NOTE: This article was originally published in September and was re-published for archiving purposes and editing reason beyond my control – Carlos
Hey there, it’s me, that guy who comes here on the pretenses of writing well structured articles about pop culture and entertainment but really just finds an excuse to yell and rant about random shit that I don’t like. How y’all doing tonight?
Your unfriendly neighborhood Angry Elf, along side my little brother and my best bro Gabriel “Z-Slash” Lemaine, had the opportunity to head out to the Dave and Busters Restaurant in Times Square, NYC, to try out one of the most odd cross-overs in fighting game history….and now, one of the most anticipated games for 2016 – Pokken Tournament.
Yep, the Pokemon arcade fighting game made by the developers of Tekken and headed by Tekken head honcho (and lover of cute idols) Katsuhiro Harada, finally made it stateside for a trail run. This was all courtesy of Dave and Busters, the national chain of arcades/restaurants/bars that is one part Chuck E. Cheese’s and one part Buffalo Wind Wings. Aiming toward a more casual gaming experience that compliments their sociable restaurant experience (including arcade versions of mobile games such as Angry Birds and Fruit Ninja) So there is not much fighting game presence for hardcore enthusiasts to practice. In fact, in the years I have ventured to my local Dave and Busters, I have only found ONE fighting game machine in the entire establishment – a random cabinet from the Tekken series. However, whenever Namco-Bandai wants to test out their hardcore fighting games straight from the arcades of Japan, Dave and Busters answers the call (and then give you delicious appetizers).
That is what happened to Tekken 7 upon its initial test-run in The East Coast, and this is what is happening to Pokken Tournament. So if you wanna beat down a Charizard with a Weavil, you better find if your local DnB has the machine available (though if one employee’s report was correct, the NY location is the only one with Pokken thus far, and other stores may not get the game until the weekend. Check your local store for more details)
I will say this though: for the first time in my life, I’m disappointed that I didn’t have to wait on a massive line to play a video game. When the restaurant advertised this “event” through Reddit and Twitter, they failed to include a specific date when the machines where available,among other important details. Still, the buzz got through the fans and many were trying to locate their local D&B, so you’d think there be a massive amount of Pokemaniacs and Tekkenites hoarding together to get a chance to what was previously only limited to streams from Japanese arcades and this year’s Pokemon League Championship. Unfortunately, I found the press information and the publicity for Pokken Tournament‘s American debut was very misleading and poorly handled, with conflicting reports across all of the staff that makes things tough for anyone trying to cover the game. Perhaps, because according to one source, the games inclusion in Dave and Busters was meant for small scale testing and not for serious play or mass consumption. Whatever the reasons when we tried to film the game in action, we were hit with a cease and desist and we have no footage from the floor.
Instead, I’ll try to break down the game from as much as time I played with it. So let’s start with the basics.
Drop The Stick. Pick up The Pad
If you haven’t known this from Harada’s direct streams, then take a look at the picture above you: Pokken Tournament is played primarily on a game pad, so anyone who prefers to play fighters with arcade sticks, or any type of stick period, will have to wait for either further developments in the arcade version or perhaps the inevitable Wii-U console port. To be fair, this game is coming from the company that introduced the concept of using PS2 Dual Shock game pads to play Tekken since Tekken 5: Dark Resurrection, so it shouldn’t be that surprising to arcade veterans. However, while I am a pad player myself, I find this particular controller archaic. With only 4 buttons, 2 triggers, a start button and a d-pad, this controller feels like it belongs on a SNES rather than an arcade cabinet. The controller itself is very uncomfortable, with a wide frame that is not suitable for playing fighting games.Sure, we got used to it, but I would rather play a Wii-U Pro-Controller or even the GamePad than this. Hopefully, these tests will convince Bandai Namco to refit the controller to something more reasonable.
The machine itself didn’t allow for than one set at a time, so we had to keep paying to keep playin (ba-dush!). Thankfully, the prices for entry was incredibly cheap so me, Gabe and my brother was able to do multiple matches and even started a tiny round robin around the crowd around us.
Now, let’s see what Bandai-Namco and Dave and Busters has to say about how to play the game:
Date: For a Limited Time at Our Times Square Location
Be one of the first in America to play this original Pokémon game straight from Japan!
