Developer: Bandai Namco
Pokémon has been around for years in many different forms. Even people who don't know the general premise of Pokémon, can recognize it's characters by name when they see them on T-Shirts. With Pokkén Tournament, fighting game enthusiasts will now have a chance to experience battling with these characters with traditional (and not so traditional) fighting game mechanics.
Before we begin, I must make it clear that I am not, nor will I ever be, a Pokémon fan. The original games never appealed to me, and by the time I expressed some interest, I became confused with the amount of different Card and Video Games that were out there. I went into Pokkén Tournament not as a fan of Pokémon, but as a fan of fighting games, and I can safely say I was not too disappointed with what I saw.
You will begin the game with your adviser Nia, as she shows you around the World Map. After a lengthy tour, she advises you to complete a series of Tutorials before you jump into battle. These Tutorials will help you understand the fighting mechanics as they can be a little awkward when compared to other 1 on 1 fighters. You first enter a "Field Phase" where you have free run of the entire fighting ring. Here you can land a series of different ranged attacks on your opponents. The moves are not complicated, and sometimes a mere button press can launch your opponent into a 5 hit combo with little effort. After landing some good hits, the game with shift into a "Dual Phase". Here, the battle is more close quarters similar to Tekken and different moves and combos are at your disposal. A battle can change hands quickly in this phase if you are not careful. Like before, a few well placed hits will shift you back into Field Phase to allow more ranged attacks. The more you battle, you will level up the Pokémon you choose and increase their stats, also earn money to unlock more gear for your avatar. After you do some free battling, you may want to jump into a few tournaments to increase your rank and enter higher classes for more challenging fights.
You are not limited to just a 1 on 1 fight throughout the battle, as you use a team of support Pokémon to jump in and hit your opponent with a few powerful hits. If you are in trouble of losing, this support if vital if you want to stay in the fight for longer, or collect yourself for a few seconds. As you win matches and tournaments, you will unlock more Support teams to use in future battles. You also have access to a "Synergy Gauge" that, when filled up and activated. can increase the power of your attacks in both phases, and you can use a super power move that can shift the balance of battle in almost any fight. The super moves trigger a cinematic beat down, similar to what you would see in Street Fighter. Most of them are a joy to watch over and over, while some are just cool to see a few times.
You have 16 different Pokémon to use in the free battles and practice modes. While you will choose one Pokémon as your own for the Tournament and Ranking modes. You'll be stuck with that fighter until you change it In the "My Town" Area. This area is also good for customizing your Avatar, and fighter badge as well as other game options. Money you win from battles can be used to purchase new things for your Avatar as well as your selected Pokémon and your Adviser. Other modes here are local VS with a friend, Free Battles, and Online Play. Online is surprisingly smooth and very easy to connect to. Being that this is a Wii U game, I expected to have issues, but I can say there wasn't one and I managed to have many battles (most likely with other reviewers or other early adopters) with zero lag or disconnections. Also, if you have any amiibo figures, tap them to the gamepad while on the World Map to unlock many different things, from Avatar Items, to more gold to use in the shop. You can tap amiibos up to 5 times per day, and almost ANY amiibo will give you something, so try them all out.
Visually, Pokkén Tournament looks amazing. The detail in the Pokémon, as well as the fighting arenas, really show that Bandai Namco wanted to keep the overall look and feel of the Pokémon Universe. Everything makes you feel like you are living in a world where giant trained animals are fighting in a public street. Some of the arenas are rather bland, while others are busy with tons of movement in the background. I even noticed other Pokémon characters watching the matches and cheering me on. Controlling your Pokémon is a breeze, thanks to the simple control scheme. You never feel like you're out of control of your character at any time, and combos, super moves and strategic range attacks are all simple to pull off and master. The sound effects and voices during the fighting are great, except for the adviser, who talks a little too much during battles. Fortunately, you can lower the amount of "Advice" she spews in the options. Also, some of the League Masters you will meet in Tournament Mode have … interesting voice work that is almost laughable. The music is fitting, but limited to repeating the same few tunes, and just there to provide background noise.
Pokkén Tournament takes what might be the best part of Pokémon, the battles, and gives the player full control of them. It's fighting mechanics are easy for even the most novice player to get the hang of in minutes, while also proving an ever increasing challenge the further you progress. Some players may find the fighting too easy, while hardcore fighting game players will find the mechanics rather boring, due to their simplicity, but every player out there can have different kinds of fun regardless of skill level. It may not be what you are expecting if you are a hardcore Pokémon fan, or a hardcore fighting game fan … but Pokkén Tournament is a fun and unique experience that almost anyone can enjoy.