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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 SoulScribe

That mega mewtwo special attack was an explosion the size of multiple countries... I know it's for show, but that is just ridiculously absurd.

Avatar image for Fia1

@SoulScribe: lol.... that's not ridiculous, there are pokemons like arceus that can strike in a multiversal level, and shadow mewtwo has enough power to destroy a planet, doing a multi-country level attack is nothing to him

Avatar image for Smosh150

@Fia1: I think he is meaning because of the arena size. Such as the attack was the size of a few countries, but everything is fine in the battle location with the only thing changed being the competitor incapacitated.

Avatar image for Fia1

@Smosh150: yea but look at it this way, if a pokemon can be this destructive, why it can't have a destructive animation for a super power? it's kinda like having a guy that can destroy the moon but in his best move he only cracks the ground, that would be a turn off... honestly

Avatar image for Smosh150

@Fia1: Understandable, too bad this doesn't have the setup of lets say the DBZ games. Where the map changes with certain actions. That would be nice, but it would be a bit inconsistent with the game.

Avatar image for GiveMeSomething

@Fia1: how to u think if mewtwo x is that powerful?

Avatar image for Fia1

@GiveMeSomething: mega mewtwo x or y should be able to destroy a couple of islands, but shadow mewtwo the above portrayed is way strong than mega mewtwo x or y, and soooo much stronger than base mewtwo

Avatar image for jdlok

Leave it to Nintendo to craft (another) exemplary fighting game while the pS4 fighting game is as bare bones as they come. Nintendo wins, again, and again, and again.

Avatar image for goodgamesguy

@jdlok: Pokemon is a completely different world and a different type of fighting game all together and yeah too bad the PS4 has 10 times the games library of the WiiU hahaha. SFV is still a great fighting game, and this Pokemon game does look kinda cool. Just enjoy your game no reason to bring PS4 owners into you're discussion it just makes you look stupid.

Avatar image for metallinatus

@jdlok: PS4's fighting game is better than Xone's, though....

Avatar image for ditronus

@jdlok: the dust that's gathered on my WiiU for the last four years sure doesn't symbolize Nintendo winning anything.

Avatar image for Sakina

@jdlok: define "bare bones"? Guilty gear xrd sure didnt feel bare bones to me.

Avatar image for boerew0rs


Isn't Barebones a Pokemon?

Avatar image for handofkain

@Sakina: I think he was talking about SF5

Avatar image for bunchanumbers

wow! What a surprise. I'll have to definitely pick it up. I'll most likely enjoy this more than Smash. Hopefully they add Snorlax though.

Avatar image for dariomeznari

16 charachters...great

Avatar image for lastofus234

Still waiting for the ufc 2 review. Any body played it yet ?

Avatar image for RogerioFM

@lastofus234: Check again.

Avatar image for lastofus234

@RogerioFM: must of been put up just before I wrote that haha

Avatar image for FBohler

Got it, Capcom?

Avatar image for dfernand

Better than Street Fighter V !!?

Avatar image for PrpleTrtleBuBum

@dfernand: This clearly has more content and is in better working order at this point. As this is made by Namco and compared multiple times to Tekken I don't think can really complain about the fighting either. Pokemon-skinned Tekken vs Street Fighter, business as usual

Avatar image for Undertow207

Metacritic tells a different story of this game. lol

Avatar image for Random_Matt

@Undertow207: So what, the best game of all time in my opinion wasn't considered a masterpiece. Like i give a shit.

Avatar image for iandizion713

@Undertow207: Im not sure, Metacritic says a lot of the same stuff. Some did find it too complex though.

Avatar image for Undertow207

@iandizion713: Except for the 9 mixed reviews and an overall score of 75. I guess we'll see when more reviews pour in.

Edit: 9 mixed reviews

Avatar image for iandizion713

@Undertow207: 7 is still good. Look at all the reviews above 7. Not only that, read them, they all say the game is awesome and a lot of fun. Yeah, i predict the score will go up.

Avatar image for ericklobos

@iandizion713: btw it just went down again 74....just saying. But in the end it doesn't matter, the number it is just a number. I have bought games that had 6 in the past, just because I am fan of a series. ( but I waited until they went cheaper)

Avatar image for iandizion713

@ericklobos: Yeah i think that number will go up, we only have 20 reviews so far, which is super low.

Avatar image for Stebsis

@iandizion713: Read them? But I thought we just look at the scores and complain when everyone doesn't give it the same number!

