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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 
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.

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ethanm1834

Cool for Nintendo. Not a pokemon or a fighting fan, so I'll be skipping this, however nice to see for those fans.

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raugutcon

I´m not a fighting game aficionado but this one looks great.

Avatar image for Smosh150
Smosh150

I need a Wii U just for this now. That and I really need to get back into Pokemon.

Avatar image for vigariox
vigariox

@Smosh150: Have you played Pokemon X/Y?

Avatar image for Smosh150
Smosh150

@vigariox: No. I have only played Red, Blue, Black(or White, I forgot as it was my friends), and spinoffs like Arena. Aside from remembering all the spinoff games those are the only ones I have played.

Avatar image for vigariox
vigariox

@Smosh150: Then you have missed the best ones in my opinion. Pokemon X/Y is a blast to play with a whole load of new Pokemon and better graphics. It's the same formula but with a lot more to do and a lot more Pokemon. Don't bother with the latest Omega/Sapphire though, they are kind of boring unless you are a diehard fan.

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Smosh150

@vigariox: What about HeartGold? Was looking around and I have heard it is a good point to jump back into things.

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Smosh150

@Smosh150: Actually, my brother just gave me his 3DS with Pokemon X. Didn't even realize he had it lol.

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vigariox

@Smosh150: Pokemon X is a thousand times better than HeartGold, and since you have it now, you can see for yourself :)

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Marky360

This game looks amazing guess it's time to buy another Wii U maybe this time won't sell it. I am how ever highly disappointed at the lack of Hitmonchan and Hitmonlee in this game especially Hitmonlee because you know he would fight like Law from Tekken hell yea.

Avatar image for PrpleTrtleBuBum
PrpleTrtleBuBum

@Marky360: And Chan would be Lei?

I would have liked to see the whole Machop/Machoke/Machamp trio but yea. And Hypno would be great....... A wishlist that doesn't end before there are 600 Pokemon and absolutely no balance

Avatar image for mike468
mike468

@PrpleTrtleBuBum:

If they actually support the game with DLC characters, i could see at the very least 60-100 characters being the final roster size.

Avatar image for PrpleTrtleBuBum
PrpleTrtleBuBum

@mike468: Perhaps they could, but knowing the community I really doubt they would be able to do that. Sakurai was just telling how stressful it was when every character decision they made was faced with heavy criticism. That exact same would happen here and probably be heavier.

"WTF why you stupid idiots added Kabutops wtf no one wanted that we all wanted Primeape you retards! I hope you're kids die!! "¤/@£4@"

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stevo302

And all we want is a 3D fully open version of the original game.

It's been 20 years. Stop f***ing about.

Avatar image for Def-Trex
Def-Trex

@stevo302: Open World games are getting pretty played out.Im sick of them.

Avatar image for PrpleTrtleBuBum
PrpleTrtleBuBum

@stevo302: Atleast this is something new

Would 3D and free camera in the original really change that much? Atleast Pokemon Colosseum on Gamecube sort of tried it and it wasn't so special. Fully open? Pokemon has never been fully open, apparently because that would be boring.

Now if they created a new sort of GTA-DarkSouls-MMO-pokemon game I might be convinced to be excited.

Avatar image for Bread_or_Decide
Bread_or_Decide

@stevo302: That would all but destroy sales of the game on handheld. No way would they mess with a winning formula.

Avatar image for boerew0rs
Boerew0rs

Did we run out of decent VOs Gamespot? I really like Tamoor, but I wouldn't quit my (silent) day job if I was him.

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Tamz

@boerew0rs: I think he has a great voice. It's quite soothing. Little bit too much bass but that's not a big problem.

Staff
Avatar image for boerew0rs
Boerew0rs

@Tamz:

'Tamz'?? Tamoor, is that you??

