I'm sure that every pokemon fan has wanted to play a real-time pokemon fighting game at least once since the first generation games were released back in 1998 (1996 in Japan); I know I wanted to. I was expecting the first Pokemon Stadium game to be like that and while it wasn't what I expected, I still thought it was enjoyable. Still, I and many fans of the series would still crave that pokemon fighting game for a long time, and now that one has finally been released nearly twenty years later, Does it live up to our nostalgic expectations? Let's take a look.
Now first thing's first: PRESENTATION. Does the game look good? While it doesn't have a native resolution of 1080p like many people would have wanted, 720p is still pretty good, especially since the game runs at a solid 60fps in single player mode and 30fps in versus (since one player needs to use the Wii U's gamepad to see from their perspective). The character models are very well detailed; the pokemon that are suggested to have fur actually look like they have fur and anything metallic shimmers when light is shone on it. Some pokemon even have detailed facial expressions when they win or lose a match. Even the arenas look spectacular; with so many subtle details like an outdoor table shaped like a avalugg or the ads and billboards on the city buildings, they just breathe life into an otherwise plain and forgettable world. But does the game sound good?
The music certainly fits the theme of the game very well and it can be pretty catchy at times, but unfortunately it is hardly what I would call memorable as I hardly ever remember how any of the tracks go, especially when the fights sometimes drown out the music. Also, when playing I've noticed that the pokemon don't use their 4Kids officiated voice overs and instead use their original Japanese VA's. In all honesty, this is probably a smart move as hearing those obnoxious American voice overs in a competitive fighting game would drive me nuts. That's not saying there isn't any English voice acting though. On the contrary, there is English dialog spoken from the trainers and key characters shown in the Single Player campaign, although you're going to want to turn it back to Japanese or even completely off as the "voice acting" (if you want to call it that) is absolutely abysmal; No personality at all. It's like they were just blandly reading their lines from a script and waiting to get paid. But that's beside the point.
The real point of the game however is this: Does it play well? Now I'm unsure how much of an authentic experience you want when playing the game yourself, but I played the game with the official Pokkén Tournament fight pad that was sold along side the game (I did play Smash 4 with a Game Cube controller after all). This special controller, which was modeled after the original arcade version's controller, is absolutely heavenly to play with. It's sturdy, responsive, and also works with some PC games. It unfortunately doesn't work with any other Wii U games, but considering the design of the controller, it's kinda obvious why.
Now the game has sixteen playable fighters (two of which that need to be unlocked), fifteen pairs of support pokemon (only three pairs to start with), nineteen arenas (eleven of which need to be unlocked), and six "cheers" that Nia, your guide, will use to boost your support pokemon and/or your synergy gauge (only one to start with). Just about all of the locked content can only be unlocked by playing through the single player campaign and it gives you a decent idea on how some fighters would play online, but at a much more beatable skill level. Now each playable pokemon plays very differently from each other as many of them have various combos that naturally link into each other, but the game does offer much more complex combos for more experienced players. I've been victim of these harsh combos when playing online. Needless to say I'm not very good against fiercely competitive players. But alas.
Now, where this game really shines (in my opinion) is the Phase Mode mechanic. During battles, when you take or deal enough damage, the phase of the battle will shift between Field Phase: where you roam around the arena in 3D space and combat is mostly ranged; and Dual Phase: where combat is restricted to a 2D plane and most of the fighting is done in close-quarters. These two phases drastically change the attacks and combat mechanics so mastering the constant shifting between phases is crucial to winning a match. In addition to this, pokemon can also gain experience and level up which in turn can be used to increase their stats such as attack or defense. You can turn this feature off in Versus mode if you wish, but I'm still uncertain if it is possible to turn it off during online play.
All in all, this game is an excellent first entry in what I hope will be a permanent spin-off series for the Pokemon franchise. While it's a bit light on playable characters (and it pushes this fact in your face as there is VISIBLE space on the roster for at least four more fighters), they all play very uniquely and each stands out as a whole. And if they wanted to, they could always add more through updates and/or DLC. Also, if you have the extra cash, definitely get the fight pad to go along with it, even if only works with one Wii U game. But until then, I'll be seeing you.