Pokemon is a series of game that needs no introduction. Either you are an adult who grew up playing them or your kids are currently playing them and annoying you with random sounds made by the Pokemon. Pokemon has survived the test of time, and over the years has branched out into a number of different avenues. We’ve seen games where you take pictures of Pokemon, games where you play as pokemon in a dungeon, but the most common offshoot are the arena style games where you take control of a Pokemon and battle against others. Pokken Tournament is Nintendo’s latest foray into this type of game and there is a lot of press surrounding it and it’s focus in the competitive scene. With the increased graphical capabilities of the Wii U, is there enough here to warrant a purchase or is this another offshoot to skip while we wait for another proper Pokemon release?
If you’re new to Pokemon, all you need to know is that it involves a trainer (your character) finding “pocket monsters” (Pokemon) out in the wild and training them to do battle. Ethical questions aside, this game focuses on the fighting aspects only. When you begin the game, you’ll be able to make a trainer and choose a favorite Pokemon that you will begin your journey with. A few intro tutorial missions are available to teach you how to play the game, but they are pretty basic and just walk you through the controls of your chosen Pokemon. When you finish with the tutorial, you’ll move on to the single player portion of the game, which has you battling against NPC opponents as you rise through the ranks in each tournament. The single player offerings are noticeably weak, but that doesn’t seem to be the main focus here. The game is built around online play with single player options available for learning purposes. The true challenge will come when you go online against other trainers.
The gameplay itself can best be described as a fighter. If you’ve played Street Fighter or other games of that nature, you’ll know what we’re talking about. The gameplay is similar in that you’re main goal is to beat the enemy into submission using special moves and combos, but there are key differences. For starters, the gameplay is much easier for newbies. This is a game that is perfect for newbies to a fighting game. Instead of needing to input complex button combinations, you can instead just press a direction and a button together to unleash a devastating special move. This doesn’t remove all complexities of the battle, you still need to know when to use certain moves and understand how they can counter others the enemy may be using, it just makes it a bit simpler to wrap your head around. This is also perfect for little ones that are playing their first fighting game and could work to introduce them to the very complex world of fighting games. Starting off simple with buttons and directions is a perfect intro to the more complex games out there that they’ll be playing in the coming years.
The flow of the battle is also something that is unique to the world of fighting games. You’ll begin each match in a “Field Phase” where your character has full range of the circular battlefield you’re in. When enough damage is done to either Pokemon, you’ll transfer to the “Duel Phase” where the gameplay is in a familiar 2D envrionment like you would see in Street Fighter. The change is fluid and the battle will continue and switch between phases based on certain battle conditions. When you do enough damage to the enemy (or vice versa) the battle will conclude with a victor and a second round will begin. Best of 3 decides the winner, much like in many other fighting games. There are some other differences sprinkled into the gameplay as well including the ability to use support Pokemon that come out for a short time to either damage or heal and the ability to use a powered up mode that relies on a synergy gauge that increases your attack power for a brief period of time. This mode also opens up the ability to do a powered up attack once that will leave your opponent devastated from the attack if it hits. All in all, there is a lot to like here with some very basic gameplay that can be learned quickly but mastered over many long gameplay sessions.
Another thing that is a bit unique in this fighting game is the way you can level up your Pokemon. After every battle, you will gain experience for your chosen Pokemon which you can then use to upgrade them to how you see fit. With 16 included Pokemon (some well known, others I had never seen before) you can spend a lot of time upgrading them however you see fit. My go to character was Charizard while my son let his obsession with Pikachu dictate all of his choices. I’m sure more will be added in the future, but the initial roster includes enough diversity to keep your changes in characters feeling like unique choices rather than different skins.
While the single player offerings of Pokken Tournament are very small, the true focus of the game is on the multiplayer. The netcode is solid and games occur seamlessly without any hiccup or lag. The amount of time I spent online was enjoyable and I even found myself winning in some of the matches (something that is very rare with Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat). There is no voice chat, so kids will have a good time playing against online opponents, although be prepared for some truly talented players to wipe the arena floor with you. That’s with any game though and who knows, maybe you or your kids will become experts at the game in due time.
While there isn’t any online chat, there are ways to differentiate yourselves from the rest of the crowd. As you play the game in both single and multiplayer, you’ll unlock coins that can be used to access novelty items in the game store. These items will unlock clothing and other personal touches you can put on your trainer’s portrait. It’s not much, but it’s a nice addition to include in a game, especially if you enjoy playing dress up with your characters.
There is a lot to like in Nintendo’s latest Pokemon offshoot, but only if you enjoy online play. There isn’t enough here for single player fighters and your time spent will become monotonous after you battle NPC after NPC with the changing scenery and flavor text the trainers spout as your only noticeable differences. I really wish there was more of a single player game here because I think that is something that a lot of non-online playing fans enjoy (like myself). With that said though, the game truly opens up when you go online and battle other human players, so if that isn’t your cup of tea, I’d recommend looking elsewhere unless you’re a die hard Pokemon fan. But even if you aren’t the biggest online gamer in other fighters, the Nintendo approach to anonymity and player safety with the lack of voice chat makes this a safe space for younger gamers or newbies alike. In the end, you need to ask yourself whether you’re a die hard Pokemon fan, in which case you probably already bought the game, or if you enjoy playing online. Your answer to those questions will dictate your willingness to purchase this game.
Review code provided by Nintendo