Avatar image for Undertow207

@iandizion713: I tend to go off the overall score based off many critics. Sorry that I don't look at Metacritic reviews with rose tinted fanboy goggles.

Avatar image for abHS4L88


Such stupid logic, sounds like to you you don't want to listen to any reviewer that gives a high score to a game you deemed unworthy, in which case there's no point in looking at reviews, you just want negative reviews to use as an excuse to bash a game.

Avatar image for Undertow207

@abHS4L88: Or, I have read both positive and negative reviews and averaged them out. Stupid logic would be to base a $60 game off one man's opinion (Gamespot) - If you can't deal with that, I don't know what to tell you. Also: quit acting like you know me, Dr. Phil.

Avatar image for abHS4L88


Then don't act like you personally know all the reviewers because saying something like "Sorry that I don't look at Metacritic reviews with rose tinted fanboy goggles." says that you made this assumption about them most definitely because they gave a game a higher score than what you think the game is "allowed" to have. THEY have played the game, you haven't.

Avatar image for Undertow207

@abHS4L88: LOL - You really take this criticism thing seriously, don't you? It's like you can't cope with other people having different opinions than you. Also: Most of what you just said was completely nonsensical and asinine, literally caused me to face-palm, multiple times.

Avatar image for abHS4L88


Oh? I don't recall ever saying you can't have your opinion of this game (even though it's strictly based on reviews). Once again, you saying that you pay no attention to reviewers with "rosetinted fan boy goggles" actually proves that you have a problem with someone having a different opinion than you so really, the only thing you should be "face palming" over is your blatant idiocy.

Avatar image for Undertow207

@abHS4L88: Once again, you've completely missed the point of the "rose tinted" comment. Which isn't surprising, since you don't seem like a very intelligent individual. The comment was directed towards readers/fanboys (not reviewers/reviews, obviously) that ONLY look at the positive reviews and ignore the negative. When did I ever say I ignored positive reviews? I eagerly awaiting for your side-stepping reply. Until then, I'll continue face-palming at yet another nonsensical comment you've pulled out of your butt.

Avatar image for abHS4L88


My comments aren't "nonsensical" just because I misunderstood what you said but I made a mistake so my apologies.

Avatar image for iandizion713

@Undertow207: And thats cool, but your missing out on greatness. Some of my favorite games score averages of 7 and 8's.

Avatar image for Undertow207

@iandizion713: I'm sure I'll live with Quantum Break, Dark Souls 3 and Uncharted 4 right around the corner.

Avatar image for bunchanumbers

@Undertow207: What'll you do if they have metacritic scores that average to 7s and 8s?

Avatar image for iandizion713

@Undertow207: And ill be playing fun games while you wait.

Avatar image for Undertow207

@iandizion713: Fun is subjective. Pokemon stopped being fun to me 20 years ago.

Avatar image for bioswat

When did not-being-casual-friendly become a minus to games? I'm sick of reviews that make hardcore mechanics a minus in review round'up and easy access is plus. I mean sure everybody wants to play, but hard mechanica don't make a game worse. With that stupid logic let's give Street fighter 3, Guilty Gear Xrd and others 0/10 because they're not so newbie-friendly. People became such pussies

Avatar image for pointingmonkey

@bioswat: Games have become a lot easier over the last few years. I remember completing COD 2 on veteran difficulty and it was a real slog in places. Yet when I played COD Ghost on veteran it was a complete cake walk. I actually had to check a couple of times to make sure I was actually playing on veteran. I not one who likes games to be a complete controller breaking grind, but they've definitely reached a point where it feels like they are holding your hand more of the time than not.

Avatar image for DanZillaUK

@pointingmonkey: I've noticed that too with other titles. Like Fallout, 3 on the hardest difficulty I had a few niggles with, but Fallout 4 is so simple I too check the game difficulty at times just to make sure it didn't accidentally go around in a circle and pop on to Very Easy.

Avatar image for DoomSky

You can play as a haunted chandelier that giggles like a school girl.

Thats gotta be worth £40 right?

Avatar image for RogerioFM

@DoomSky: As good of a reason as any, better than most in fact.

Avatar image for charizard1605

Looks great.

Avatar image for snaketus

I need this game into my life. Too bad Nintendo's fucked up Youtube politics prevents me to buying it at full price...

Avatar image for hotdiddykong

I find it funny that people originally gave this game a lot of negativity for being at EVO and thinking it would be a kids baby game.
Yet here it is with a very deep core fighting system that overwhelms most people, it definitely deserves to be at EVO

Avatar image for Epak_

Oooohhh, I might get this!

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
    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