When it comes to the fighting game genre, there are plenty of high quality choices for people to choose from. Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter, and Super Smash Bros. are just a few of the most popular titles out there, but even with the large selection of fighting games, Pokken Tournament stands out and sets itself apart from the rest of the crowd.
Pokken Tournament brings its own unique features such as different phases that the battle switches between, support Pokémon that can help change the tide of a battle, and even a cheering system that can boost your fighter or support in different ways.
The phase system starts at field phase and changes to duel phase after a player successfully performs a combo on their rival. Whoever begins duel phase has a slight damage boost, and if the player who was put into duel phase lands a combo on the other player then it will switch back to field phase. Not only does the camera change in the different phases, but the attacks and combos are also different. The fighting plane is also completely 2D in duel phase unlike the full range of motion featured in field phase.
Support Pokémon are pairs of Pokémon that the player can choose that will help boost their fighting Pokémon in battle or deal damage to the rival Pokémon on the field. Some of these Support Pokémon can partially heal your fighter, boost your fighter's defense or offence, or even put a debuff on the enemy's fighter.
Another feature that is unique to Pokken Tournament is the cheering mechanic. Before you begin the fight you can choose between several different “cheers” that the announcer will buff with you with. These can either help you if you have lost the round or you can make it so the buff helps a little bit on each round focusing on either the synergy or support meter. Depending on how you play will help you decide on what cheer you want to choose for the battle.
Some of the features are similar to other fighting games but have their own Pokémon twist to it. Synergy burst mode is very similar to a few games such as Dragonball Z's Super Saiyan mode for some of its characters and Mortal Kombat's X-Ray attacks. After your fighter's synergy meter is completely full you can unleash his synergy burst mode that either mega evolves your character or just makes it more powerful if that particular Pokémon doesn't have a mega evolution. In this mode your Pokémon’s attacks are different, do more damage, and you can do a burst move attack that if successfully landed will cause an animation to occur that shows your Pokémon absolutely destroying the rival Pokémon for a few seconds just like Mortal Kombat's X-Ray mechanic.
The game’s single player includes a single battle mode that allows players to quickly jump in and play a game or two without much time commitment. Single player also has a substantial training mode that allows for players to learn how to use each character, and a tournament mode that slowly gets more difficult as the player progresses and acts as the game’s story mode. Each of these different game modes are well fleshed out.
Pokken Tournament also has offline and online multiplayer modes. Offline battle allows you to play locally, but unfortunately due to the different phases, the first player will have to look at the gamepad screen while the second player uses the TV. This means that serious tournaments will require two Wii U systems in order for both players to be on equal ground, and it could make it harder for this game to catch on for serious competitive players because of this limitation.
Online multiplayer worked nearly perfectly for me when I played it. Even when I was playing against a person from Germany, the game ran flawlessly. I only experienced one game with significant lag and that was most likely due to the other player’s internet connection. The online mode has both friendly and ranked matchmaking allowing for both casual and competitive players to be able to enjoy playing against others around the world.
I’m not a huge fan of fighting games, but this game really did capture my attention with its smooth animations and explosive combat. However, that being said the roster does need to be significantly increased. Fifteen fighters is not enough when there are hundreds of other Pokémon that would be suitable for this type of game, and the size of the roster did bring down my score of the game. Nintendo can easily remedy this problem by adding more fighters for free in later updates, but I fear that they may go the route of paid DLC which would be a shame considering how much fun the game is otherwise.
I give Pokken Tournament an 8 out of 10. The stages, combat, effects, and the Pokémon themselves are very detailed. None of them feel overpowered or too underpowered to be useful. This sense of balance is nice because most fighting games have a few useless or overpowered characters in the roster, but the roster really does need to grow for this game to survive.