Pokken, enjoyable video game

Andrew McCue, Copy Editor

There’s been a shortage of quality fighting game titles on the current generation of consoles. Even recent releases like Street Fighter V have been short on content, at least at launch.

Nintendo, with the help of Namco-Bandai, has aimed to remedy that with Pokken Tournament, released on March 18 for the Wii U.

This game, a port of a Japanese arcade title from July 2015, fulfills the old dream of moving the ever-popular pocket monsters out of a turn-based RPG fighting style and shoving them into 1 v 1 real time combat, complete with colorful arenas, support Pokémon that players can summon mid-battle, and flashy finishing moves.

Overall, it’s a blend of styles that holds surprising depth despite its lean roster and somewhat lacking single-player experience.

Pokken Tournament pits the player in a series of short, best-of-three matches against CPU-controlled opponents across multiple “leagues” of difficulty.

Players can challenge these leagues by choosing one of 14 partner Pokémon initially.Each character performs moves you’d expect them to, but unlike previous Pokémon games the type advantages don’t matter in combat here.

Instead, Pokken uses a similar rock-paper-scissors hierarchy of moves: attacks beat grabs, countermoves beat attacks, and grabs beat countermoves.

These three options seem limiting, but in the midst of a fast-paced fight, players will have to outthink and outperform opponents while keeping this essential triangle of moves in their minds, as correctly using a dominant move will deal extra damage in a Critical Hit.

Further accentuating the pace of the game is the Phase Shift system, where fights jump from the Field Phase, a 3D arena-style layout, to the Duel Phase, a traditional 2D fighting game field.

Each Pokémon’s move sets change depending on which phase the battle is currently in, some only slightly, while others gain an entirely new way of dealing with foes.

A powerful attack triggers the jumps back and forth between the two styles of combat, with small bonuses such as better positioning and even health recovery for the player who executes the shift.

The battles themselves take place in delightfully animated arenas based on Pokémon-influenced takes on classic venues from fighting games.

There’s Neos City, the stereotypical urban setting now flooded with pedestrians and their Pokémon; Ferrum Dojo, a training ground where all manner of Fighting-type Pokémon can be seen bulking up in the background; Dragon’s Nest, a long plateau wreathed under the statue of a giant Legendary Pokémon and more.

These stages each brim with more personality than you’d likely see in a typical fighting game thanks to their unique background elements and visual effects.The game’s soundtrack, keeps this fantastic sense of energy and pacing moving between battles.

I’ve talked about speed a lot in this review, and for good reason—everything in Pokken moves fast.

This can be daunting to fighting game newcomers, but Pokken accommodates with a tutorial and training mode.

Outside of that, the aforementioned main story of the game offers nearly 100 battles against gradually more powerful CPUs to help prepare players for the real meat of the game: online fighting.

If there’s one thing this game gets right, it’s online modes, where matches are made within seconds, regardless of the distance between players.

In my over 100 online battles I had only two instances of lag, and all button presses either on the Wii U gamepad or Pro Controller (the game’s two control options) felt accurate and responsive.

The only downsides of Pokken Tournament come from its roster lineup. A maximum of 16 Pokémon can be unlocked, with 15 more pairs of Support Pokémon sets that can be unlocked for quick assists mid-battle, but this accounts for a mere fraction of the cast of characters the series has sired in its 20 year existence.

With no DLC expected from Nintendo in the future, it’s likely many gamers will miss out on seeing their favorite monsters as playable fighters.

The game is deceptively simple in its execution, blending elements of many other fighting series both old and new to create what is ostensibly an excuse to punch a Gengar in the face with a Machamp.

Plus, there’s a free demo for the game available on the Nintendo EShop, so any Wii U owner with an Internet connection can try it out now. If that’s not enough to get gamers excited to play, I don’t know what is. I see Pokken Tournament as a “super effective!” addition to any fighting game fan’s collection.

Andrew McCue can be reached at [email protected]