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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 AzatiS
AzatiS

Is this a joke ? Tell me your joking ?!! 9/10 for this ? When i first saw the score i was eager to watch the review so i actually see the game in action since im fan of Namcos fighting games more or less...

And i saw this ! As a veteran in fighting genre since the infamous Street Fighter 2 on arcades i just cant see how this is an AAA game by any means !! I dont now who the heck did the review but what can i say ! We will see when metacritic score is up from all critics if im right or wrong.

Avatar image for RogerioFM
RogerioFM

@AzatiS: Street Fighter 2 infamous? Care to share what you've been smoking?

Also, if you don't know who the heck did the review, it would do you some good to actually read the thing to the end, since this info is slightly below the review itself. Cheers

Online
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AzatiS

@RogerioFM: Yes infamous in a good way ( thats what people were calling it but they couldnt stop playing it and was infamous in arcades because majority of people lost interested in everything else for a long time in arcades than SF2) . Back in early 90s there wasnt anything close to SF2 , unseen , unheard of ... You were seeing 20 people on all other cabinets in the room and 100 in the line to play SF2.

Now , gtfo and lets see what Metacritic says , this is not an AAA title , there not one in a million to be one.

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RogerioFM

@AzatiS: Infamous - well known for some bad quality or deed.

English is not my first language, but I think you're not using the right words.

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AzatiS

@RogerioFM: Ok !

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RogerioFM

@AzatiS: You're welcome.

Online
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Stebsis

@AzatiS: So it should be scored lower solely because it's not on that AAA status in production values like something like Ubisoft or Sony games for example?

Avatar image for AzatiS
AzatiS

@Stebsis: Gameplay wise , backgrounds , the overall quality of title as of animations and all ... nothing screams AAA ! Lol ! What Ubi and Sony has to do with this review ? Metacritic in 2-3 days from now , check it.

Avatar image for Stebsis
Stebsis

@AzatiS: ...I don't understand what you're meaning with AAA, but these days it basically means just high budget games which likes of Sony and Ubisoft make, and bunch of others. This is obviously not as high budget, I certainly wouldn't consider this AAA but that doesn't mean it's a lesser game because of it

Avatar image for AzatiS
AzatiS

@Stebsis:

I will try to explain it to you as simply as i can.

Lets say this game wasnt Pokemon game , was something else but was the very same game. What do you like about it ? Gameplay , graphics ,animations , backgrounds , sound FXs , soundtrack ? What in your opinion excels so much in the game from what youve seen in order for this specific game to be AAA ? Because we know for a title to be AAA it needs to really stands out not only vs competition ( same genre games ~) but as individual game as well.

Name me few things that got you excited let alone that standing out VS other popular A/AA fighters let alone other genres MAJOR AAA titles in order for it to stand next to them like a boss ?

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Elk

@AzatiS: Street Fighter 2 is infamous? I really liked that game.

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AzatiS

@Elk: Infamous in a good way because back then everyone didnt play anything else than it lol ... People were starting to judge SF2 for that reason alone.

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Elk

@AzatiS: Doesn't infamous mean well known for a bad quality?

Avatar image for AzatiS
AzatiS

@Elk: Well yes though i was speaking about arcades when many people were judging SF2 that wasnt that good in order for them to wait in line like tens of people were doing it . So my bad , wrong word i guess

Avatar image for hotdiddykong
hotdiddykong

@AzatiS:

It looks more like the problem is that you set your AAA standards a bit high there buddy.It's a solid game, with fantastic graphics, a very deep fighting mechanic that mixes both 2D and 3D Fighting with a lot of content! It looks like a formula of a fantastic game to me.

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AzatiS

@hotdiddykong: Nope , youre are wrong. My standards are ok... I speak the truth based on what i saw from review and the feel game gave me along with all details reviewer gave me ... This game , is nowhere near AAA and all start with gameplay. Guys , youll see in a day or 2 on metacritic.

Lets not talk about fantastic graphics and deep fighting mechanic please ... Dont do this ... Its fun , its great but .. AAA caliber ? Ehmm , ok !

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cboye18

Hahaha Pokemon beating even SFV? My charm for the series won't ever go away.

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ericklobos

@cboye18: Check other reviers too. Nowadays is better to check other sites, or even metacritics. The game is not as good as GS says it is. I was planning to buy it, and I got all happy, until I did some research ...it has an average of 75, and GS review is the highest. :( .... anyways, that doesn't mean the number means anything, but other reviews mentioned deficiencies. In any case, I guess if you are a fan of the series, you won't probably care.

