The Luchador Pikachu stands upon the ring post as he beckons the crowd into a frenzy, the soundtrack to my demise. Yeah, his wrestling mask is cute, but he’s got a look in his eyes that says this little guy, this once-friendly yellow bastard I rescued from the Viridian Forest in Pokémon Blue nearly 20 years ago, is about to Moonsault me – and there’s nothing I can do about it. So this is how Pokémon feels from the monsters’ perspective.
This is Pokkén Tournament, where you no longer command your monsters from afar but control them directly in battle. Pokkén has generated quite a lot of buzz since appearing in Japanese arcades last year, probably for several reasons: it’s a 3D Pokemon game for the Wii U; it’s the first beat-em-up title in the entire franchise; and most interesting of all, it’s been developed by Tekken creator Bandai Namco.
Each of these elements set different expectations for what Pokkén might be, and though the game started its life as a Tekken engine, it has evolved into something much bigger than just a reskin.
The best thing I can say about Pokkén Tournament is that it has more depth than most players will expect. Sure, at heart it’s a best-of-three smackdown. Built on combos, grabs, and being the first to beat the living Muk out of the other, Bandai Namco has also thrown in some other interesting elements that dramatically change the dynamics of gameplay, and offer more complexity for those who seek it.
Right now I’d even argue that Pokkén might risk alienating the more casual players. This is a very different game to Super Smash Bros; the differences between the characters in Pokkén are vast, and mastering each one will demand a lot more time and skill.
It’s for this reason I suggest rinsing the tutorial process for all it’s worth before even moving onto any other single player modes. There’s a lot to learn, and the tutorial offers a bite-sized breakdown of what could otherwise be quite an overwhelming introduction to Pokkén. Oh, and when you have finally got to grips with how battles work, I’d advise switching Nia’s advice off in the settings. She’s a handy guide at first, but she gets really annoying very quickly.
Pokkén Tournament has 16 characters right now, and the game has already been criticised for what some consider to be a meagre character roster – Pokémon is a franchise that prides itself on its abundance of creatures – but when you factor in just how varied these Pokémon are and what Pokkén actually wants to be, it stops feeling like such a valid critique.
The characters are a mix of old and new Pokémon generations – old school fans will be glad to know Charizard, Pikachu and Gengar all get a look-in – but if anything Pokkén encourages you to stick with one Main throughout. You can switch your partner Pokémon in the settings at any time you like, but the game doesnt nudge you to try another character. Pokémon also level up using experience gained from every fight; each time they do you can assign a skill point to one of the four stats: Attack, Defense, Strategy or Synergy.
If you’re not sure with which character to go for first, each has its own assigned style – standard, power and technical – which should offer some rough guidance.
Battles in Pokkén are made up of two phases, the Field Phase and the Duel Phase. The Field Phase begins every round and gives you an over-the-shoulder view of your monster as per traditional Pokémon games. Here you have three-axis movement, and the commands in this phase are more focused on projectiles and homing attacks.