NS Preview – What to Expect in Pokkén Tournament
Pokkén Tournament is less than a month away, and it’s a hotly anticipated title for the Wii U. The game has been described as a merging of Pokémon’s world with the gameplay elements seen in Bandai Namco’s Tekken. With the support and guidance of The Pokémon Company, Bandai Namco has created a fighting game that takes elements from its signature series, yet stands on its own as a unique fighter with surprising depth.
Welcome to the Ferrum region, where trainers use devices to ‘synergise’ with their Partner Pokémon to battle opponents. It’s not made clear how strong this connection is, and to what extent your trainer can manipulate the Pokémon’s actions, but it’s presumably a similar sentiment to the core Pokémon games – gotta work as a team!
Playing Pokkén is a slightly different experience to most other fighting games. The Pokémon fighters begin the round in what is called the ‘Field Phase’. During this phase the fighters are free to roam the entire battlefield, and they have a few strategical options. Some may prefer to keep their distance from the opponent, using ranged attacks to score damage. Others will prefer to immediately move in close and apply strong pressure. It’s worth mentioning that your Pokémon can only move in eight directions, so you won’t benefit from using the analog stick over the D-Pad.
When a fighter takes a heavy hit, the battle will shift into the ‘Duel Phase’. This phase takes a more traditional approach that will be familiar to fighting game fans; the Pokémon can only move forwards and backwards, with the camera giving a side-on view of the action, much like Tekken or Street Fighter. It’s easier during this stage to get close and use combos. Pokémon can be backed against a wall for bigger damage potential. Once enough damage has been dealt, the action shifts back into the Field Phase. It’s common for battles to be regularly shifting between phases
Most actions and moves can be used at any time, but some are exclusive to a specific phase. A lot of the controls are universal; players press R to shield, and B to jump (‘Up’ is used as a stance and move variation in Duel Phase). Pressing Y+B together will initiate a Grab, while X+A works as a Counter Attack. During the Field Phase, the Y button is used for ranged attacks and the X button is used for ‘homing’ physical attacks, in which your Pokémon will rush at the opponent. In the Duel Phase, pressing Y initiates a weak attack and X will dish out a strong attack. In both phases, the A button is used for Pokémon Attacks – moves directly taken from the core series. Some Pokémon Attacks are exclusive to a particular phase.
Pokkén implicates a ‘rock-paper-scissors’ approach to its fighting system called an Attack Triangle, likely inspired by the Pokémon series. Counter Attack wins over Attack, Attack beats Grab, and Grab takes priority over Counters. Each command is colour-coded; a Pokémon charging up a Counter Attack will be surrounded by a blue aura. Red is used for primary attacks, and they shine green if they attempt a Grab. Blue beats red, red beats green, and green beats blue. Choose your starter, and hope your rival doesn’t choose your weakness!
There’s a Synergy Gauge that charges up as the Pokémon gives and takes damage. Once the Synergy Gauge is full, the player can activate Synergy Burst. This is a temporary transformation that boosts Attack, Defence, and HP. The Pokémon can also use an extremely powerful Burst Attack. If it makes contact with the opponent, a small cinematic shows the Pokémon’s dramatic attack in a marvelous spectacle. These moves can be avoided or blocked, and the attack’s initial ‘area of effect’ (AoE) varies between Pokémon
Sixteen fighters (known as Partner Pokémon) are present, with fourteen available from the start. Each fighter has their own strengths and weaknesses; some have more HP, some move around faster, and others hit harder. Pokémon such as Blaziken and Machamp have greater potential in close combat. Conversely, Pokémon like Braixen and Chandelure have a wide pool of ranged attacks. Despite the relatively small roster, there is plenty of diversity. Each Pokémon looks great and has been brilliantly characterised, with differing personalities and animations.
Alongside your Partner Pokémon you take a pair of Support Pokémon into a battle with you, choosing one of the two before each round. Like the Synergy Gauge, a separate Support Gauge will charge over time and can be manually activated when ready. The Supports have a wide range of effects on the battle; some can heal and add buffs to your own fighter, others will attempt to attack or hinder the opponent in some way. They can be highly useful for getting out of a bad situation and turning the battle on its head.
There are also ‘Cheer Skills’ that offer different positive effects between rounds, such as boosting the Synergy Gauge or maxing out the Support Gauge. Again these can be important in affecting the outcome of battle, and players will want to choose the Cheer Skill that most suits their style.
For all the Pokémon that didn’t make the cut as a Partner or Support, a large number of them can be seen in the stage backgrounds. The stages have varying sizes and are situated in different locations of Ferrum. There’s a healthy number of them, and some players will have fun spotting the many Pokémon in the background of each stage. There is a slight drop in graphical quality in the backgrounds, particularly with the human spectators, but they’re not the main focus. The battles can get intense and thankfully the frame rate never lets up, running at a steady 60fps. This drops to 30fps during local multiplayer and the Gamepad user has to use the small screen, but this didn’t take much from the experience. Online play is currently unavailable, but will be covered in our review once it’s live.
Evidently there’s a lot to learn, but several Practice and Tutorial Modes are there for guidance. Combo Training offers a list of combos to try for each fighter, some of them even involving Support Pokémon. Once players are ready, they can have continuous Single Battles against CPU’s or enter the single-player focussed Ferrum League. The Ferrum League is made up of four leagues for the player to progress through, and opponents get tougher with each league. Ferrum League acts as the game’s Story Mode, with brief cutscenes and conversations occasionally breaking the action.
The player’s avatar is customisable, and the developers didn’t hold back with the amount of options. There is a vast amount of clothing items, hairstyles, accessories and effects for your trainer, along with a plethora of player comments and titles to select from. Many of the items are unlocked as you progress through the Ferrum League and earn achievements. There are even unlockable clothes for Nia, the advisor that guides you through the game and offers help during battles. To put it politely, she’s quite chatty. You can disable her advice in the game’s options, or even mute human dialogue entirely.
Pokkén Tournament is easy to pick up, but offers deeper mechanics for competitive players. There aren’t any sprawling command lists that you’d find in Tekken, but it does take time to master a fighter to their full potential. Things look promising for Bandai Namco’s title, and they’ve made an admirable effort to add Pokémon themes in Pokkén’s gameplay elements. There is a huge host of opponents to overcome in the Ferrum League along with a mystery to uncover, and the balanced learning curve will be inviting to players of all levels of intensity. Prepare for a whole new Pokémon experience in March!