The latest title to release on the Wii U and the first collaboration between Bandai Namco and the Pokémon Company, Pokkén Tournament is a fighting style game and a spinoff of the main Pokémon series. The game came out on March 18th 2016 and is available on the Wii U and as Arcade. My review today will be of the Wii U version.
Pokkén Tournament is set in a new region called Ferrum. The region is a literal fighting ground for Pokémon and their trainers who fight in a best of three rounds battle with a single Pokémon, and two support Pokémon that can be called during the fight. The region is relatively unknown and very little is said. You will be given a quick tour and will be sent to do the tutorial after which you will be free to do what you want. The battles themselves will take place in one of the 19 locations that you will be able to unlock during your time in the game. However, these locations are only accessible after you’ve battled at the specific location in the Ferrum League. The locations do offer a lot of variety and the playing field will change based on the location, however they do not bring anything else to the fight as could have been expected of a location inside a volcano. This is definitely not a Super Smash Bros. game.
The game does keep similarities with the Tekken series however, it is not as technical and does rely more on actions. Pokémon have their own moves based on the series and have access to mega evolution, which was introduced in Pokémon X and Y. It is accessible after filling the synergy gauge which fill up as you receive hits and hit the other pokémon. Pokémon with changed appearance due to mega evolution will also have that appearance in Pokkén Tournament. A feature not seen in the previous Pokémon games is a special attack that comes with the mega evolution and let you unleash a devastating combo on opponents if it is not evade or blocked. The attack is only usable once per mega evolution and you will need to fill back the synergy gauge before you can repeat the attack in a new mega evolution. The game does allow you to do as many mega evolutions as you want in a round but you will be limited by the speed at which the gauge fills and the time limit of a round.
The game offers a selection of 16 Pokémon to battle that two of which are unlockable by completing the Ferrum League. Popular Pokémon such as Gengar and Charizard are available and others like Chandelure and Gardevoir are rather unexpected. Unfortunately, the list includes similar Pokémon even if they offer different moves and a different type of play; Pikachu and Pikachu Libre as well as Mewtwo and Shadow Mewtwo. The game is missing some Pokémon that would have felt more appropriate like Hitmonlee and Hitmonchan. The Pokémon you can select as your partner will be part of one of the four categories: standard, speed, power or technical. These categories identify the strong point of the pokémon and a style of play that would be more appropriate. The game also let you chose a duo of support pokémon which will help you during your battles. These duos cannot be changed and must be selected before the start of a fight. You can only call one of the Pokémon during a round and it is only when the support gauge has filled. They will have various effects but unfortunately, you could finish a round without ever having the occasion to call on them. Between each round you will be allowed to select which of the support pokémon you want assistance from until the next round. These duos are also unlocked while completing the Ferrum League.
Another feature is the cheer skill that activates based on the effect it should provide. These cheer skills can be changed in your customization options and will unlock as you compete in the league. Each skill is different and provides a bonus that will effect either your support or synergy gauge or both. The NPC that provide the cheer is also the one accompanying you during your journey in the region. You will be able to change her appearance at the town where everything else can be changed. Talking of customization, your avatar or rather the trainer you play can be customized by changing hairstyles, clothing, background and other accessories; as well as select a title and a catch phrase. You will be able to select the gender and the face of the trainer before you start the game but otherwise your options are rather limited. While this is expected for an arcade game, the Wii U version could have used a bit more love.
There are no major storylines to the game. You will come to discover Shadow Mewtwo during your competition in the Ferrum League and what surrounds this new version of Mewtwo but otherwise it is very bare of anything else. There is no lore available anywhere and it is rather disappointing. The game could have used an adventure more that brings you to compete in the league instead of forcing you through sets of five battles in each league then making you compete against three more trainers in a tournament style setting to finally get a shot at the league master so you can upgrade to the next league. It is a very repetitive process and the game will usually reuse the same pokémon repeatedly. I must have battled Pikachu and Lucario 10 times more often than the others and I barely saw a Braixen or a Chandelure being used. The randomness of the choices could have used a bit more work.
Figthing itself is not bad and very action based. You act and react a lot to what your opponent is doing and you do not have to think too much to what you should do. Some part of the fighting does use a rock, paper, scissor type of focus with grabs, counter attacks and normal attacks. You will also use aerial attacks as well as ground attacks and the directional keys will provide different attacks. The game uses the dual phase system that is similar to Tekken but you get used to it rather quickly. The controls are rather simple otherwise and the screen on the gamepad does not provide any additional feature. You will see the same thing happen on the gamepad as on the screen and the touch function was disabled so you will need to use the arrows to navigate.
Pokkén Tournament also offers local and online battles as well as single battles and a practice area. Online battles can be played in friendly or ranked matches and the friendly matches can be used to play against friends. Local battles are between two players, one playing on the gamepad and the other using the TV to fight with either a pro controller or a Wiimote. Single battles and local battles allow you to play basic battles or extra battles. Basic battles follow the normal rules while extra battles will have items appearing that will affect you or your opponent with various effects. The music and sound effects are what you can expect from a fighting game. They are very upbeat and closely related to most Pokémon games. The game also supports the use of Amiibo. They unlock customization items or currency for customization items. You can use up to five Amiibo a day and if you were lucky to get a first print edition, you will also get a Shadow Mewtwo Amiibo that will temporarily unlock Shadow Mewtwo.
While I did have a lot of fun playing, it remains a disappointing experience with the lack of a story mode. It leaves behind many of the RPG style elements that are usually associated with the series even if your Pokémon does level up and their stats can be adjusted.
Overall, I will be sinking quite a few hours in Pokkén Tournament but it will not replace Super Smash Bros. for me nor will it be a must play title for the Wii U. The title will be present at the EVO championship in Las Vegas, Nevada and will also feature a championship. Pokkén Tournament is a nice new experience for the Pokémon series but is still lacking and will still need a lot of attention before it becomes what a great new entry in the series. Maybe DLCs or a new title will see the day if sales are high enough. We can only hope.