You thought it was safe, didn’t you? You thought, “Oh, that two-week long Pokémon Week celebration is over, 13/31 is back to regular content!” Am I right?
You. Thought. Wrong.
Pokkén Tournament is out now. So of course I had to buy it and review it. Because… I don’t know. Because I wanted the game and figured I’d review it in the process? Because there’s not enough Pokémon content on this blog (there probably is)? Because I can?
Mostly that last one, really.
You know, for such a hotly anticipated and long-desired game, it released to very little fanfare. It dropped on March 18th, and I probably wouldn’t have even known except my Wii U gave me a notification that it was out. There hasn’t really been an influx of content on Facebook or Tumblr or anything. It just sort of came out and now people can play it. I’m a little disappointed, actually, that I haven’t seen it all over the place.
For those of you not in the know, which I imagine isn’t a whole lot of you, but at least some of you, Pokkén Tournament is a Pokémon-themed fighting game. It’s a cross between Pokémon and the Tekken games. Hence the name. Ah, puns. I know, I know, you already fight in the regular Pokémon games, but I mean a fighting game like Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat, except, you know, with Pokémon, and without the comically large amount of gore that comes with Mortal Kombat. There’s a decent-sized roster of characters, a total of sixteen playable characters and fifteen pairs of support Pokémon for a grand total of forty-six Pokémon characters appearing as part of the gameplay; this doesn’t include Pokémon you can see in the background of the arenas, such as the Whirlipede you can see on the treadmill in the Training Gym stage.
Not all of the characters make perfect sense, mind you; I mean, Chandelure? Really? It doesn’t even have any limbs!
And I did find it odd that they chose Braixen over Fennekin’s final evolution, Delphox. A middle evolution doesn’t necessarily scream “fighting prowess,” though I’ll have you know that Braixen is my current partner Pokémon and we wrecked the Green League like no one’s business. Not that I want to brag, but… but actually, you know what, I do, I don’t get to do it very often and dammit, I’m taking advantage of the opportunity. We burned through the tournament, pun intended, without a single loss. My Braixen has a 100% win rate, thank you very much.
Speaking of odd choices, Generations 2, 4, and 5 didn’t get their starter Pokémon used at all, while Generation 3 got two of its starters in the game. Feraligator and Typhlosion would both have fit in quite nicely, as would Infernape and Emboar, though any of them could have fit given that Suicune and Chandelure were made to work. And I’ve seen people point out the exclusion of Hawlucha, while making Pikachu Libre a character specifically for this game… in addition to regular Pikachu. One can only hope for DLC characters, though I don’t really expect that to happen, in all honesty. Even if I hadn’t just found this article saying Nintendo has no plans for DLC, I would have been surprised if they released any.
Character choices aside, the game is good. It’s really good, actually. It’s not just a clone of every other generic arcade fighting game, like you might have expected, although I’m not sure if the actual arcade version is basically just that. Since I haven’t played that version and don’t have access to it, I’m going to be specifically addressing the console version of the game. Sorry to any arcade purists out there (is that at thing, even?). Anyway, there’s a lot of depth here, even if there’s not a huge amount of originality (some, but not a whole lot). After all, it’s not easy to add new ideas to a genre that’s literally just “beat the hell out of the other dude until they fall down dead/knocked out.” As far as the complexity of the game, I’d say it’s on par with Street Fighter, from what I’ve played of that series, but the catch is that Pokkén Tournament actually teaches you how to play the game with an extensive tutorial that I actually haven’t finished. There’s three basic lessons that teach you how to move around, attack, block, counter, use specials, that kind of stuff. And after those you unlock two more lessons for advanced skills. There could be more after that, I don’t know. I haven’t played the advanced tutorials yet. They actually take up a decent amount of time, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I mean, yeah, it can get tedious and boring and like just let me play the game. But in the long run, it’s really good to go through it, because then you’ll actually know what you’re doing. Whereas, I have Street Fighter IV on 3DS and almost never win any fights because I have literally zero idea what I’m doing. You can’t button mash there, you just get your ass kicked. You could probably button mash in Pokkén Tournament and come out ok, but it’s much more interesting and enjoyable when you’ve actually been taught how to play the game properly and with knowledge of the mechanics.
