May 31, 2018

Pokken Tournament DX is pretty rad.

I mean, I’m pretty sure that’s obvious to anyone that’s been playing the game since the original Wii U release (God rest your noble soul), but as you know, I’m always late to the proverbial party.

Technically, I should be even later than I already am.  Even though I’ve had multiple opportunities to grab Pokken Tournament DX in theory, in practice the schedule -- such as it is -- refused it every time thanks to an extra buffer of simple reasoning.  “Can’t get it now because [insert major game release here] is about to come out.”  “Can’t get it now because my backlog is too big.”  “Can’t get it now because I need to write about JRPGs that progressively erode the fibers of my soul.”  And as I type this, I’m literally less than six days away from the release of another fighting game, BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle -- thus meaning I have to spend hours with that to gain basic competency.  And tomorrow (again, as I type this) Zamasu and Vegito drop in Dragon Ball FighterZ -- and I haven’t played that game in two solid months.  The inevitable session with my brother to celebrate is going to be a massacre.

So you know what?  Screw it.  I’ve got to do something for me.  And what better way to be a selfish twat than with a purchase I may end up regretting 8.56 seconds after I upload this post.  Let’s dig into Pokken Tournament DX.

Full disclosure: if you’re expecting me to know the ins and outs of every facet of the game, right down to the individual frames, don’t.  I’m still very new at the game, which means there’s a lot I need to learn.  This is the most knee-jerk reaction post I’ve probably ever written, but then again, that might be a blessing.  It should tell you how much of a reaction Pokken Tournament DX got out of me -- which to be fair is partly derived from me lusting for the game from afar, but whatever.  Don’t worry about it.

It would be easy to say this is Tekken with pocket monsters instead of martial artists.  In some ways, that’s a fitting description; barring some of the oddly-shaped mons like Chandelure, it’s not hard to pick out animations ripped straight out of Bandai Namco’s archives (Decidueye has a Hunting Hawk?!).  On the other hand, it’s a disservice to pare it down to such a basic comparison.  This isn’t Tekken, and it definitely isn’t another Pokemon.  It’s a beast in its own right.

For the uninitiated: Pokken is a one-on-one fighter that has you choosing your favorite mon and taking on an opponent with moves old and new -- close-range attacks that flow into deadly combos, alongside familiar yet rejiggered special moves culled from the RPG annals.  There’s a touch of Mahvel in here as well, since you can bring an assist along with you; the key difference, though, is that your assists have a strict cooldown/charge up period, so you might only get them out once or twice per round.  I can see how that might be a deal-breaker for some, but at least it’s easier to actually understand what’s happening onscreen.

The real star of Pokken is the Phase system.  On one hand, you have the Field Phase, which makes the game a 3D arena fighter (think CyberConnect2 and its Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm games).  Land a specific or heavy enough attack, and you’ll switch to the Duel Phase; then it’s a 2D fighter where you can unleash your best combos, albeit while strictly denied of the Z-axis that Tekken games have.  You’ll switch back and forth between Phases as the battle rages on, and even at this early stage it’s not hard to see the strategic implications.

Near as I can tell, managing range and positioning is crucial for any Pokken play higher than button-mashing.  Whereas Street Fighter V did its very best to eschew the fireball game, Pokken goes in the complete opposite direction and gives many of its mons a wide array of projectiles.  So depending on who you choose -- and on top of that, what Phase you personally want to be in -- you’ll either want to wear down foes from afar, or push for a close-range scramble.  In which case?  There’s a metagame at play here; fighting games have always made the questions of “how do I get in” and “how to keep them out” pretty clear, but now they’re being shouted through a megaphone.

Thankfully, the game puts up an effort to try and make the process much easier.  There are decent enough tutorials in the game that teach you the basics, battle strategies, and genre concepts, which I appreciate.  More to the point?  Combat takes a page from the Smash Bros. series and simplifies the inputs.  You won’t have to worry about DPs, 720s, or pretzels here; a fair number of special moves are mapped to the A button, and just like your everyday Street Fighter, you can cancel certain moves into specials with a direction and A.  Handy.

At this early stage, it’s hard to talk about problems with any ironclad authority.  Based on my first few runs?  I couldn’t help but think “Is it just me, or is the damage in this game ridiculously high?”  It’s not as if the HUD is too busy, but on multiple occasions I was focusing on trying to put some combos together, only for my opponent to die halfway through.  “Oh, okay, well, that worked out I guess,” I thought.  Maybe my character of choice (maining Blaziken for now) has extremely high damage output that skews my perception.  If he doesn’t -- and I suspect he doesn’t, because Blastoise can melt the flesh from your bones -- then I’d bet that rounds become trivial or even one-sided against someone who knows what they’re doing.

Does that mean there’s a hard-locked skill ceiling, where once you crack “the code” on how to maximize a mon’s damage -- with one or two optimal combos/variations -- then there’s nowhere else to go?  I have my doubts.  But on the flipside, I’m kind of worried that Pokken leans a little too heavily towards being button-mashy.  While I’ve got no problem with autocombos in fighters, the problems above may make the situation worse overall.  Is there a point in learning combos or using strategy when all you have to do to win is shout “WE GOIN’ IN!” and hammer your button of choice?

I sure hope there’s a point -- because just like the title says, I think that this game is pretty rad.

It’s not just the novelty, or gimmick, or audacity of this game’s existence -- of showing what happens when devs go full ham with the “two great tastes that go great together” mantra.  I’d say that there’s plenty to love about Pokken, even if its time in the spotlight is gone (though apparently, it DID beat Capcom’s heavy hitters in sales).  From an AV perspective, it’s a clear step above par.  Vibrant colors, lively stages, incredible music, it’s all there.  The real MVP on that front might be the effects, though; true to Tekken form, when a move hits, it friggin’ hits.The impact factor is in full force, highlighted by both the mons’ lavish animations and the unique pace of the game -- not exactly slow, per se, but definitely deliberate.  Best not to give players seizures in three rounds flat.

But since this is a game half-built on its concept (oh snap!  A Pokemon fighting game!  No they didn’t!), then yes, I have to admit that the novelty, gimmick, and audacity do figure in.  And it’s to great effect.  With the Team Battle option in this game, I can run my BIRD SQUAD of Blaziken, Decidueye, and Empoleon.  Right now, I love them all.  Their flair, their style, they’re power, speed, and technique; the jump to 3D has done them all wonders, with both a vibrancy and quintessence that make them a joy to behold.

I haven’t tried out every character, but I’m itching to.  The way things are looking, there isn’t a single mon I dislike, and many that are cooler than cool.  Exhibit A:

So Scizor has unique dash and hover options on top of being able to pull a Vergil and use Summoned Swords, Decidueye has a stance system he can use in midair, Empoleon basically has Kolin’s V-Trigger II baked into his moveset, and Blaziken channels Carmine to trade life for powerful special moves.  Also, Blaziken’s super is a Rider Kick.

Nobody tell me that this isn’t a fighting game.  It totally is, and I can’t wait to play it more.  And with that, it’s time for me to sign off…and start training with BIRD SQUAD.   

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