Fighting games have been popular since the dawn of the arcade – from venerable franchises like Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, Tekken and Marvel vs. Capcom to weird stuff like Sonic the Fighters and, now, Pokkén Tournament.
Now, you’re probably thinking “isn’t Pokémon technically a fighting game?” and I’d say yes, but this is different. The Pokémon series itself is more of a role-playing game. Pokkén is a 2D and 3D fighting game. First teased at the reveal for recent Pokémon games X and Y, Pokkén was the first Pokémon fighting game ever made. The game screen switches between a traditional 2D view during the “Duel Phase” and a free-roaming 3D “Field Phase” during gameplay. When a Pokémon is hit by a strong attack, or takes a large amount of damage, they enter “Synergy Mode” and are able to perform a “Synergy Burst,” Pokkén‘s equivalent of a Super Attack. There are also Support Pokémon that help out in battle – some Support Pokémon appearances are even better than the fighters themselves!
Pokkén was first released in Japanese arcades on July 16, 2015. Though fans worldwide wanted the game, hope was scarce since many Pokémon arcade games, like Pokémon Battrio, have never been released outside of Japan. Despite that, at the Pokémon 2015 World Championships, Pokkén Tournament was announced for the Wii U, later specified to launch on March 18, 2016. Still, because it is a Pokémon game, Japan gets exclusive Pokémon in the arcade version. Additionally, an amiibo card would be included with copies of the first edition, a nod to the first-edition Pokémon trading cards that used to exist. The card would unlock Shadow Mewtwo earlier, rather than the end of the game.
I wanted this game very badly, and when I finally got it – courtesy of some cousins of mine – I popped the game in my Wii U and enjoyed pretty much everything. I choose Pikachu Libre for my character and immediately hopped aboard the hype train. Although the tutorial was slow, so my cousin did not want to go through it, we played a couple rounds and he said something to me that inspired this article: “It’s fun to watch you play.” Now, I have heard things like “This is what Pokémon battles were meant to look like” and “Japan doesn’t hate us,” but not this. My friend, who plays competitive Super Smash Bros. with me, said the same thing. I saw another one of my friends that plays competitive Street Fighter and I asked him what he thought of it. His exact words were “I think it is too easy. Street Fighter and Tekken just have more technical gameplay.” That got me thinking. What kind of people, other than Pokémon fans, could have fun playing Pokkén Tournament?
The game is easy enough to learn, but hard to master. Each phase has many exclusive commands, and some moves are even exclusive to Synergy Mode. The final unlockable Pokémon in the game, Shadow Mewtwo, has the lowest health in-game and hurts himself with attacks, rather than being a crazy overpowered monster as you might expect. Learning how to play the game beyond the button-mashing stage takes about ten to twenty minutes, depending on which Pokémon you’re using. The game has Standard, Power, Speed, and Technical Pokémon, in order of how difficult they are to use. Learning how to play well with a specific Pokémon takes about an hour to 90 minutes, again depending on the Pokémon. Every Pokémon has vastly different attributes and moves, like how one Pokémon powers up when the Phase changes, and some Pokémon gain an ability depending on how the Pokémon is standing. Each Pokémon even has a different personality, which makes them that much more lovable.
The game itself is not hard to play. My cousin beat me, after I spent two hours practicing, with no real trouble. But to truly have fun playing Pokkén, you have to know what they are doing. The best part about fighting games is landing awesome combos. The inputs for moves are simple, but the combos and the “Rock-Paper-Scissors” circle for Attack-Grab-Counter is hard to remember at every moment. Combos are especially difficult to consistently use, since in Pokkén, moves do less damage as a combo goes on. This, with the Phase change requirements, takes away the infinite combos fighting games are known for.
So who is Pokkén Tournament meant for, other than Pokémon fans? Simply put, Pokkén is meant for people who want to play a fighting game for fun. Games like Street Fighter, Tekken, and Soul Calibur have evolved to the competitive stage. Pokkén for the Wii U has a good story mode and online play to keep the player busy. The computer players in the game are not half bad, either. The Arcade Pokkén has the player go through a mini story mode or battle another human player. The game itself was not meant to be competitive, similar to Super Smash Bros. (though that game does have a competitive scene), but rather to give people the chance to see cool Pokémon doing cool things in a cool environment. It was made to have fun. So if you want to go out and pay $64.94 for a fun fighting game, go ahead. Just make sure that you use the Pokémon given to you instead of complaining on how your favorite was not in the game.