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BrazPrince

@boerew0rs: Dammit now you scared him away!!!

edit: Lolz

Avatar image for Tamz
Tamz

@boerew0rs: *runs away*

Staff
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gamerboy100

@Tamz: Dammit, @boerew0rs! You were supposed to weaken him, then throw a Pokeball!

Avatar image for Tamz
Tamz

@gamerboy100: *Tamz got away*

Staff
Avatar image for metallinatus
Metallinatus

Wii U has the two best fighting games of this generation....

Color me surprised.

Avatar image for PyreofKoL
PyreofKoL

@metallinatus: Not to mention previous gen greats like Injustice and Tekken Tag 2.

Avatar image for brazprince
BrazPrince

And SFV wept... Lmaoo i wanna try this so baddddd

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BonzaiBillie_99

Tamoor... are you a pokemon fanboy? Not trying to be rude, Im curious.

Avatar image for bonzaibillie_99
BonzaiBillie_99

WTF??? somethings not right here...

Avatar image for handofkain
handofkain

@bonzaibillie_99: what do you mean?

Avatar image for bonzaibillie_99
BonzaiBillie_99

@handofkain: All the footage Ive seen of this looked so incredibly bland & mediocre. Not to mention, Pokemon is honestly a lame franchise. The only GOOD pokemon games were the originals when they were released back in 1998 (and Yes, I purchased the Blue Version and played the s*** out of it when I was 10 years old). Anyone who suggests Pokemon is a vibrant quality franchise, is looking at the world through Pop-Culture/Nostalgia colored glasses. Its baby food. And dont get me wrong. I LOVE Nintendo. Mario games are still top-tier. But Pokemon was honestly NEVER that good. And this game recieving a 9, makes me think Tamoor is the kind of fellow who occasionally adorns himself in an ironically cool f***ing Pikachu t-shirt. (No offense Tamoor. Im sure youre a nice fellow, Im just critiquing your taste)

Avatar image for Sound_Demon
Sound_Demon

@bonzaibillie_99: "Pokemon is honestly a lame franchise". Yeah of course one of the most popular and successful with the widest fan-bases would be "lame".

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IP6O

@bonzaibillie_99: cool story bro

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Super_Tramp

Oh how I miss the days of Monster Rancher..

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RSM-HQ

From the same developer that make Tekken series, I'm suprised some gamers would question how good a fighter this is. It was clearly in the right hands.

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Sound_Demon

@RSM-HQ: People are looking down on whatever they feel they can look down on.

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Ditronus

If only it wasn't on WiiU. I regret buying that console.

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Metallinatus

@ditronus: You never bought the console.

Avatar image for ip6o
IP6O

@ditronus: Cool story bro, i'll be enjoying this game because good games make a console and the Wii U has plenty of them.

Avatar image for Stebsis
Stebsis

@ipsofact0: No, no. It's the super powerful hardware that makes a good console, that's why I bought PS4 and X1... oh, wait...

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grin89

a better game than the division? it actually does look pretty good.

Avatar image for handofkain
handofkain

@grin89: Are apples better than oranges?

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grin89

@handofkain: I like them both but have neither and can only pick one, so which one should I get the one with higher score would be the logical choice no?

Avatar image for rogue81
rogue81

@grin89: It's a matter of taste. As shooters go, The Division is really geared more towards team based mechanics. While it's possible and still fun to play solo, enemies are bullet sponges that are meant to be tackled as a team. My experience so far has shown me that there are a lot of people that think it's another Call of Duty where a headshot automatically drops the bad guy. They rush in, get swarmed and die. It takes some of the fun out of it.

Avatar image for mike468
mike468

Awesome. Been playing Pokemon yellow the past few weeks and pre ordered this recently. I'm a huge fighting game fan, but haven't really followed much news on the game.

Sounds great, and sounds like it is more robust than SFV. Also glad to hear there is an online mode. Something I was worried about with it being a Wii-U game.

Hopefully we get some DLC characters at some point, as I would love to see: kadabra, zapdos, jolteon and umbrion in the game.

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