For around 20 years now, many people have been using Pokémon to participate in turn-based battles – after all, the games have proven to be some mighty fine RPGs, with a whole community dedicated to competitive battling. However, I’m not here to talk turn-based battles, or even RPGs. No, my focus here is on a fighting game, which just happens to feature a roster of Pokémon as playable fighters.
Pokkén Tournament is what happens when you allow Bandai Namco Entertainment to create a fighting game based on Pokémon. Now whilst the title does sound similar to Tekken, this game is actually its own beast.
Much like many other traditional fighters, battles are played out one-on-one. When you first start the game, you have a selection of fourteen different Pokémon to play as. Another two are unlocked as you play through the game, with a certain amiibo card included with first-print copies of the game allowing access to one of those Pokémon.
Already you can see that the roster is smaller than Super Smash Bros. for Wii U & Nintendo 3DS, but the worth of a fighting game should not be judged based upon how many fighters are available. The Pokémon that are available are quite varied, with your usual suspects such as Pikachu and Lucario to some rather unique choices like Chandelure and Suicune.
Plus, each Pokémon has its own set of moves – so though we get Pikachu and Pikachu Libre, both electric rats play in their own unique styles. When you select your Pokemon, you can see the type of fighter they are – normal, technical, speed and power.
Anyway, when you first start up the game you are greeted by Nia, who plays the role of advisor. She’ll be on hand to explain each mode when you first start them, and she will also cheer your Pokémon on in battle to give you a slight boost.
One of the first things you’ll do in Pokkén Tournament is choose your Partner Pokémon (oh, and set up your profile). There’s no pressure here – you can freely change who your partner is at any time, just as long as you aren’t in the middle of a tournament or a battle. For me, I started with Garchomp, but now Gardevoir is my choice – though I have advanced far enough through the game’s story to have access to a Pokémon #150 – err, on the National Dex, at least.
So your fourteen options for a Partner Pokémon when you first start the game are as follows; Blaziken, Pikachu, Lucario, Gardevoir, Pikachu Libre, Gardevoir, Gengar, Machamp, Braixen, Chandelure, Suicune, Weavile, Charizard and Garchomp. The Partner Pokémon only really affects the Ferrum League mode – you’ll have to choose your fighter before participating in any of the other modes. Each Pokémon has their own set of stats, so some have more HP than others for example.
A few more Pokémon appear in the game as well, as ‘Support Pokémon’. These are pairs of Pokémon that can aid you in battle – whenever you start a new fight, you have to choose one of them to be able to call in when the Support Gauge has filled up.
Support Pokémon come in three flavours: Attack, Enhance and Disrupt. As you might expect from Attack-type Support Pokémon, they deal damage to your opponent. Enhance-type Support Pokémon offer boosts to stats, or restore HP – those kinds of things. Disrupt-type Support Pokémon can deal negative statuses to your opponents, or just interrupt their attacks and combos.
Battles are one-vs-one affairs, and the controls are simple. A, X and Y are your attack buttons, with B to jump. Pressing a direction together with one of the attack buttons allows you to use different moves, and you can guard against attacks with the R button.
Attacks can be broken down into three different types: normal, counterattack and grab. Normal attacks beat grabs, grabs beat counterattacks and counterattacks beat normal attacks – a rock-paper-scissors setup here. Obviously, you’ll want to use the Attack Triangle to your advantage to deal out damage to your foe.
Fights have two phases – Field Phase and Duel Phase. Field Phase allows you to run around the arena freely in a 3D plane of movement, and it’s where you’ll see lots of projectile attacks.
Dealing enough damage, or hitting your foe with certain attacks, whilst switch things into Duel Phase. This locks you in to the more traditional 2D plane of movement – forwards and backwards, which is where you’ll be performing combos to rack up the damage. You can also switch out of this phase when you cause enough damage or perform certain attacks.
The L button calls in your Support Pokémon, as long as the Support Gauge is full. There is also the Synergy Gauge, which fills up as you deal and take damage.
When the Synergy Gauge is full, pressing the L and R buttons together uses Synergy Burst – this is something of a super mode (this is where Mega Evolution occurs for those who have it) that increases your Pokémon’s abilities. If you press the L and R buttons together again during Synergy Burst, you’ll unleash an impressive super attack that deals a lot of damage – providing your opponent doesn’t block it.
Type advantages are of no concern in these battles – feel free to tackle a Suicune wtih Charizard, and don’t fear fairies when using a dragon.
On the main menu, you’ll see several options available. These are Practice, My Town, Ferrum League, Single Battle, Local Battle and Online Battle.
Practice is probably the best place to go into when you first start the game, as Nia will offer you a few tutorials that will explain how the game works. As with many other fighting games, you also have Free Training.
Also available are the Action and Combo Dojos. The Action Dojo has you perform each move for your chosen Pokémon, going through their movelist. Combo Dojo allows you to practice performing combos, with each Pokémon having six for you to clear. Whilst it can be handy to learn these, enough practice will see you forming your own combos.
My Town is where you go for all your customisation options, as well as your Battle Record. The Battle Record keeps track of all your battles, whether they be online or offline, as well as several other things.
