The Wii U is an interesting console in that it values quality above quantity. Chances are you won’t see a really solid Wii U game released every month…but the ones worth buying are really worth buying. Hits like Splatoon, Xenoblade Chronicles X and The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD have helped keep the system afloat in the face of unforgiving competition.
In Pokkén Tournament, the Wii U ends up with yet another classic that should see some play long after the upcoming NX (or whatever it’s called) console is released.
Pokken Tournament, put simply, is a Pokémon fighting game, one which plays out much like the classic Final Fantasy fighter Dissidia. Rather than delicate combo strings that take weeks to master, it’s fairly easy to pick up and use a Pokémon once you’ve gotten the basic controls down. Special moves are bound to simple inputs rather than finger-snapping controller motions.
Unlike Dissidia and pretty much every other fighter, though, Pokkén is unique in that close range and long range battles actually resemble different games. At long range, or Field Phase, attacks typically focus on laying down wide area-effect swaths of destruction. Upon landing a solid hit or throw, battle will shift to the close-range Duel Phase, which plays out more like a traditional fighter. Another solid hit or throw will push the fighters away to Field Phase, and the cycle repeats until the match is decided.
This is a fascinating way of handling combat, since certain Pokémon are more powerful at different ranges. Chandelure, a spooky ghost chandelier, tends to do better blasting away with fire beams in Field Phase, while Garchomp the land shark is more powerful in Duel Phase. Several other Pokémon are adept at both phases, like the classic Pikachu. There are over 15 Pokémon to choose from, offering a decent variety and ensuring you’ll be able to find a Pokémon that matches your playstyle. You can also choose a pair of support Pokémon to offer additional attacks or buffs during a match.
Pokkén Tournament offers a variety of modes to slake your bloodthirst, which is a phrase I didn’t think I’d ever utter during a review. You’ve got your single-player campaign, for instance; while it’s hilariously easy and yet required for unlocks, at least it’s present, unlike a certain other fighter released recently. There’s also a highly competent and largely lag-free netplay system in place which worked just fine on day one, also unlike a certain other fighter released recently.
There’s even per-character tutorials available, also unlike…you get the picture. The point is that this is a full-fledged fighter that’s offering you a full experience right from the start. It’s a little sad that this is such a big plus in this day and age.
Pokkén Tournament boasts some of the best graphics available on the Wii U, which is actually a capable little box when it’s given the proper TLC. There are absolutely PS4 games that don’t look this good. Naturally, it’s nice to see some classic Pokémon rendered at this level, though chances are you’ll be left wishing for a proper Pokémon console game yet again. Sound quality is solid as well, though the game’s announcer Nia might not take long to irritate players since she’s extremely chatty.
All in all, the fact that Pokkén Tournament is a silly Pokémon fighting game is as competent as it is is kind of mind-blowing, especially in the face of the failure that was Street Fighter V. Pokémon fans will appreciate how easy it is to get into the action while fighting game fans should enjoy the surprising depths of the battle system. Pokken Tournament is a winner for the Wii U – and with the system possibly on its way out, it’s nice to see some winners pop up.