For the uninitiated, Pokkén Tournament is a mash-up of Tekken and Pokémon (hence the name). The game borrows its basic format and some mechanics from the iconic Tekken series (although you can see the DNA of several different fighters in there if you look hard enough), which isn't surprising as Bandai Namco handled development of this combative title.
Taking direct control over a Pokémon was first introduced in the spin-off series, Mystery Dungeon. As that title suggests, the emphasis of these games is mostly about navigating through dungeons, using turn-based moves as you go. In Pokkén Tournament, you're once again in direct control of a Pokémon, but this time there's no polite waiting your turn; this is a no holds barred, combo-throwing punch-em-up!
The game takes place in an all-new region, known as the Ferrum Region (Ferrum is Latin for "iron", a reference to Tekken, which means Iron Fist in Japanese). The main menu consists of a map of the Ferrum Region with six locations to choose from. My Town (Old Ferrum Town) is where you can change your settings and the appearance of your avatar. Single Battle (Teilur Town) allows you to play against the CPU in a single-player game, whereas Local Battle (Selen Island) let's you take on friends (multiple controllers required). In Online Battle (Neos City) you can fight trainers all over the world. Ferrum Stadium is where the official Ferrum League is held, but first you'd be wise to visit the Practice area (Techne City) and learn how to beat your opponents to a pulp.
During the introduction your Pokkén Tournament, you meet your Advisor; a female trainer who teaches you moves, throws in hints and tips, and cheers you on. Eventually, the constant cheering and even the tutorial can become a little annoying. Luckily, you can choose to skip everything and jump straight into some button bashing action in Teilur Town. If you're struggling (as there is a lot to take in at first), you are free to come back to the Practice area whenever you like without having to worry about time limits or HP.
In the majority of Pokémon games, you'll play through a storyline and have access to hundreds of Pokémon to capture, train, and battle. Pokkén Tournament focuses on battles alone, with the ultimate goal being to win your way through the Ferrum League. Instead of capturing creatures, you get to choose a Pokémon Partner to team up with: Blaziken, Pikachu, Lucario, Gardevoir, Pikachu Libre (yes, another Pikachu, but this one wearing a Mexican wrestling outfit!), Sceptile, Gengar, Machamp, Braixen, Garchomp, Charizard, Weavile, Suicune, and surprisingly, even Chandelure (the chandelier Pokémon). One slot is empty, which Nintendo has revealed is reserved for Mewtwo. The never seen before mysterious Shadow Mewtwo will also make a first appearance. Nintendo has announced that the first-run version of Pokkén Tournament will include an Amiibo card to unlock Shadow Mewtwo straight away. Players who miss out on the limited edition Amiibo cards can still unlock Shadow Mewtwo by fighting their way to the top.
Knowing Nintendo, more Pokémon will (hopefully) become available in the future through the use of Amiibo cards and/or special events. Wishing for all 700+ pocket monsters to make an appearance in Pokkén Tournament may not at all be realistic, but we can dream.
Besides the main characters to choose from, there are also three sets of Support Pokémon to pick from: Emolga and Fennekin, Snivy and Lapras, Frogadier and Eevee. You cannot control these teams directly; only call them forth during battle to aid you with a powerful attack before they leave the arena to recharge. As you win more battles, many more assist characters become available, including fan-favourites such as Nintetales and Sylveon, and even Magikarp.
You can switch your Pokémon Partner and supporting team as many times as you please. When battling, your Pokémon will earn Skill Points, which you can allocate to its Attack, Defense, Strategy or Synergy stats. You can change these stats whenever you want, which prevents you from being stuck with impractical Pokémon in your team.
In the original Pokémon games, you'd have a huge advantage over your opponent when your Pokémon was of a stronger type (water-types overpowering fire-types, electric-types overpowering water-types, etc.). In Pokkén Tournament, all Pokémon can be classified as one of four types (Normal, Power, Speed, Technique), but no Pokémon is hugely overpowered, giving everyone an equal chance of winning.
Newly introduced to the world of Pokémon is Synergy; it's battle energy you build up during a match. Once you've built up enough, you can activate your Pokémon's Synergy burst, unleashing its strongest moves.
Besides XP, you also earn Poké Gold (PG) with each battle. PG can be spent on customising your avatar, from a moderately generous number of outfits, accessories and hairstyles, to changing your greeting message to other players. You can even customise your Advisor, from her appearance to her cheers.