Profile Settings is where you can make alterations to your profile. You can choose you in-game name, customise your avatar, set a title for yourself and change your trainer comment.
As you play through the game, you’ll receive Poké Gold and items after battles. You can buy different hairstyles, clothes, accessories, backgrounds and effects using Poké Gold, as well as earn them through battles.
Titles are also earned through playing the game. Some are unlocked by achieving certain conditions, whilst others are just handed out randomly.
Your trainer comment is selected from a set of pre-existing comments – there’s a fair few to choose from, so you’ll likely find one that suits you.
Pokémon Settings is where you select a Battle Pokémon as your partner, allocate skill points to your Battle Pokémon and select your Support Pokémon sets.
As you battle, the Pokémon you’re using will gain experience and level up. When this happens, you gain a skill point that can be assigned to one of four stats: Attack, Defence, Synergy and Strategy. Attack and Defence speak for themselves. Synergy increases the duration of Synergy Burst and increases the boost that gives you to attack and defence, whilst Strategy shortens the charging time for your Support Gauge and enhances support effects.
For Support Pokémon, you can choose three sets. During battle, you can only choose one Pokémon from one set to support you, so it’s worth ensuring that it goes well with your play style.
Advisor Settings is where you can change Nia’s cheer, outfit and how often she talks to you.
Nia’s Cheer Skills can boost your Synergy and Support Gauges during battle, and you can select specific cheers that will focus on one or the other, or even both.
Whilst it’s not the same level of customisation as your avatar, you can change Nia’s outfit – of course, you have to unlock them through playing single-player mode. It’s just a cosmetic effect, though I guess it does make it more personal towards the player.
Ferrum League is where the single-player campaign takes place. You will participate in several leagues in this mode, beginning with the Green League. In each League, you have to participate in League Matches to work your way up the rankings.
Once you hit top eight, you can participate in a tournament. Securing victory ina tournament will allow you to take a Promotion Test, allowing you to rank up if you claim victory.
As you work your way through the leagues, you’ll also have to deal with a certain shadowy foe – this is what the story focuses on. There’s a part where the Ferrum League is put on hold whilst you deal with the threat, but there’s nothing stopping you from playing the other modes.
Single Battle is exactly as it says – you fight a CPU opponent, with whatever settings you like. Simple stuff, really.
Local Battle is a two-player mode. However, for two players to play locally, you’ll need the GamePad for one and another controller for the other. Fortunately, Pokkén Tournament is compatible with several different controllers.
Of course, the best option for multiplayer battles is Online Battle. This allows you to challenge people from all over the world. You can participate in Ranked or Friendly Battles – just don’t disconnect during a fight, or you’ll receive a penalty – Nia warns you of this the first time you access the mode.
As you can see from the boxart towards the top of this post, Pokkén Tournament is compatible with amiibo. However, this functionality isn’t really anything unique – you can just scan any five amiibo per day to earn items and titles.
There’s also the Shadow Mewtwo amiibo card, which gives you access to the Pokémon himself. However, you can’t set him as your partner, therefore you can’t use him in Ferrum League. Still available for everything else, though.
Pokkén Tournament is a really enjoyable game, and definitely well worth a look if you’re a fan of Pokémon, fighting games or both. It’s a new take on the fighting genre, that manages to keep at least part of it traditional. The fact that it will be making an appearance at the Evolution Championship Series (or just Evo) should clue you in to the fact that this fighting game probably will have a strong competitive scene.
Of course, you don’t have to play competitively to enjoy this game. There’s plenty of information there to help newcomers out, and let’s face it; a lot of people are going to try out this game because it’s Pokémon, and not because it is a fighting game.
With a grand total of 16 Pokémon on the roster, naturally there are some people who would like to see some DLC for this title. Whilst I can’t say whether or not we’ll get any, I can certainly share my opinions on which Pokémon I think should make the cut.
When considering potential DLC, the first Pokémon that I thought of was Scizor – it could be a speed type, taking advantage of its speed to deal out multiple hits. It’s Bullet Punch could also be used to snatch priority.
When considering the more unique Pokémon available like Chandelure, I’d like to think that Porygon-Z could be a possibility – I’ve always like the Porygon line of Pokémon, and it would be interesting to see how what is effectively a computer glitch would play.
There’s also a lack of Water-type starters available, so I think that void could be filled with Greninja, or Feraligatr if you’d prefer one that wasn’t in Smash Bros..
Less seriously, I think it would be funny to see Wailord as a playable Pokémon- you know, the biggest Pokémon there is.
Considering the sheer number of Pokémon, everyone’s gonna have their own thoughts on which ones should be playable fighters – and their own reasons for why. Once again, I don’t know whether the roster will be expanded or not, but there’s nothing wrong with a harmless bit of discussion.
So yeah, Pokkén Tournament – if you’re into Pokémon, buy it. If you’re into fighting games, buy it. If you’re not into either of those things, then this isn’t really going to appeal to you.
Still, definitely a welcome addition to the Wii U’s library, and the fighting game genre in general.