As for originality, like I said, there’s not a whole lot. The alternating close-up/free moving battle style is interesting, though I don’t know if it’s been done before; the special move and support character system, however, is certainly nothing new. What is new, though, is the leveling system (because what kind of Pokémon game would it be if you couldn’t level up?). The only other leveling system I’ve seen in a fighting game is with amiibos in Super Smash Bros. 4, and the games in that series are basically a fighting game genre of their own. It’s an interesting mechanic, though I don’t think I’ve noticed any appreciable difference in my gameplay despite Braixen hitting level 10 already. But like I said, it wouldn’t be Pokémon without it, so even if I don’t notice anything changing, I’m happy to have it. In an interesting twist, for a game, you actually choose what stat grows at each level, so you can fully customize your partner P as it suits your play style.
Story-wise, there’s not a whole lot going for the game, at this juncture. Which isn’t really a bad thing. I’ve played a fair number of fighting games — Dead or Alive: Dimensions, Street Fighter IV, multiple Mortal Kombat titles. All of them have plots worked into them. I don’t remember any of the stories. Fighting games aren’t really a good medium for storytelling, because honestly, all we want to do, as players, is beat the hell out of each other. Maybe I don’t speak for everyone, but I personally don’t really care all that much about the story (though Dead or Alive at least tried to tell it well, forcing you to use certain characters as they pertained to the story in the dedicated story mode rather than slapping together an opening and closing for each character and pretending there was a story told in between). So given that, you can probably see why I’m not overly concerned about the story in this game. There just isn’t really a need for it, and I’m not playing the game to be told a story. I’m playing it because I’m a sadist who enjoys committing violent acts against colorful pixel images.
When it comes down to it, Pokkén Tournment is a solid fighter that offers a lot of fun and at least partially fills a void Pokémon fans have been feeling for a long time now. It may not be the best fighting game ever made, and certainly not everyone is going to be happy with the character choices. But it doesn’t do anything wrong, and it’s nice to have a fighting game that falls somewhere between button-mashing and infuriatingly technical. I feel like this is a game where you’ll actually be able to feel yourself improve over time, without really grinding at it like you would have to with something like Street Fighter. Or if you’re tired of hearing me rag on that one for how hard it is, then like Skullgirls, which I haven’t played but I’ve seen played, and it’s crazy to watch in action. If I weren’t actually watching the screen, I would probably have had a hard time telling if my friend was playing a game or furiously writing code.
One other thing, before I wrap up. It’s a minor thing, but I noticed that the creators of Pokkén Tournament seem to come from the Capcom school of numbers; I used Machamp in a regular non-“story” battle and watched his special move net a combo of 1000 hits. Similarly if you’ve ever played Tatsunoko vs. Capcom, you’ve probably seen the damage counter show an absolutely ludicrous amount of damage. I’m not positive that either of those numbers fully correspond to what’s actually going on in the fight, though I suppose Capcom’s damage scale could just assign insanely large numbers to even minimally damaging hits.
Pokémon fan or fighting game fan, you should at least take a look at Pokkén Tournament. It’s an awful lot of fun, and has a surprisingly deep level or strategy. It’s designed so that it’s suited for both competitive players familiar with technical fighting games, and casual players who might not be as familiar or skilled with such games but just want to play a Pokémon-themed fighter. It’s the first console game I’ve bought in quite a while — in fact, I haven’t bought a console game since I picked up Hyrule Warriors last August or September, I think it was. Given the cost of games these days, buying one that isn’t on sale on Steam is a big step. I can say with certainty that I’m happy with my choice, though. No buyer’s remorse here!
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