April 01, 2016

Pokken Tournament - Review

As far as Pokémon titles go, Pokken Tournament is by no means the best of them, but it also is not among the worst, what is offered is very focused experience, that will only appeal to certain gamers or die hard Pokémon fans.

Pokken Tournament is divided up into three distinct gaming modes, league, local and online and each offers up something different compared to the others. Far and away, the mode with the most to offer is the league mode, which sees you enter the all new Ferrum League, which is all about climbing the ranks, to become the number one Trainer and Pokémon duo. Local and Online both offer up similar modes, with the different being how they are played, with online being, well online and local having one player use the Gamepad and the other the tv to play against each other. Each of the modes will draw in players of varying types, but everyone will need to start off in the Practice space, because there is a lot to learn in Pokken Tournament.

From the get go, things will appear to be very strange with how this game works, so spending time within the practice space is going to be something you will want to do. Unlike other fighting games, Pokken Tournament has players battling within two different battle types, in the one battle, Field Phase and Duel Phase. Field Phase has the fights taking place in the 3d space, much like Tekken or Soul Caliber, with players able to move their Pokémon around in the field, in any direction they choose, land a few consecutive hits and the game will switch to Duel Phase, which is more like a traditional 2d fighter. It is in this phase switching that the game defines itself, because you can never really know when it will switch, so you need to have a plan for both phases. In addition to this, you will also have support Pokémon that you can choose from before a fight, you select a set of Pokemon and then choose one of them before each round and then you can activate them once they are charged, which can give you a variety of helpful boosts.

Playing in one phase and learning the moves is good, but when the phases switch, the moves will be different to accommodate the different play spaces, in Field Phase, Charizard has the ability to fly around to the side of an enemy, shooting off a few fireballs and gaining ground on the opponent, but when in Duel phase, that move is not possible, as things are locked to a 2d space. For most players, they are going to find out how this works when they are attempting to climb the ranks of the Ferrum League, which is broken up into a range of levels, with each level repeating the same few steps in order to attempt to gain access to the next one. When you enter the Green league, you will be ranked at the bottom, you will then need to play in a round, defeating as many of the of 5 opponents as you can and once you have done that, you will rank up. You will need to repeat this cycle until you land within the top 8 ranked players and which time the tournament for that league will open up, beat all your opponents there and you will have a chance to take on the current league master, who will grant you the ability to level up if you beat them.

The issue that I have with this is that nothing changes from league to league, the fights just get harder, but they still maintain the same level of excitement. Perhaps this is due to your inability to change things up between a round, should you want to swap your Pokémon for another, if you quit from a league, you lose all progress and have to start again, but if you do swap from one Pokémon to another, they will be at whatever level you left them at previously, they don’t cross level, which means you are unlikely to swap between them. The other issue is with the support Pokémon is that you can only have three sets to choose from at any given time, so while there are many sets of support Pokémon, you are not able to choose from them at will. Of course that would not be an issue, if you did not have to jump through a series of hoops to change them whenever you wanted to, but sadly making changes to your player avatar or game settings requires such hoops.

One area that the game shines in without question is the look of all the Pokémon on offer, each of them are wonderfully detailed, with the 16 playable Pokémon having the extra bonus of having a mega evolution state to look upon, since Pokémon Red, I have always preferred Charmander, Charmeleon and Charizard, so picking him here was an easy decision and man he looks pretty great. Though, just be sure to not look at anything other than the Pokémon as they look pretty bad, with most of the backgrounds having a distinct lack of focus and all the people and Pokémon surrounding the arenas looking like blurry cardboard cut-outs. While the action between the two Pokémon fighting is always going to draw your interests, when you are being shown the stadium or things slow down, you will notice the rest. The rest of the visuals are mostly presented in anima characters that appear on the screen from Nia, your support and guide, to the masters of each league and the occasional enemy fighter, while all well designed, they don’t move all that much, which again brings home the cardboard cutout feeling.

Thankfully, each Pokémon does sound like we have come to know them from the anime, with the roar of my Charizard sounding great, even amongst the sounds of battle. Pikachu sounds just as you would hope as do the rest of the Pokémon here, what falls flat though is the speech provided by the human characters. Nia repeats far too often, unless you turn it down and even then she sounds bored by what she is saying, which is not great as she is meant to be cheering you on. Occasionally the people you battle will speak, with actual words, but mostly it will be through a text box, which results in the feeling that its half done. Music wise, the tracks are nothing special, but they are nice to listen to and with the amount of tutorials that you need to go through at the beginning, that is a good thing.

Pokken Tournament is the closet we might get to a Pokémon Stadium this console cycle and that is ok, while there are some rough corners on the presentation, the gameplay is solid and easy enough for even non fighting game fans to pick up and play. The choice of which Pokémon made it in is going to be a sore point, as there are only 16 playable and from 750 that is a very small amount.

Thanks to Nintendo Australia for supplying the game for review

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