I think it’s safe to say that most gamers my age (a gentleman never asks and a lady never tells) remember Pokemon Stadium pretty fondly. I’ll never forget some of the moments I had battling Pokemon on the schoolyard, a bunch of kids huddled around an epic battle tied by a Gameboy Link Cable; but due to the limitations of the Gameboy, so many of the gaps needed to be filled by our collective imaginations. Pokemon Stadium made those visions a reality; however, I always felt that it was lacking in something. Realistically, all we ever really played were the mini-games so what we got was a Pokemon themed Mario Party, when what we really wanted was .Admittedly, I’ve never actually played Tekken at any point in my life, (not owning a PlayStation 2 ‘till well into my teens, I only knew the big two: Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat), so I couldn’t discern how Pokken is similar to Tekken outside of the name. However, what I can tell you is that on its own, Pokken is a fun, albeit clunky fighter.
Pokken plays like most fighters: use a variety of punches, special attacks and super moves, but with a few interesting twists. The first is the Battle Phases. Each fight starts in a 3D plane where characters can move freely to either attack or close the distance to their opponents. Once you land a particular kind of attack, the perspective shifts to a 2D plane and fights commence like your standard fighter. It’s an interesting concept that keeps the fights engaging as well as contributing to the aesthetic of traditional Pokemon battles.
What makes Pokken Tournament particularly fun is its challenge to learn without being needlessly complex. Small things like what attacks break counters or grabs, different stances, and specials offer fighting fans can have a lot to learn and master, while still offering basic combos and easily executable specials that make it accessible to anyone.
As players fight they will earn experience to level up their Pokemon. As Pokemon level, they will earn points that can be allotted to different skills, making every player’s Pokemon and play-style unique. I quite enjoyed this homage to Pokemon’s RPG roots; however, much like Pokemon it’s easy to get caught up using one Pokemon and leaving the rest of your roster in the nosebleeds, which means a lot of grinding if you want to keep your roster fresh.
Players can also choose support Pokemon to call in during fights to either attack their opponents directly or provide various buffs and debuffs to players and opponents respectively. It’s a welcome addition that not only provides more variety to fights, but also an extended cast of Pokemon without bogging down the main character roster.
Speaking of the roster, there are a lot of interesting choices out of the 16 available Pokemon (15 excluding Shadow Mewtwo that comes as an Amiibo Card). There’s a little something for everyone as characters range from Charizard, to Suicune, to Gengar. While it’s refreshing to see the roster not completely overrun by fighting-type Pokemon, it is a little odd that only three of the available characters were traditional fighters. It would’ve been interesting and welcomed to at least see Hitmonchan and Hitmonlee join the fray.
What Pokken Tournament really lacks is overall polish. While the controls are tight, animations are solid, and sound design is great, it just feels like something is lacking. It was a shame to see grainy shadows, plastic-looking Pokemon, and lacklustre effects when the WiiU is capable of smoother textures and better designs. And the English voice-acting is particularly abysmal. Lines are delivered with no enthusiasm and feel totally inorganic. Do yourself a favor and switch to the Japanese voice options.
Much like Hyrule Warriors, I still don’t understand how a game like Pokken Tournament wasn’t made sooner considering the core of Pokemon’s gameplay is in its fighting, and Bandai Namco has turned so many popular animes into tournament-fighters. This could’ve been a hit even back on the N64. While it is a little rough around the edges, it’s an interesting fighter and a welcomed addition to Nintendo’s collection of one first-party fighting games. Both Pokemon fans and fighting-game fans will find something enjoyable with Pokken Tournament.
Plus it’s got a luchador Pikachu. What more do you want?