Retail releases tend to be thin on the Nintendo Wii U system, but, when they do hit, that usually gives them a pretty good focus. Last year, Namco-Bandai took on the Pokemon license to offer up an arcade fighter featuring a chunk of the franchise’s cast. With a promised mix of eclectic characters and fighting, there was no way we were going to pass up an opportunity to check out this release.
Following recent anime fighter crossovers, Pokken Touranment rounds up just more than a dozen of actively-controllable Pokemon and supplements them with a meatier handful of characters that can perform an assist technique on a cooldown timer. While, given the name, many people will anticipate a mirror of Tekken-style gameplay, the reality is Pokken is a little more reminiscent of another Namco-Bandai-published title in the Naruto Ultimate Storm series.
Once in the playfield, Pokken operates on two different gameplay styles. The match defaults to a free-roaming “field mode,” in which the Pokemon utilize more projectiles and assists as a means to zone and control the opponent. Some players and characters may want opt to use their projectiles and tricky skills to keep the opponent away, while others will want to use them to close the gap and trigger the game’s more melee-centric play mode.
Once up close, the Pokemon change up their movesets to take advantage of strikes and chains. Being based on Pokemon, of course, there are a number of easy-to-use chains and attacks to accommodate more casual players. Still, the game’s training mode still spells out a handful of combos and techniques that require more precision.
The game is also filled with ways to buff your character and cast status effects on the opponent, which is further boosted by a support trainer in between rounds. Pokken also features a synergy gauge that builds up by attacking and picking up gems that spawn on the playfield. Once full, specific moves receive a small boost, and a burst mode can be triggered to go full power and attempt the character’s super move.
The WiiU version offers up tutorials, practice sessions, special move and combo lessons and a shop that allows players to purchase avatar and title customization. There are multiple ways to play the core game, including a free mode, multiplayer and online battles.
There is a league mode that allows a single player to climb through the battle ranks and experience a story involving the Shadow Mewtwo character introduced in the series. In the mode, players can enter a league and battle a lineup of individual trainers to rank up within the league. Once the player hits a suitable rank, they are invited to league tournaments, with further victories allowing them a chance to battle the league leader and advance to a more difficult league.
Players who stick with the game will also be able to level up individual Pokemon characters, which allows players to choose to level up the character’s offense, defense, synergy buildup and assist cooldowns. The game also features sets of achievements to tackle that unlock bonus customization items. So, even at the early stages of the game, there is a lot to do and see for a single player.
Although Pokken features a free-roaming behind-the-back vantage point, two player versus is still possible on a single console for those with a Pro controller (one player views gamepad, the other the television). Competitive talk is also indicating the game can be set to LAN with another WiiU if both players want to use a gamepad.
So far through two leagues, I have found the challenge to progress evenly, as later matches started to require more defense and timing to tackle the opponent. I am interested in trying the game out on a Pro controller to use a d-pad, because I have found some instances where the game has mixed up a side or back input during the field mode. Still, overall, I have found little to complain about in Pokken.
For those approaching the game in a non-competitive fashion, I let my four-year-old son play a portion of the game, and he is having a blast recognizing several of the Pokemon and their attacks used in the animation series. He has already grasped the assist feature, which is a favorite of his because it includes more Pokemon he recognizes, and the easy difficulty mode in the free battle mode has given him very few difficulties.
The game releases to retail today, and we’ll await word on future additions to the game. Launch copies include an Amiibo card to unlock the Shadow Mewtwo character, which is on top of the three Pokemon introduced specifically to the WiiU version of the game. Through a portion of the game, it is clear the aim was to make a fighter that is less frustrating to the wide range of players out there, and on that note, the game succeeds so far while giving players multiple options of play.