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Elk

Nice one Tamoor!

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RogerioFM

Not a pokemon fan, but I would play this game.

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Bread_or_Decide

take THAT street fighter V LOL....beaten by Pokemon hahahaha. Nintendo rules!!!

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aigis

@Bread_or_Decide: Well technically you should be thanking Bandai Namco

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iandizion713

@aigis: Or we just continue to thank Nintendo, thanks to Nintendo asking Bandi Namco to make the game for us. Nintendo has to get third party the hard way.

But yeah, Bandi Namco is awesome, they helped a lot with many Wii U games.

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aigis

@iandizion713: Bandai Namco has been on the bandwagon for a while. They helped develop Smash 4. You can thank Nintendo for asking somebody competent in the genre to take over the licence

Avatar image for iandizion713
iandizion713

@aigis: Many helped out in Smash Wii U, including Hal Laboratory. Pokken Tournament is thanks to the Pokemon CEO, Tekken dude, and Soul Caliber guy getting together and brainstorming Pokken. Then its thanks to Nintendo for greenlighting it and paying them to make it.

Nintendo has always done this. They also tried to pay Criterion studios to make an F-Zero game, but they turned it down.

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kingtrace

"Those blocking high are vulnerable to sweeps, while those who block whilst crouched can be hit by standing attacks."

As far as I'm aware Pokken doesn't have this mechanic.

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Tamz

@kingtrace: Ah, I phrased that poorly. Feel too deep into the general fighting game style comparison. Have fixed.

Staff
Avatar image for BrunoBRS
BrunoBRS

oh wow, i wasn't expecting it to score nearly that high. still need information on how good or bad local multiplayer is.

PS: now i'm picturing machamp going "AAAAATATATATATATATATATATATATATATATATATATA"

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Tanares

lol my Pikachu beat up your Ryu...

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iandizion713

Great review, its details the accessibility very well. Its good to see the characters feel so much different also, i think will go a long way to help immersion. I have to agree the physicality is stunning, this game is very appealing on the eyes, i cant imagine what it feels like while playing it.

I think many Pokemon fans will share that same criticism of only having 16 fighters. While it does seem like a lot, Pokemon fans are very accustomed to trying to catch them all. They love so many, so adding more will be good way to continue support and keep it hyped.

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brn-dn

This game gave me the impression that it didn't have a lot of content. Bad marketing I suppose.

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Bread_or_Decide

@brn-dn: No, that's street fighter V with the lack of content. This game has a 12 hour single player campaign.

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Fandango_Letho

@Bread_or_Decide: Are you salty about SFV or something? You keep bringing it up.

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borelarox

A Nintendo game getting a 9? You must be new here.

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trugs26

Good to hear Wii U getting solid exclusives in its final year.

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IP6O

@trugs26: source?

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trugs26

@ipsofact0: Pokken and Zelda U.

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FBohler

@trugs26: it's a shame I didn't get into the tablet controller thing. But if the NX is BC and a straight forward solid console, I'm going back to Nintendo!

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trugs26

@FBohler: Here's hoping for NX.

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meedokicky

Good! In some way, this makes me more hyped for Tekken 7!

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iandizion713

@meedokicky: Yeah, i enjoyed Tekken Tag 2 a lot on Wii U. I hope Nintendo gets another Tekken.

Avatar image for meedokicky
meedokicky

@iandizion713: I don't own a WiiU myself, but yeah why not :) I am a long time Tekken fan, and though I play other fighting games, nothing comes close to Tekken for me.

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soupbones

No mention of the local 2 player setup? I heard it's limited to one player using the gamepad, the other gets the tv.

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BrunoBRS

@soupbones: this is what i want to know. local multiplayer is the dealbreaker for me. i don't mind if one player needs to play on the gamepad, i wanna know if the system doesn't drop frames during it.

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DoomSky

@BrunoBRS

Local multiplayer drops the FPS from 60 to 30 and yes one of them uses the gamepad

Im getting it for the local play too so I hope the fps drop isnt too jarring.

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iandizion713

Holy crap, if Gamespot gives a Nintendo game a 9, that means its a 13/10. Im gonna have to read this review.

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Ice12Tray

@iandizion713: They gave one a 9 last week too!

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AttackOfTheCat

HYPE!!

Wanted a Pokemon Fighting Game for ages - Gengar and Machamp for the win!

Avatar image for Acillatem1993
Acillatem1993

Wii U & Wii U & Wii U, 3 TIMES THE POWER!!! Game looks nice btw. =)

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