When I was a kid playing Pokémon, I’d imagine the battles quite vividly in my head. They actually looked closer to what I saw in the anime series than the mostly-static images on the Gameboy at the time. As I got older, I started wondering if the game was ever going to look like what an actual Pokémon battle would look like. Even though we had Pokémon Battle Arena and Pokémon Stadium/Colosseum, they were still turn-based affairs that mimicked the main series battles, impressive as they looked at the time. Introducing Pokkén Tournament, a game that combines the one-on-one battles of Tekken with the world of Pokémon. We’re not here to catch them all, but we are here to beat every other trainer’s Pokémon into submission. Go, Review! I choose you!
Pokkén Tournament takes place in the Ferrum region of the Pokémon world, and for those of you who are following such facts, it’s not yet clear where on the world Ferrum is, and how far or near it is to Kanto, Johto, Unova, or any of the other regions for that matter. What’s unusual about Ferrum is that there are stones that give the trainers a closer tie with their Pokémon. This tie, called Synergy, allows a trainer to not only battle Pokémon, but also call support Pokémon in when they’re needed. Your guide through Ferrum is Nia, and she happily teaches you everything you need to know about the game. Within the game’s region, there are several locations that equate roughly with game modes, including the Ferrum Stadium, My Town, and the Dojo. In particular, My Town is where you customize your avatar and buy gear for said avatar. No gear for Pokémon here, I’m afraid! Thankfully, when you fight a Pokémon of the same type, there’s a subtle colour change to show you who’s Pokémon is who’s.
If you’re at all familiar with Tekken, you should acclimatise to Pokkén Tournament with relative ease. The battles themselves have two phases of play: field phase and duel phase. Field phase allows your Pokémon to roam around the arena, pulling off ranged attacks and calling in support as needed. Duel phase brings the action up close, and more closely resembles the traditional 2D fighting games. A single battle will phase shift a dozen times as you score hits, or as hits are scored against you. Obviously, it becomes important to understand when a phase shift happens, because if a shift happens against your favour, you’ll want to shift it back to gain an advantage. Winning earns you money, and earns experience for your chosen Pokémon, allowing it to get more powerful, faster, and tougher. You’ll need these perks if you want to walk away with the grand medal at the end of the Arena mode.
This is all highly technical fighting, which is what Tekken is famous for. Thankfully, Pokkén Tournament comes with a fairly comprehensive tutorial that takes you through just about every sort of attack, block, counterattack, support call, and phase change you can handle, and then some. There’s a lot here, and simply button mashing won’t get you through the game, although it might see you through the early stages. In terms of support, you can call in one of around 30 unlockable Pokémon (you initially start with a roster of six). Defeating challengers in the Arena does the trick. One of the most powerful sets of attacks unlocks with the Synergy gauge, which charges up as you fight. Once it’s charged you can push your Pokémon into its Mega Evolution form, giving it some crazy powerful attacks. Things is, if the attacks don’t connect, you end up wasting this powerful opportunity to defeat your foe. And if you pull it off, it’s nigh unstoppable once it gets going. In addition to the dojo, there’s also a practise arena, allowing you customize every aspect of the battle so that you can train yourself to handle whatever situation you may find yourself in. Learning how the “attack-counter-block” triangle works is important here.
The roster of battlers themselves is currently limited to 16 (14 from the start: you unlock the remaining two during the Arena championship), but the differences between each Pokémon is not just cosmetic: each Pokémon behaves better under differing circumstances. Some are better distance fighters, while others prefer to get up close and in your face. Some are ridiculously fast and wily, while the slower ones pack a wallop like being hit with a small continent. There’s something here for everyone, and you’re better off playing as all of them at least once to see what style fits your personal mode of play.
Although you can fight against CPU players in the Arena to obtain medals and unlock new support Pokémon, you also have the option of local and online battle. Local battle supports P2 on all control types, while P1 plays on the GamePad. Online battles were fairly straightforward, and if you don’t connect to human player within a few seconds, the game starts a CPU match for you to play while it continues looking for an opponent. The matchmaking was fair, and you seem to be matched with opponents of similar ability in terms of online win/loss ratios. Naturally, if you exhibit the results of many hours of practise, you’ll be matched with more and more skillful opponents. In terms of online, you could go for glory in the ranked battles or just play for fun. You can also play against specific friend if you have their codes stored in the Wii U. I didn’t spot any options for spectating matches, sadly. Oh, and happily, the game takes care of rage-quitters with all sorts of penalties, so GG Nintendo.
For a fighting game, I honestly didn’t expect to see this much stuff, or this level of technical fighting in a Pokémon game. It certainly takes itself very seriously, and of the fighters I’ve played against online, they take it damn seriously too. It’s a brilliant game to put in front of the Pokémon audience, if only because it offers the kind of visual spectacle the main series games can’t. While you can’t travel the Ferrum region (for now! Who knows, maybe a future Pokémon game will allow us to explore it!), the game offers much in compensation. If you like your battles to be more than just four commands, you’re going to love this. Pokkén Tournament also offers the most realistic-looking Pokémon I’ve ever seen, and on the Wii U they’re absolutely beautiful. Think you have what it takes to take down Pokémon in one-on-one battles? Come find me online. I’ll be waiting.