Developer: Bandai Namco Studios
Publisher: The Pokemon Company
Platforms: Nintendo Switch
Rating: E for Everyone
Originally an arcade game in Japan, Pokken Tournament was physically released on the Wii U in March 2016. The game was received positively in the West, causing a temporary surge in Wii U hardware sales and outselling Street Fighter V by April of that same year! By August 2016, it had sold one million copies worldwide. That being said, it’s no wonder Bandai decided to re-release Pokken for the Nintendo Switch. Just as how Mario Kart 8 DX was re-released on the Switch with more characters and modes, so too does this version of Pokken come with more pokémon to fight as and more game functions to mess with.
Pokken DX opened to a decently successful release, outselling Marvel vs Capcom: Infinite in the UK and Japan. According to a sales study in Japan, Pokken is number 17 in sales right now, putting it above ARMS, Wolfenstein II, and Assassin’s Creed Origins. But despite these good standings, it was met with much criticism, especially due to its marked-up price and apparent lack of popular pokémon available to fight with. With so many other great Nintendo Switch games out right now and many more on their way, how does Pokken stack up against the rest?
Violence: Pokken DX contains cartoon fighting violence between elemental monsters called pokémon . Each pokémon can be controlled to use certain moves such as a fire blast, a blizzard attack, or even an explosion. There is no blood or gore whatsoever.
Spiritual Themes: My only concern here would be the ghost-type playable pokémon . While it is all in good fun, certain moves can at times look a little eerie. For example, the pokémon Gengar sports a mischievous Cheshire Catgrin that can be spooky to look at. His grin only grows even more chilling once he changes form. It may not be enough to warrant comment in the ESRB rating, but it is something to be mindful of nonetheless.
Positive Themes: The idea behind Pokémon has always been that of bonding with one’s little pocket monster to become stronger and have more fun, friendly competition between other pokémon trainers. This seems to be repeated throughout this Pokémon -themed game as well.
Stop right there. I know what you’re thinking: “Pokken is just a cheap rip-off of Tekken and I am not going to waste my time messing around with lame fighting avatars that look like pokémon.” First of all, if you do not like Pokémon then this game is not for you. Why are you even reading this? Though, I will argue that this game is still fun, whether a poké-fan or not. Next, you fighter genre enthusiasts need to calm down because you people have some of the most zealous fans I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. You cannot simply judge something by how it looks. Sure, it might look like fan service; it might appear to be a kids game; it might even seem like a cheap copy of a good game. On the contrary, I assure you there is more depth, more challenge, and more detail in this fighter than in a lot of others I’ve seen. Now, you’re still going to be skeptical and that’s fine, but hear me out as to why I think this is a Switch game that should be a part of your library—especially if you’re a fan of Pokémon and/or fighting games.
Pokken is a content-rich game, full of challenges to achieve and different moves to master. Each pokémon fighter has a long list of moves—most of which are according to that pokémon’s type. I spent most of my time fighting with Mewtwo, and he has an awesome combo that does a fire punch and an ice punch, followed by an electric punch. All of these moves done by the various fighters are actual moves that Pokémon can learn in the original games. The moves also include basic punching, grabbing, jumping, and kicking. Use directional buttons with A, X, and Y to create different combinations: A for pokémon moves, X for weak, and Y for strong attacks. Jump in the air with “B” to enable aerial attacks with any of those buttons aforementioned.
While fighting, there are two phases to enter into: field phase and dual phase. While in field phase, you’re able to move around the field freely within the confines of the map. Once someone deals a critical hit to the other, you enter into the dual phase where the stances suddenly change to one-on-one, just like Street Fighter or Tekken. Here, some moves change slightly to better accommodate the close proximity of one-two-punching. And again, once someone deals a critical hit or a lot of damage to the other, the fight switches back to field phase, giving the disadvantaged a brief moment to move away from their opponent and plot their next course of action. This is different than most fighters, and I believe works well to break an opponents hit streak, giving one the opportunity to breathe and attack again. This is a bit like the “combo breaker” move in Killer Instinct, which allows you to push the correct attack button (heavy, light, or medium) at the precise time to break your opponents combo, giving you an opening. Only Pokken seems to be a little more lenient, forcing a “mercy” change in modes once a heavy amount of damage is dealt.
With twenty-one pokémon to choose from, it takes awhile to try every single one. Included in the bunch are five from the original 151 pokémon, including classics like Pikachu, Charizard, and Gengar. Also, two from Generation II including Suicune; three from Generation III including Blaziken, six from Generation IV including Lucario and Darkrai, one from Generation V, another from VI, and a new add from Pokémon Sun and Moon, Decidueye. In the Wii U edition, not all pokémon are available at the start, but now all are unlocked for you right away and five more fighters were added for the Switch version. Of course there are far more pokémon that can be used as supports, like Dragonite, Litten, Eevee, Emolga, just to name a few.
While the Pokemon roster is hefty and is made to cater to fans across multiple Generations, I do wish they had included other more popular pokémon. Some examples would be to include Blastoise, Venasaur, Lugia, Zapdos, Articuno, Moltres, and maybe a few other legendary pokémon. But even though the roster might feel strange, it is most certainly a blast to check out each fighter and the different pokémon moves there are. This honestly shows the depth in each fighter and one could spend hours alone trying to execute all of the moves correctly.