(Y)+(B) = GRAB ATTACK
(X)+(A) = COUNTER ATTACK
(L)+(R) = SYNERGY BURST.
HOW TO PLAY: 1) Swipe Power Card and press the red button to start. 2) Select a mode with the directional inputs. Play solo or challenge another player! 3) New to the game? Try the tutorial. (Select bottom badge on mode screen.) 4) Press the button to confirm your mode. 5) Begin battle. The first to take two rounds wins! GOOD LUCK!
Not much, isn’t it? That is because the arcade unit itself came from Japan, so not much has been properly translated. Only one hastily added board with an English translation of some of the cast moves was available for players to decipher a limited moveset. Perhaps, we’ll get a proper English language cabinet after an upgrade. Allow me to fill in the blanks:
- (X) is for Weak Attacks
- (Y) for Strong Attacks
- (A) are for special moves that work in neutral, in the air and with directions
- (B) is to jump. Some characters can double jump while others straight up fly.
- (L) is to summon your support Pokémon
- (R) is to block.
You begin in the Field Phase of the match, where you can free-roam around a limited area and fire off special moves and attacks to fight their opponent. The first one who initiates a particularly strong attack on their opponent will transition to the Duel Phase, where the action becomes more like a traditional 3D fighter. Another powerful attack will knock you out of Dual Phase and back onto Field where the whole cycle begins again. Additionally, you have a meter called BURST, which manages your super modes (SYNERGY ATTACK) and critical attacks (BURST ATTACK); we’ll get back to that a bit later. You can earn that the old fashioned way (by attacking and blocking) or by picking up items dropped by your opponents on the field. Additionally:
- Tapping Left or Right twice will have your Pokémon do a shadow step, allowing them to dodge some attacks while Field Phase.
- Pressing the D-Pad toward your opponent + (A) in the air will activate a sort of homing attack that knock opponents into Duel Phase. Similarly, the same motion on the ground activates a pushback move with the same properties and more armor.
- You can use Block to Ukemi (recover) from the ground or in the air with correct timing. You can also Ukemi off the wall just before you get into a wall bounce and you can widen the gap enough to leave Duel Phase
- Grabs are identified by their green color and will only confirm when both fighters are in the green. So far there are only front and back throws.
- Don’t pay attention to the sign that states some sort of “rock-paper-scissors” cycle similar to the main Pokémon series – it’s just basic fighting game 101. Grabs trump over blocks, attacks over grabs and block any attacks.
- From what I saw, combos may observe the “magic” system from MVC, where pressing all attack buttons in succession (from Weak to Special) will get you combos. Otherwise, it’s the same dial-a-combo that existed since Tekken 1.
- Finally, you can pull of a slow but powerful attack that can guard crush by pressing (X) + (A), a bit like how the delayed attacks where in DBZ Budokai.
- Sorry. Never saw anyone use a counter-attack.
The winner of best 2 out of 3 wins the match. Hopefully, the console edition will let us have a bit more time in matches. There was also a tutorial mode in the cabinet but since nobody can speak Japanese, everyone often ignored it. Maybe it was for the best, but anyone coming from any other fighting game could use a bit of warm-up.
Harada was right. Pokken Tournament ≠ Tekken with Pokémon.
YES, That Pikachu has training from the Mishima Zaibatsu, belting out Electric Wind God Fists and Hell Spins into Thunder God Fists. YES, That other Pikachu got training from Jaycee and Armor King. YES, that Machamp is equal parts King and Marduck. But NO! Blaziken does not play like Hwoarang; he plays like Bruce Irving. While Harada couldn’t help sprinkling a bit from his famous fighting series here and there, he made it perfectly clear that this game was not Baby’s first Tekken. After playing through the game, I can say that anyone coming in ready to exploit their Tekken muscle memory is for a bit of a surprise.
