Why Pokkén Tournament is the best thing to happen to the Pokémon franchise for over a decade


The concept of the guys at Namco Bandai's Tekken coming together with The Pokémon Company/Nintendo to build a Pokémon version of Tekken is, on paper, so insane sounding that despite multiple indications over the past year that exactly that was happening, even the most open minded of us found it hard to commit to the theory.

So it probably doesn't really add up that I would espouse that the upcoming, actually being made, game could possibly be the best thing the series has done since the height of the original launch. But I am.


Some of the wide, wide range of Pokémon today. [Source]

That's not to imply that the on-going march of games, tv shows, movies, toys, manga and trading cards are any less significant - but remember that every single major element of those core pillars of the franchise have continued relatively unchanged since the series first exploded into the worldwide multimedia beast we all know and love at the end of the 90s. We have had some pretty major moments in video games outside of the main series - the N64 Stadium and Gamecube Colosseum/Gale of Darkness titles being especially important - but, as it should be, those were primarily supplementary to the main series and don't really exist separately enough to chalk out their own division.

What Pokken Tournament brings to the table that none of what has evolved from the franchise's core elements has done so far, is a genuinely new branch that opens up an exciting new world for the series. This isn't like Smash Bros - a fighting game that features Pokémon - this is a real arcade tournament fighter starring Pokémon.

There's a fair amount of understandable consternation at the announcement that the game will, so far, only be released in Japanese Arcades. But that's actually a very good thing. Firstly, there's literally no chance that this won't see a Western release - the trademarks were filed all over the world over the past year and we even saw the Pokémon Company International uploading an English language trailer for the game immediately after announcement in Japan today. The game is coming to the West, and it's almost definitely coming to the Wii U (and it wouldn't surprise me to see it on the 3DS as well). No-one is going to be leaving money on the table with this one, so while it may take a frustrating amount of time, it will come nonetheless.


Although often limited to sideline amusements in bowling alleys here in the West, arcade gaming is not only still massively popular in Japan, it's at the core of the competitive fighting game community in the country. ​

However, to be specifically announced with the intention of putting this in arcade cabinets next to Street Fighter, Soul Calibur and Tekken, the point is made clear: this is not a throw-away effort. This is about taking the much loved Pokémon characters and delivering a genuine tournament-level fighting game to stand alongside the best in the world. We can infer that from the intent to focus on the arcade release as, by far, this is still the biggest arena for competitive fighting games in Japan; by the gameplay trailer that highlights the move sets of Lucario and Machamp with a level of toe-to-toe brawling action that stands up well against its partially-shared namesake; and by the fact that one of the 3 biggest, dedicated tournament fighting game development teams in the entire world are working on it.


Namco Bandai also sprinkled a shedload of Nintendo-themed fun on top of their Wii U release of Tekken Tag Tournament last year - one of the earliest fruits of their increasingly close relationship with Nintendo as part of Smash Bros' development.​

That same team were drafted in to help bring us this year's Smash Bros games, and you can be guaranteed that this game has evolved from that deal. My suspicion would almost certainly be that the guys at Namco Bandai have, like plenty of us, often imagined what a true fighting game starring Pokémon would really be like after a taste of the party fighting in Smash Bros and that this game genuinely comes from a place of great love and respect to deliver that ideal.

The reason why, if they really do deliver, Pokken Tournament could lay claim to such a lofty title as the one I've ascribed in the headline, is because a serious tournament-level fighting game starring Pokémon would develop a whole new competitive community within the franchise. Such competitive communities are, undoubtedly, part of the lifeblood of the series at this stage in its life. Yes, there is a very defined 'basic' audience of young children that the series will inevitably rotate through for the rest of time, but it's the competitive communities that keep the franchise alive in the older fans. You don't need to look very far to see how true that is - just over a week after thousands of people descended upon Washington for this year's Pokémon Worlds Championship and thousands more watched Korea's Se Jun Park win the adults-only Masters video game championship with a Pachirisu.


Thousands of people watching other fans playing a children's card game. World class sports teams have had smaller turnouts. ​

Competitive communities are why the Pokémon TCG is not only still around, but more popular than ever. They're why Nintendo are releasing a Gamecube Controller adapter for Smash Bros Wii U. And crucially for Pokken Tournament, they're why so many people descend upon the EVO tournament fighting championships every year that Nintendo not only had to take notice at Super Smash Bros' popularity at the tournament, they have now completely embraced it.


Pokken Tournament promises to not simply be a new spin off game to pass the time while we wait for the next main series title - it stands to be a third competitive pillar alongside the main GameFreak games and the TCG. It wouldn't even be unreasonable to see it also featuring at Worlds in due course and even eventually EVO.

This is the first time since the late 90s that the Pokémon franchise has actually produced a genuinely new layer of their increasing dominance. That's, frankly, even more notable than if Ichihara-San had announced Generations VII through IX all at once today. Our Pokémon world just got a little bit bigger - and it's about time, too.

I originally posted this on Pokecharms.com; I wanted to share it here to get your views too. Hopefully I'm not breaking any rules by doing so.