When Pokken Tournament initially launched on the Wii U it released at the worst possible time. The Wii U was beginning to lose what little steam it had left and the console was starting to become forgotten in the collective. I suppose for many, including myself, Pokken Tournament fell off the radar and missed completely. However, with the popularity of the Switch has given new life to forgotten titles and opportunity for Pokken Tournament DX. Since I’ve never played the initial release, I’ll be writing this review from the perspective of a new release.
Considering the name is a portmanteau of Pokemon and Tekken, it would be natural assume that the title shares similar fighting mechanics to Namco’s legendary fighting series. However, as someone who has played a great deal of Tekken, I can safely say Pokken Tournament is a different breed of a fighting game from its more established cousin. If you come into Pokken Tournament assuming it will play like Tekken you will be pleasantly surprise how different it is. In Pokken Tournament DX there are two distinct phases which are interchange depending on the actions of the players. In field Phase, players can freely control their respective Pokemon in a 3D plane more align with the Dragon Ball Xenoverse. Here the focus is primarily on movement, evasiveness and zoning. Once a zone is broken, Duel Phase is initiated which is more in line with the traditional 2D fighter perspective.
While I admire the effort to bring a unique twist to the fighting genre, its success is fairly limited. I found the field phase too uninteresting. To me it was a lot of spamming projectiles, dodging and weaving around to close distance between the opponent in order to initiate the duel phase. The action itself in this phase is dull. My primary desire was to always enter Duel phase as this was the most fun aspect of the game, where the action was the most concentrated and the visuals most spectacular. In my honest opinion the game would be much richer in experience if they had forgone the field phase entirely and simply presented the duel phase as the core system.
Unlike Tekken, Pokken foregoes the huge number of inputs opting for a small list of movesets for each Pokemon. As a result, the game is more accessible and accommodating to new players. However, that is not to say this is a casual affair, while the entry point maybe lower in comparison to the established franchises, the skill ceiling is high and if you want to be decent then time in the lab is necessary. From my perspective, Pokken is a great fighter to learn the fundamentals of timing, spacing, punishing and matchup knowledge as it’s simplification highlights the core principals of the genre. I found the training mode to be particular helpful in adjusting to the fighting mechanic. It’s a great introductory point to learn the basics as it effectively teaches the combo’s for each fighter. Having a good set of combo’s under my belt eased the learning curve and made the experience more enjoyable in the early hours of the playthrough.
Much like every contemporary fighter in the market, Pokken Tournament provides admirable amount of game modes and content to pad up the value of the game. Standard affairs like Arcade mode are all here and it even offers daily events that encourage players to return to play. However, much like every contemporary fighters, the value of the title is entirely dependent on how well a game encourages a competitive scene and how much a player wants to invest into being competitive. If you are a casual player of fighting games, I believe Pokken Tournament offers little value to you. You will play for a week and will never pick it up again. However, for fighter aficionado’s, Pokken tournament offers enough depth, core fundamentals and serviceable online to make it worth your time. If you are willing to invest time into the title, there is plenty of value here.
Perhaps my biggest gripe with Pokken tournament DX is that it never offers anything beyond good. With so many fighters out in the market, it does not reach the level of exceptional that it competitors offer. It never demonstrates why fighting fans should play this game over say… Super Smash Bros, Tekken or Street fighter. I just couldn’t help but feel underwhelmed and unimpressed with what is offered. It doesn’t have the same excitement, the same thrill and the same level of fun you have you would with the upper echelon of the genre. It is a game that is content with being good but never pushes to be great. Those clutch moments so synonymous with the genre are just so few and far between here. Perhaps what I’m really getting at is that Pokken Tournament is not nearly as fun in comparison to its competition.
Arguably the biggest draw for Pokken Tournament DX is the Pokemon powering the title. For a first entry, Pokken Tounrament DX offers a respectable roster of 21 playable fighters. The developers did admirable job to not overfill the selection with fighting types as a result you are able to play Pokemon of all shapes, size and type. Fan favorites like Mewtwo, Charizard and Lucario all make a welcome appearance. Lesser names such as Croagunk, Gardevoir and Braxen are given spotlights. I particularly enjoy using Pikachu, his likeness to Kazuya had me drawn to the electric rodent from the start. In addition to the fighting roster, there are dozens of support Pokémon which can be called upon during battles to offer assistance. There is restraint in using the Pokemon influence to balance the game on more player skill, so the developer should be applauded.
Don’t get the wrong impression from this review. Pokken Tournament is a solid title and there is nothing inherently wrong or broken about it. I did have fun with the game and if you are looking for a solid fighting title on the go then you can’t go wrong with the game. It ticks all the right boxes from the core fighting mechanics, fundamentals and value. However, if you are looking for the next Street fighter or Tekken, you’ll be a little disappointed with what is in offer.
Images courtesy of Nintendo