Let’s ignore the whole Field Phase aspect for now: When Pokken Tournament was first announced to the world, the first sample of game play people saw was the Duel phase, with Lucario fighting Machamp in a style similar to Tekken…all to the music of Tekken 5‘s final boss. You can see how the comparisons are easy to make. When in Fighting Stage, the movement and rhythm of the fight is practically Tekken, down to the juggles and launchers. However, as I sat down expecting to bust out DORIYAHs with Pikachu by inputting the same commands to do Electric Wind God Fist, I learned the hard way that while the core game is surprisingly deep, the inputs and execution factor is deceptively simple. Case in point – EWGF (or is that Electric Wind ARCEUS Fist?) isn’t Forward *Nuetral* Down-Forward + Punch in Pokken, it’s just Forward + (Y). Now I feel dumb. In order to appeal to a larger audience, most moves that one considers as part multi-directional inputs are actually made with very simple inputs like a Smash Bros or an anime game. This is in NO way comparing this game to a watered down licensed fighter (more on that later). Despite the simple controls, the game doesn’t focus so much on execution or technique so much as it is about adaptability, spacing and proper use of moves and support. It aims to brings the young kids and hardcore trainers who love Pokémon into the fighting game genre without slamming them with an impossible learning curve while still displaying enough depth in the mechanics and fighting to appease hardcore fighters. Let’s watch a video of Pikachu in the hands of someone who has a better handle on the game then I, and you tell me if this is too kiddy for you.
I am reminded by Seth Killian’s recent foray into the independent fighting games, Rising Thunder, and his approach to simplifying specials and supers. That being said –
- Juggles are still as prevalent as in Tekken, if a bit more limited.
- Wall Bounces and Wall Crush are still there but there seems to be a built-in mechanic that stops any infinites or wall combos.
- No ground bounds as of late and there is only a limited amount of moves that sweep or attack you while on the floor. But the damage on this game is janky enough without adding OTGs so I’m thankful for that.
Since this is an early build of the game, there are still moves that puts out more damage than it needs to be and some supers straight up ignore blocking. By the time the final roster is complete, expect a lot of balanced patch…well as balanced as a game starring Pokémon can possibly be.
Like I said, it is folly to think of this game in comparision to Tekken: Not only because this is a far more casual fighter then it’s forebear, but due to the diverse cast of Pokémon. You have your obvious fighting types like Lucario, Machamp and Blaziken, who wouldn’t look THAT odd guest starring in a Tekken game. But then you have Smash veterans like Pikachu and Charizard, who never appeared in a traditional fighter, non-fighting types like Gadevoir and Gangar with different moves and properties and even a quadruped fighter, Suicune. And thank Arceus that none of us have to deal with that B.S. Type Advantage from Pokemon in here; such a fighter would be dead in the water with a feature like that. So yeah, don’t hold your breath if you think this will reach the grand finals at EVO…
(EDIT 1/31/2016 – Oh have I been hoisted by my own petard. See this link to find out why)
but even with all of these elements, I’m confident that the game will be balanced enough to be at least enjoyable by a larger audience than say….a game about annoying ninjas.
No, YOU’RE WRONG! Pokken ≠ Pokémon + Naruto Ultimate Ninja Storm…um, maybe.
As much as this game gets compared to Tekken on a fighting level, once fans saw that there would be a free-roaming phase of the battle, there was some initial disappointment that it Harada was right about the differences between Pokken and Tekken. Eventually, the salt dispersed around the floor and everyone starting to compare the game to one of Bandai-Namco’s other successful “fighting game” franchise and no, I don’t mean Soul Calibur (You know what you did wrong, Project Souls. Enjoy obscurity). I mean one of Bandaimco’s many many licensed fighters based on a Shonen Jump anime – The Naruto Ultimate Ninja Storm series. Now I can see how you can compare both games: Pokken’s free-roaming Field Phase is some what similar to Ninja Storm’s core mechanics of running around while mashing repetitive attacks and shooting broken-ass projectiles in an attempt to close the gap between you and your opponent. However, that is simply a surface comparison: While UNS forces you to run around like an idiot and dodging everything before you can get in the first hit, they also have mobility options and defense options (like substitution) to help close the gap. Pokken trades all of that for a more focused camera, a slower speed and more strategic value in zoning. Some characters depends on projectiles for victory, as once they enter the Duel Phase, they tend to lack the same advantage. You see, while some will note a parallel between the two is a good thing, others have been using that observation as a sign of disrespect. I certainly feel shame at those who want to call this ” Naruto Ultimate Ninja Storm with Pokémon”, because I feel that Pokken has the potential to be much more deeper and rewarding experience. If you want to compare Pokken to another game, I have felt that it played much like a more limited version of the first Power Stone or a more balanced version of Final Fantasy Dissidia or Gundam Extreme Vs. It certainly feels a lot better than mentioning Pokken in the same breath of the universe’s worst ninja.
