Friday saw the release of Pokkén tournament, a collaboration between Bandai Namco and the Pokémon company. Pokkén is a fighting game that combines the style of Tekken with a range of 16 playable Pokémon.
The first thing that I noticed about Pokkén is the graphics. The game sparkles in HD and the style of the characters combined with the anime avatar that you create will make Pokémon fans feel instantly comfortable. It simultaneously manages to feel fresh and new but also somehow familiar.
The game manages to keep the gameplay fresh with 2 modes of play during matches. When you start match, you are in field phase. This mode allows full 360 manoeuvring and mainly involves projectile and long range attacks. Land a big hit and the game shifts into duel phase. This phase is similar to the side on fighting of Tekken and involves a different move set for close quarters combat. Land a powerful hit in this mode and the match will switch back to field phase. This adds a new dimension to the traditional fighting game mechanics and is well received.
On the surface, the game feels simplistic in its moves, most of which being a simple direction and button combination but on playing further the game has an incredibly deep system. There are a normal, grab and counter moves which work in a rock, paper, scissors style and homing, piercing and move cancels to learn. There are also a range of support Pokémon that can offer buffs, support attacks or disruptions. It can feel slightly overwhelming to start with but the gentle learning curve helps hone your skills.
The game has a line-up of 14 slightly random Pokémon to start with spanning the franchises 20-year history and each have a playstyle and move set that feel faithful to the original games. There are also 2 unlockable characters and a range of stages, titles and costumes that can be unlocked which gives you something to work towards. The game is split into leagues which you can progress through while levelling up your Pokémon as well as having online and local co-op play. The local co-op works well with one player controlling the onscreen character and the other using the Wii-u gamepad, although player 1 has to use the gamepad every time which is a little annoying. This works well as a cocept as having 2 screens means your opponent cannot see the support Pokémon you are going to use. The online works well, splitting the play into ranked and friendly matches to suit playstyle and levels and in my experience, ran smoothly with no slowdown and challengers were found within seconds.
The final addition to the game is a concept called Synergy. This is the main focus of the plot and in game is a kind of power up. You can increase your Synergy by knocking the opponent into a different phase or by picking up randomly generated drops around the playing field. When your Synergy is full, you can activate it and become super powered for a short amount of time. While super powered you regain HP and can use a Pokémon specific burst attack that takes major damage. These are animated beautifully and can be so satisfying in the heat of battle!
The game has some negative points, firstly, although the game looks amazing in HD, the character textures can sometimes look odd with an almost Claymation feel to them. Also there’s Nia. Nia is an impossibly upbeat character that helps you through the tutorials and cheers you on through the battles but she is incredibly annoying. You can turn off cheers but you still have to deal with her mid match which at times can be painful. I also think that although it would be impossible to have everyone’s favourites, 16 Pokémon feels a little sparse being that there are over 700 to choose from. I imagine they will release more through DLC in the future but in my opinion there should have been a few more to start with. I am also disappointed with the Amiibo functionality. As the first major Pokémon game on the Wii-u, I expected the Pokémon Amiibo’s to be more of a part of the game as opposed to just giving a generic and slightly useless bonus of a title or currency.
In conclusion, I would award Pokkén an 8.5 out of 10. Although it will not appeal to everyone as fighting games seem to be a love it or hate it affair and so does Pokémon, it is a fresh take on the genre with some interesting mechanics. It can be picked up and played by anyone as well as being deep enough for hard-core fighting fans to get their teeth into.