Some of the support pokémon used are weak and it doesn’t make sense to pick them as supports if you’re trying to win. The only reason anyone would probably choose these is simply because they’re fan favorites. An example would be Eevee, who does not attack, but gives a slight attack boost and heals a small amount of health. While this is helpful, the difference is barely noticeable. Why choose Eevee when I can choose Yveltal, who will shoot Oblivion Wing at my enemy, causing medium damage? Simply put, the supports are imbalanced and are usually not even needed to win.
While the fighters are great, the story mode is mediocre at best. It revolves around competing in a league called the Ferrum League. It’s exactly like any other championship, but you end up having to fight a lot of battles to face the leader of a specific colored tier to move up another tier and then repeat the same process. Along the way, the main character continues to encounter the mysterious and elusive Shadow Mewtwo. Eventually, the trainer finds out just who this Shadow Mewtwo is, and its trainer’s intentions. While the tournament is fun to play in, the story is…forgettable. But fighting games don’t need a fantastic story to be a good game. Play this one for the fighting.
The rest of the modes in Pokken are extensive. There is a Daily Challenge mode, that gives a daily mission to achieve—usually having to fight with a specific pokémon to beat the clock or retain a certain amount of health. Next, there is Online Battle, with real online players. Here, one can battle for ranks or simply for friendly fun. The online matching was fast and I was matched with someone in less than five seconds. Seems to me there are quite a few people playing this game around the world. There are also Wireless Battle and Local Battle modes where up to two people can play either with two Switches or two people on one Switch each with a Joy Con. One can play multiplayer on one Switch with either split screen or single screen. I recommend playing in single screen, since playing on the Switch’s small screen is a stretch as it is. If playing two player, I advise playing with it docked or each player having their own Switch.
Customization is great in this game, since you’re able to customize how your trainer looks—anything from the expression on their face to the clothes they wear. If you want to buy certain costumes for your character, you have to purchase them using in-game credits only earned by fighting and competing either in the League or online.
Gamers can also earn different titles to put on their player profiles to show off to the world. You can even change the phrase your trainer says before going into a battle.
A pokémon’s power can be customized too by leveling it up and distributing skill points to it. This part of Pokken I find pointless, especially if it wouldn’t be fair when playing against players locally. Luckily, using your pokémon’s level in battle can be switched off to make it more fair among friends. Online, it would make more sense for levels to be present, since you need all the strength you can get to best the other player. Still, it seems rather odd to level up your fighter. While I understand the developers were attempting to make it more Pokémon-like by adding this leveling-up feature, it’s just not necessary in a fighting game.
On the topic of power, one of my favorite parts of the game is the fact that every pokémon is able to mega evolve, meaning they can change into a more powerful form. During battle, a pokémon’s Synthesis meter grows, which is basically just an “ultimate” bar that is filled over time when landing successful hits on your opponent or when you take consistent damage. As soon as it’s full, the player can hit the top two shoulder buttons and activate the meter. The pokémon then mega evolves, giving it more power and a different look altogether. For example, Charizard will turn black and breathe blue fire; Gengar will grow a third eye and his form becomes more chaotic; Machamp will become larger and turn completely red. Hit the two shoulder buttons again and you perform your ultimate attack, which triggers a cutscene and does anywhere from one-third to one-half damage to your opponent’s health bar. This makes for some eventful fighting and it keeps things fresh, especially if you’re in need of a comeback.
While it is a great game, the price is steep. Sixty dollars is a high price to pay for a re-release even though that seems to be the going fashion right now. Considering that it was fifty dollars on the Wii U, it is hard to justify the raise in price, the only good reason being that there are now five more Pokémon to fight with. If it can be justified, one can think of it like this: the Wii U version was the original game and the Switch version is more of a GOTY edition that comes with all the DLC – now portable on the Switch!
While portability is so convenient, what I most love about the game is that it’s equally as fun playing alone as it is with other players. If I wanted to, I could spend hours battling in the story mode tournament, I could play against a tough AI, or I can play online. Locally is fun too, especially since the game is easy to pick up. The unfortunate part about that though is that button-mashing is easier than learning the moves itself, so in that aspect the game does feel unbalanced. When playing with friends who do not own the game, I found myself attempting to execute specific moves on them while they simply pressed random buttons. I found I would frequently lose because of this. There are two possible solutions as to why this is: either I suck – which is unlikely – or the controls are a bit unbalanced. I’m not saying this game is like a button-mashing fighter, because that’s inaccurate. Pokken is fun and engaging – but at times certain fighters feel unbalanced with others, and that can be problematic.
As far as recommendations go, I stated at the beginning that this game is for Pokemon and fighting game fans alike. It is a game that sounds absurd, but is so fun and it completely works – you just have to give it a chance. While the price is steep, the fighters partly unbalanced, and a few unnecessary features, the game still shines. It is not a must-have, but it is a game to pay attention to. I guarantee you’ll enjoy it.
The Bottom Line