Now, you can point to Pokken‘s BURST SYSTEM with it’s SYNERGY MODE and BURST ATTACKS as stand ins for the various transformations, power-ups and Ultimate Jutsu that recreates (and some times exagerates) the cinematic appeal of the Naruto anime. So while we’re on that topic, let’s talk SYNERGY: I’m not an expert in any of the Naruto games, but I can tell you that Synergy Mode has far more uses than just powering up your character and activating your Burst Attacks.
- When you activate Synergy, there is a small pushback effect, giving you some room to breathe.
- The start up animation for Synergy Mode also has a bit of frame invincibility and you can use this to break combos.
- Once in Synergy Mode, your options vary on your Pokémon: some will only get a power-up in attack with additional moves; it’s important you deal as much damage as you can before breaking into Burst.
- Others like Charizard and Lucario have Mega Evolutions, which offer more power and stamina; This seems to be the ace in the whole for characters such as these, so build up meter as fast as you can.
Ultimately, you can do a lot more with Synergy then running around and building chakra for one over-the-top and lengthy super attack.
However if I can add one little piece of advice for the developers of the game: Burst Meter needs to burn out fast. For many beginner players of a character without a Mega Evolution, Synergy is just a power up that you can use until you need to hide behind a Burst Attack’s invincible start-up. But for players WITH Mega Evolutions, it’s a “made-to-win” mechanic, so they play aggressively to build meter just so they could abuse the slow burn out of their powerful Mega forms.The trade-off is that Synergy Mode isn’t totally invincible, just has a lot of armor. So, just like in Power Stone, the more damage you can inflict on an opponent with Synergy activated, the faster you can drain their life points.
Finally, you can also point to Pokken’s support system being a rip-off of UNS’s Team System. However, The Ninja Support you get is instantaneous like an MVC3 assist (and just as annoying) and choosing the best ninja is essential to your strategy. As you’re about to see, Pokken‘s support Pokémon requires a different way of thinking.
Frogadier is Doom Tier?! Nah man, it’s all about Dat Fennekin.
So it not enough that you’re playing a free-roaming Pokémon combat game when you can switch to Pokémon Tekken on the fly; You also have Poké Helpers who can hop in the battle to lend support but can’t land a hit to save their little lives. It’s more fair to say that The Pokémon Support system has more in common with Rival Schools then any Vs. game, since it’s best to use Support on a more defensive game than as an attack option. For one, once you activate your Support, you have to let it cool down until you activate, sort of like an MMO Hotkey. Just like Synergy Mode, The Support Pokémon has a small intro animation that can also be abused to escape enemy combos, or reset attack patterns (though who knows if this will make the final version so be careful).
As of the build that was available in Dave and Busters, there where only 3 sets of Supports, with 2 Pokémon per set for a total of 6 Support guests, and their abilities and charge time vary between each. You choose your set from the select screen and you choose your partner at the start of every match, so you can switch and experiment with different Pokémon. Let’s do a mini Poké-Rap, shall we?
- Fennekin: Slowly becoming a favorite among players for providing a strong combination of defense and pressure. Certainly my favorite. It activates Ember, which creates a dome of fire that damages opponents, pushes them back and put them in a lot of block stun for follow-ups and grabs. Has a normal charge time.
