering an epic battle like this. Would love to **** up some Zubats in this style

Avatar image for jinzo9988

@Joo_Phish: Pokemon sells like hot cakes. Why in the world would they spend so much time on window dressing for very little return (if any)? Don't get me wrong, I can't stand Pokemon personally... there's nothing dryer and more boring as dirt for me, but there's no denying its appeal to a whole hell of a lot of people. It's in the top five best selling video game franchises of all time. They don't need to do something like that. Something like that could actually end up selling worse than a standard title, on top of needing so much more money to produce it.

Avatar image for Fia1

@Joo_Phish: yea a full 3d pokemon, i thought they were going to make it one day... but i guess it's because of their poor console hardware that they can't create such games... it would be like my favorite rpg ever if they pull something like that...

Avatar image for iandizion713

@Joo_Phish: That would require a system more powerful then PS4 to do it justice. Youd have to create whole regions filled with wild Pokemon and a massive amount of NPCs and players to fill it.

Avatar image for Def-Trex

@iandizion713: It could be done.Look at Xenoblade Chronicles X, that has a huge world with lots of stuff in it. Whether the graphics satisfy you or not is your opinion of course.

Avatar image for iandizion713

@Def-Trex: True, but it doesnt have millions of NPCs and Pokemon Trainers running around. But Monolithsoft would be the studio to talk too, they are very good with that MMO feel.

Avatar image for Karmazyn

Pokemon is better than division....yeah right.

Avatar image for Def-Trex

@Karmazyn: It's a better fighting game than
The Division that's for sure

Avatar image for guyondainternet


Apples are better than Oranges....yeah right.

Avatar image for Sound_Demon

@guyondainternet: More like Bananas and Turtles...

Avatar image for Def-Trex

@Karmazyn: Id play this over Division any day, but I never did like Ubisoft games

Avatar image for crunchb3rry

@Def-Trex: Not even Prince of Persia: Sands Of Time? The first three Splinter Cell games? Those are classics! I do agree though that Ubi has gotten so big that they really slacked off on quality control though. Whereas even EA has been trying to improve their own. Ubi needs to slow it down a bit. Put out an Assassins Creed every other year, instead of yearly. Maybe make a new pirate IP out of Black Flag's gameplay...throw a little Sid Meier's Pirates and Port Royale into it.

Avatar image for Def-Trex

@crunchb3rry: Prince Of Persia was ok but I never liked Splinter Cell too much. The only Ubisoft games I remember really liking were Beyond good And Evil and RS: Vegas. I watched my roomate play The Division quite a bit and yeah it's not for me.I don't mind grinding in games but not shooters, not my cup of tea.Rather play a real RPG or a non-open worls FPS.Im pretty tired of open world.

Avatar image for Karmazyn

@Def-Trex: each to their own. i dont mind pokemon games and I dont mind Ubi games.

Avatar image for Skat0rzZzz

@Karmazyn: Right, yeah

Avatar image for Karmazyn

@Skat0rzZzz: pikachu?

Avatar image for Yomigaeru

@Karmazyn: Pika pi.

Avatar image for Skat0rzZzz

@Karmazyn: Kazuya, actually

Avatar image for Karmazyn

@Skat0rzZzz: Kazuya Mishima or Kazuya Nakai?

Avatar image for Skat0rzZzz

@Karmazyn: Rather Mishima. Who's yours?

Avatar image for Karmazyn

@Skat0rzZzz: Mishima of course, this was easy choice :)

Avatar image for Skat0rzZzz

@Karmazyn: *you're-god-damn-right.gif*

Avatar image for guyondainternet

Biased review. Doubt was paid for this time though guy just sounds like a fanboy.

Pokken Tournament More Info

  • First Released Mar 18, 2016
    • 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.
    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
    Fighting, 3D, Action
    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