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Pokken Tournament Hands-On

"Playable at the 2015 Pokémon World Championships in Boston"

At the 2015 Pokémon World Championships in Boston, The Pokémon Company announced that Pokkén Tournament was hitting Wii U this spring. Even though the announcement itself gained tons of praise and excitement, they also brought the recently released-in-Japan arcade version over to Massachusetts for fans to try it out.

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For those wondering, the Pokémon World Championships is an event that invites the biggest and baddest players in the trading card game and video games and has them duke it out, though local players can compete in the open tourneys. Though the event gets a ton of online traffic via its official streams, the place itself barely fills a room at the Hynes Convention Center, which houses Anime Boston every year as well as the original PAX East.

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This year also had some controversy when two members of the invitational masters division drove from Iowa to Boston with a shotgun and rifle with malicious intent. Luckily one of them was dumb enough to post it online, where the Pokémon Company and Boston PD were able to quickly defuse the situation and arrested the two. That being said, the incident didn’t really interfere with the plans of the show, and didn’t seem to shake up anyone I interacted with, either attendee or employee, but I thought the lack of security or registration with anyone walking in was a bit weird (especially after the steep security increase PAX East and Anime Boston had after the Boston Marathon bombings a few years ago).

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Though the attendance doesn’t nearly compare with the other conventions the Hynes hosts, the one thing that kept a grueling long line was the Pokkén Tournament arcade cabinets.

The arcade game didn’t play like a traditional arcade fighter, in fact it had a controller that was very abnormally wide, as if it was meant for a Wii U GamePad in the first place, complete with the accurate ABXY and D-Pad positioning and square L/R shoulder buttons (as if they were meant for the GamePad’s ZL/ZR buttons). You sat down and looked down at a screen, again unlike most fighters, so it’s actually tough to watch on (thankfully the place was outputting to TVs so everyone could watch).

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Developed by the Tekken team from Bandai Namco, no one should be surprised if Pokkén felt a bit like Tekken. The attacks are limited and watered down, but that’s not really bashing the game since fighters have gotten a bit too complex for their own good. Pokkén sort of brings that in-between where you’re not confused on what to do (especially after one playthrough) but are still doing enough to warrant practicing and having fun with. This could be the game that invites more players to the fighting genre.

The game has a Tekken/DOA/Soul Calibur style of rock-paper-scissors of strikes, blocks and grabs. If someone spams or combos using a certain flow, there’s always a counter for it so that the fight isn’t one-sided. Though the game is simpler than most with a lack of the high/mid/low scales, blocks and grabs are really no different than most other fighters. So your highest chance of winning lies in mastering this mechanic.

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The combo list is vastly less than other fighters, meaning like Super Smash Bros., every player can in no time memorize the moves of every fighter. However, every fighter is incredibly different than one another and faithfully represents the Pokémon. Gengar is trickier, Machamp is meatier with a ton of power, Weavile was extremely fast, and Pikachu is super swifty since it is tiny and light. Suicune was the odd duck being a four-legged beast that it moved awkwardly and had a totally different hitbox.

There is a meter that unleashes the Mega forms of the fighters (if it has one, otherwise it glows) with the press of the shoulder buttons, and gives them a buff. I was getting destroyed one match and was able to transform into Mega Lucario and with some strategy changes, I caught up and left my opponent down to a sliver. It wasn’t rubber-banding per-se since the strategy got the upper hand, the Mega form just helped me dwindle it down faster.

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You can also select supports that can give you a buff or help attack an enemy in a helpful way. You can choose a random selection like Snivy, Frogadier or Lapras. I kept choosing Eevee because it buffed the attack power and believed that was all I needed. Key word is “believed.”

The game felt the best when you and your opponent clashed. Then your opponent scouted your move it created a feeling similar to swinging a sword onto a shield, and you had to recollect super quick so you could retaliate. This happened the most when players get close enough for the first time in a round since the game starts everyone off far apart, and movement becomes more three-dimensional like Power Stone. When everything came together, you can get a mini Dragon Ball fight going on.

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After messing around with Pokkén Tournament, I believe it’ll do the game thing that other Pokémon games like the main series, Mystery Dungeon and Conquest do and that’s introduce people to new genres of games. Like the RPG, rougelikes and strategy games before it, it’ll get a lot of newcomers into the fighting genre, and perhaps a few of them will go further and headline EVO in 2020. At this level, I severely doubt that it’ll ever be in EVO or swarming in tournaments like Tekken, Street Fighter or Super Smash Bros., but I can say that it’ll be fun.

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Oh and they had Bostonian Pikachu plushies there. That was the main reason I went there.

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