- Emolga: Pikachu’s Gen 5 cousin acts as a very fast, electric projectile that can stun opponents. Several players suggested to use Emolga as a long range option to stun opponents so you can rush them, but I prefer using Emolga as a short range stun move to extend combos and break off attacks; pretend Ryu from Street Fighter replaced his Denjin Hadoken with a flying electric squirrel and you’ll get what I’m talking about. Has a fast charge time
- Snivy – The Gen 5 Grass-type starter of Poké Gentlemen, he unleashes a small hurricane that can catch airborne opponents trying to abuse Homing Strikes. Very good for long range as well. Has a fast charge time
- Lapras – Ah, old Poké Nessie. Takes me back to the days that Ash was sailing around The Orange Islands. Lapras uses Surf to do a wide ranging forward rushdown that pushes opponents back and can do a lot of Guard Crush. You can also use this to shut down any projectile games. My only issue with this it can come out very slowly so smart fighters can see it coming from a mile away and dodge it. Only use it during combos or as punishment.
- Frogadier – The second evolution in the Froaky line and the one just before the popular Greninja, this water-type is getting a following of his own through this game. He uses Water Pulse to throw out a disk-shaped water projectile that homes in on opponents from a long distance. It comes out very fast and has a strong pushback. As the title implies, many players who tried out the game are claiming that Frogadier is the best assist in the game, on par with Dr. Doom in the MVC series. Though, I remain skeptical about it’s godlike status, I still think Froggy is still pretty good.
- Eevee – It’s everyone’s favorite lab experiment. Unfortunately, Eevee’s attack does not entail randomly evolving into one of it’s rainbow of evolutionary forms. Rather, Eevee stands out as the one Support Pokémon that actually, you know…supports. Eevee strengthens your attacks and heals you a bit using Helping Hand. Great for aggressive fighters and beginners who need a small pick-me up to help in tough spots.
Several reports spotted other Support Pokémon during the newer trailers, so the final count could be bigger and new more devastating combos can be unleashed. Shame that you can mix and match.
And now the moment you’ve probably been waiting for, a look at the pocket monsters you can play as in Pokken Tournament:
Who’s That Pokémon?!
- Aura Sphere – A
- Bone Rush – A + Forward
- Force Palm – A + Back
- Extreme Speed – A + Up
Your basic intro character with balance speed, attack and defense. Borrows a lot from Lars but his zoning game is reminiscent of Street Fighter‘s Ryu (take note, Lucario could be a concept for Ryu’s play style in Tekken x Street Fighter). However, his moves are a bit too stiff and linear to do any flashy or aggressive combos. Relies on his Mega Evolution to bring home the big damage. Could be mid-tier for a while.
- Thunderbolt – A Button
- Nuzzle – A + Forward
- Electro Ball – A + Back
- Thunder – A (Must be in the air)
- EWGF – Y + Up
The most popular Pokémon… ever. Very quick and agile, his electric projectile moves goes in varied and erratic patterns to confuse opponents and get in. Has one of the best homing strikes. Now equipped with training from the Mishima Zaibatsu to make his specials and forward strikes very devastating. Includes variations on EWGF, Hell Spin, Hell Axle and Rising Thunder God Fist. Expect this little sucker to dominate the online leader boards when the game comes to console, like Ken in Vanilla SF4. Synergy adds Quick Attack multi-hit anti-air to his repertoire. Can combo to his Burst very easily. May need some light tapping with the nerf stick in the damage department. Only weakness is lack of a strong long range game. Destined for mid-top tier.
- Beat Up – A
- Cross Chop – Press A again after you do the Beat Up Attack
- Submission – A + Forward
- Close Combat – A + Down
STRONK-EST POKÉMON. Overwhelming Power and juggle ability makes him a standout favorite among mashers and rush down fighters. So far, only Mon with a aerial grab and follow up attacks. His grab is the Giant Swing from King. Synergy gives a lot of his moves Super Armor and great priority. Burst Attack suggests he could either be a Joestar or a student of Hakuto no Ken. I wanna say top tier because of how many people like to use him and attain victory, but a slow long range game and movement makes him a target for zoners and tricky opponents. Maybe mid-top.
- Aurora Beam – A
- Hydro Pump – A + Forward
- Mirror Coat – A + Back
- Blizzard – A (Must be in the air)
Look like a dog but plays like a turtle. Most defensive fighter in the roster, it relies on long range zoning and spacing to stay in the game. Aurora Beam and Hyrdo Pump are very powerful and can lock you down quick. Trick to fighting Suicune is to corner it and try to get in. Has one or two options while in Duel Phase but otherwise, lousy close-up game to make up for his zoning capabilities. Needs more attack options while sacrificing speed and power of it’s beams. Definitely heading down the ladder.
