Game review: Pokken Tournament - one of 2016’s top fighting games

The Pokemon franchise keeps on giving, and this release, for the Nintendo Wii-U, offers an engaging, high-quality console experience. It’s fast and fun, and there’s a Pikachu dressed as a Mexican wrestler

PUBLISHED : Monday, 18 April, 2016, 3:00pm
UPDATED : Monday, 18 April, 2016, 3:01pm

Pokken Tournament

Bandai Namco

4/5 stars

The success and perseverance of the Pokemon franchise continues to amaze.

Now more than two decades old, the monster battling series that turned from a humble, turn-based role-playing game on the original Game Boy is as profitable as ever. The franchise shows no signs of slowing down, with cartoons, feature-length films, toys, card games, and spin-off video games to fortify the Pokemon legacy.

The one area where Pokemon hasn’t dominated is console game releases. Niche titles like Pokemon Snap and Stadium were fun, if shallow experiences. The missing piece of the puzzle in Pokemon’s legacy has been an engaging, high-quality console game that satiates the fan’s cravings for a non-mobile experience.

Pokken Tournament (for the Nintendo Wii-U) is a deceptively technical fighting game that not only manages to make full use of the Pokemon name, but is also a fast and fun fighter for any level of skill.

More important, there’s a Pikachu dressed up as a luchador, or Mexican wrestler.

Pokken is the product of Bandai Namco and renowned Tekken producer Katsuhiro Harada, creating a fighting experience that is similar, yet not quite the same as Tekken. The arena of combat has the trappings of a classic, one-on-one Pokemon battle, but what makes Pokken unique is the shifting combat phases.

The field phase allows any of the 16 playable Pokemon to run and gun in a full 360-degree arena. Similar in design to the combat in the Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm games, the goal is to either zone out your opponent with a barrage of ranged attacks or get up close and deal enough damage to transition into the dual phase.

Dual phase is likened to Tekken, with the camera at the side and combatants able to jump and dash forward or backward. The phase returns to field mode after a Pokemon lands a lengthy combo or throw.

The pace of combat slows down once in dual phase. Each Pokemon gains access to a high and low stance that changes how each button acts, as well as a dash-cancellable charge attack reminiscent of Street Fighter IV’s focus-attack system. The high stance also give each fighter a practical anti-air option, a rarity in most fighting games.

The dual phase adds air mix-ups, moves that bounce opponents off the walls, and signature Pokemon attacks that are straight from the main series. I shouted out in joy upon seeing Charizard land a massive seismic toss. Fans of the series will be in awe of how Pokken brings classic Pokemon battles to life in a full, real-time fight.

The rock-paper-scissors style of gameplay gives way to a guessing game of stylish attacks and beautiful character designs. Gengar can place goo-laden traps on the field and teleport while fan-favorite Chandelure assaults enemies with a tricky mix of high- and low-fire barrages in field mode.

My favourite character by far is Pikachu Libre, the yellow electric rodent donning the mask and gear of a Mexican wrestler. He’s a tricky grappler who shows the nuance of Pokken and its cast.

Pokken avoids the pitfalls of Street Fighter V by providing an outstanding tutorial and command list, as well as a single-player campaign with real rewards and narrative implications. Namco cannot be commended enough for creating a move list that explains the nuance and use of each move, as well as a story mode that teaches the game in increments.

The largest criticism of Pokken is the hardware limitations of the Wii-U. The system’s underpowered technology holds back a gorgeous and vibrant art design. This lack of horsepower also affects multiplayer, as the game chugs and slows in frame rate when two players fight locally, much in the same way that Mario Kart suffered.

Pokken Tournament is not only the best Pokemon console experience to date, but also one of the top fighting games of 2016. Pokken’s combination of flashy combat, helpful tutorial systems, and complex fighting engine are a far more complete package than the hastily thrown together Street Fighter V.

Tribune News Service