We don't often see Pokémon in 3D, but when we do the emphasis has always been placed on them being cute and cuddly creatures. In Pokémon Amie we can play puzzle games, pet our beloved pocket monsters, and feed them copious amounts of cutesy cupcakes that would make anyone vomit rainbows. In Pokkén Tournament, they're depicted in a much tougher and more realistic style. Thanks to the fluid movement we actually see them landing punches, and rather than merely watching the HP bar go down, we see (and hear) the pocket monsters getting hurt, making the battles here more intense.
The dramatic new look may not be to everyone's liking, but we think it suits the style of the game well. Along with the great character design comes atmospheric arenas, and whilst the stages don't have much effect on the battle, they do add to the overall experience.
Overall, we thought the movement animations were excellent, and it's certainly a lot more fun to see a Pokémon battling up-close. Basic controls are simple; you move around with the D-pad, jump with B, R Shoulder blocks attacks and L Shoulder calls in your Support Team. Use X for a weak attack and Y for stronger attacks, and of course you have special attacks and combos, which are easy enough to master. Those familiar with Tekken may even discover a few signature moves performed by Pokémon.
There's a Field Phase where players must use ranged attacks. Landing a powerful attack means the action moves into the Duel Phase, where things get a bit more Tekken-like. There's different tactics needed for each phase which ensures fights change in feel. During the Duel Phase the camera draws in, forcing more confined confrontations, further differentiating the two sections of the battle.
While Bandai Namco's long-running fighting series focuses on more complex combos and timing (there are still combos and the like here, but none of them felt overly complicated), Pokkén Tournament is a lot more forgiving, allowing players of all skill levels to enjoy themselves. When battling the CPU in single-player mode, you can follow the fight from both your television screen as well as the Wii U GamePad.
Of course the main draw in fighting games is the option to play against your friends in local multiplayer, and this is where Pokkén Tournament disappointed us a little. Unless you have the luxury of connecting two Wii U consoles on two different televisions, only one player will be able to follow the fight on the television screen whilst the other is stuck with the Wii U GamePad as there's no split-screen mode. Whilst it seems a brilliant solution to make use of the extra screen on the GamePad instead of split-screen, sadly the GamePad screen can be blurry and we even noticed some moments where, during chaotic exchanges, there were frame-rate drops.
According to the official Nintendo webstore, an official Pro Pad created solely for Pokkén Tournament will see release soon. The Pro Pad closely resembles a SNES controller, but don't get too excited: due to the lack of split-screen, only one Pro Pad can be used at a time, forcing somebody to use the GamePad. No matter how you look at it, the multiplayer is always a slightly unfair fight, especially with a game that relies on timing and where any lag could mean defeat.
Online fighting is a feature that we think will prove popular - especially since becoming the very best could grant you an invitation to the Pokémon Championships in San Fransisco, California, along with the promise of $100,000 worth of prizes. Along with the 3D graphics, these championships bring the Pokémon franchise more to life than ever.
Pokémon fight. That's what they do, and we've known it all along - it's one of the core elements of all Pokémon games. Therefore, a crossover with the fighting genre feels very natural. Being in direct control of your Pokémon and experiencing combat from a first-hand perspective makes the game a lot more intense than the turn-based fighting systems we've seen in previous titles. Combined with easy to learn mechanics and smooth graphics, it's a very accessible game for players of all ages and skill-levels to enjoy.
Whether or not you're familiar with Tekken doesn't matter, Pokkén Tournament works fine without any previous experience with the fighting genre, making it a great starting point for younger players. Similarly, if you're not particularly interested in Pokémon but do enjoy titles like Tekken, this is still a solid fighter. It might be accessible, but there's also enough complexity to its systems that even experienced players will find a challenge waiting for them.
As expected the online multiplayer is indeed an exciting, not to mention addictive addition to Pokkén Tournament. And there's no need to win the elusive Ferrum League or level your Pokémon first - online multiplayer is accessible for anyone at any time.
You can pick between Ranked Matches or Friendly Matches, the latter solely for fun and not affecting your overall standing, with an added option to battle a friend by adding each other's VS Code.
Ranked Matches are serious battles against ready-made opponents - win enough of these and you will ascend to the glorious Win Ranking; a hall of fame depicting the 250 best players in the world.
A big plus is that Online Battles are worldwide, meaning there will be players online at any time (our first opponent was Canadian) and no endless queues waiting for a match. Global play certainly enhances the competitive nature of the game. At the time of writing, the current top three are players from Spain, France, and the Netherlands respectively.
We feared rage-quitting could potentially be a problem, but the game has a simple solution for that: the person throwing in the towel prematurely will get punished by paying Poké-Gold as a penalty. A great solution that keeps the majority of people in the game.