- Psyshock – A
- Assist Power – A + Forward
- Calm Mind and Psychic – Back +A+X
- Magical Leaf – A (Must be in the Air)
One of the cheapest characters and the best zoner of the roster. Fires tons of lasers that comes out in very quick succession. Reports states she a few tricks up her sleeve that includes more technical surprises and stat changes but I haven’t seen much people play as her. Also has a lousy close-up game but she fares better then Suicune. Her normal attacks and visual demeanor is similar to Jun Kazama. Her Burst Attack is one of the most visually impressive. Expect many to adopt Gardy early on in consoles for spam trolling till someone shuts her down like Phoenix in MVC3. Needs a nerf injection, stat!
*The Next three has move sets that weren’t translated yet in English, so apologies for lack of moves
Has a bit of the devil in him, with some familiar moves from both Devil Kazuya and Devil Jin. Another heavyweight, he’s a bit faster than Machamp. Has an ability that makes him hover above ground. Great sweeps and launchers, strong projectile game. Mega Evolves to Charizard X for devastating damage. Has the best Burst Attack to cancel from anything, the hit box hits from a sort of angle that makes it practically unblockable. Combine with a Wall Crush to make it unstoppable. Needs a slight tap from the nerf stick in terms of hit box collision on that super. His size could keep him in Mid-top to Mids.
Was personally looking forward to making it my main, but was slightly disappointed in it’s performance. Plays like a bizzare fusion of Hwoarang and Bruce Irving. His long legs and lanky size makes him a great match up between Lucario, Charizard, and Machamp but his attacks tend to go over the rest of the attacks. Has a few overheads but they come out a bit slowly. Has the WORST homing strike in the game: Does self-damage if whiffed, has a long recovery frame and can be punished severely on block. Has a very cool looking Burst Attack, but I feel this bird wont fly far unless you can master it.
First off, apologies to any Weavil fans who was wondering why I never included their favorite ice cat/mongoose/badger-thingy. I thought I never played or seen her in action but in fact, I did play Weavil one time and plum forgot. All I can remember is that she is the quickest character and the one with the best pokes, but I have no idea if you can use her as a rush down character for pressure games. Her Burst is a multi-hit Ice Hurricane DP that ends with a powerful slash. But Weavile might as well have learned that move from Dan Hibiki, because it has as much priority and horizontal movement as his weak Koryuken. But yeah, Weavile is still a thing, I guess.
The most victorious Pokémon (which means the most busted), players who played Gangar held sets of wins because few people win against him. Surprisingly very tricky, has teleport and feint moves that evoke Raven, the ninja Wesley Snipes wannabe. Strong up close and frightening when evolved into Mega Gangar. His Burst Attack is the stuff of nightmares, yet doesn’t do as much damage as I thought. The absolute worst thing that can happen is if Mega Gangar corners you, because the goddamn Synergy mode last too long. Needs a severe beating with the nerf stick, otherwise he could wind up on top.
Gotta Body Them All
And that is as much as we can gather from the event. According to one of the staff at D&B Times Square, a tournament could happen over the weekend and later in the year, along with a Tekken 7 tournament. So if you are in the East Coast Tri-State-Area, stay tuned to your Twitter feed for more info.
I wanna thank Gabe and my brother Fernando for helping me test out the game and the good folks at the Dave and Busters in Time Square for letting us play the game and giving us with as much info as we can get from our session. Like previously stated, Pokken Tournament will be available at Dave and Busters for a limited time at affordable pricing for chips and food. So if you wanna catch ’em all, just Google “DAVE AND BUSTERS” and see if there is one near your area. I’m hoping I can come back again on a later date to test out Masked Pikachu (or as I like to call her, R.Pika) and any new characters released at that time. I feel like i have just scratched the surface of this enjoyable little fighter…and I won’t rest until do a EWGF juggle with Pikachu Mishima! DORIYAH!
Source: Hands on time at Dave and Busters Times Square