Pokkén Tournament (ポッ拳) has finally graced the Wii U. And while the initial coin-op release amounted to little long-term fanfare, the reception at home was more welcoming as a fighting game hybrid. Leave it to Hori to capitalize with their Pokkén Tournament Pro Pad and bringing the niche appeal in tow.
For those that aren’t aware, the arcade version of Pokkén Tournament arrived in Japan last July. A lot of that anticipation was centered on the fact it was Pokémon action with a twist, concocted by Tekken producer Katsuhiro Harada and Masaaki Hoshino of SoulCalibur fame. Out of the friendly collaboration between Nintendo, The Pokémon Company, and BANDAI NAMCO is how this concept came to be; meant to vigorously compliment the fast-paced nature and ease newcomers into the genre.
On appearance alone, the Pro Pad is a near-exact arcade replica of with minor differentiation, which Hori themselves also co-developed for the coin-op cabinet. The general shape is vaguely reminiscent of that forgotten Wii Classic Controller Pro, sporting a prominent face and a matte surface that’s nice to the touch. Most of the main buttons are direct transplants from the arcade and equally large, with the same concave sink on the D-pad for better response and sizable shoulder (L/R) buttons that occupy the top. Connectivity is tethered by a 9.8 foot (3 meter) long USB cable, which should provide enough length for larger living rooms or game spaces.
That distinctive long body is shortened by roughly an inch, and the Select/Start/ZL/ZR buttons are included for some very basic functionality. However, the layout is openly bare lacking an analog stick, additional triggers, NFC reader, or even a Home button. To be fair though, these omissions feel like a committed effort rather than complete afterthought to recreate the aesthetic — since the amount of buttons on the original pad is even sparser than this.
Hori made their pad meatier than most game controllers, but it’s really that contoured matte body that helps with grip compared to the Wii U Gamepad. Without a touchscreen to get in the way, the finger travel doesn’t feel awkwardly extended, and the button/D-pad feedback is more suited to the task of double-tap quicksteps or abrasive mashing.
My time playing Pokkén with the Pro Pad was a moderate improvement over the standard Gamepad, thanks mostly to the non-issues of latency with its corded approach. No matter how good wireless technology gets (the GameCube WaveBird and the Xbox One controller are as good as it gets for me), there’s a pivotal advantage about a tethered setup when it comes to fighting games and being in the heat of a match. It just felt a little faster to pull off complex combos and retaliate with counter attacks, but not a guarantee if you’re playing casually or facing someone more skilled. It if weren’t for the truncated shape and the dozen Americans that played the actual Pokkén Tournament cabinet at select Dave & Buster’s restaurants, the Pro Pad would be perfect by reference.
But these immediate benefits come with their own caveats: the major hindrance being compatibility, for which there is officially none outside the game. Yes, the Hori Pro Pad only works with Pokkén Tournament, which is probably why you have to change controllers and manually press start on the title screen to activate it firsthand. It’s also telling of why there’s a lack of a Home button on it, with the labels on the packaging and rear of the unit explicitly reminding you of its limited uses. I also noticed that transparent red portion doesn’t actively glow like it does for the arcade models, an arbitrary nitpick but worth mentioning (to somebody) anyways.
Like that GameCube adapter for Smash Bros., Most will have to be content with usage for a single title. Fortunately, those with just an ounce of tenacity, about 5-6 minutes of driver downloads, and curiosity with a number of available SNES/N64/GBA emulators (which we at Popzara do not condone beyond test purposes with existing legal ownership of undisclosed titles), this thing unofficially works flawlessly and its usefulness greatly expanded.
Considering the function involved, many will get what they pay for with Hori’s Pokkén Tournament Pro Pad. Most people buying this controller are already motivated to drop the greenbacks, whether it be a hardcore seriousness to the Pokémon arcade arena or another mint condition piece for game collectors. Unlike others reviewers who arrogantly spout commandments of announcing otherwise, The Pro Pad has a justifiable purpose, a little bit more when modified beyond its own narrow devices.