|Pretty neat arcade cabinets.|
What struck me immediately was the limited control to the characters when they were in "free-range" mode, as I am going to call it. The Pokemon start out in their traditional and respective corners, my player character (Lucario, Weavile, and Gengar) in the bottom left of the screen and the opponent in the top right. However, at the start of a battle, you are able to move quite freely around the field, though in a still-very restricted fashion. A double tap in any direction resulted in a dodge which felt sloppy and far too exploitable, seeing as a few of the fighters have seeking projectiles that they can fire at range. In fact, the moveset you possess in free-range mode has a few differences, mostly featuring moves that close or enforce distance. I found this part of the match to be frustrating, as your character is also locked in on the opponent, and collecting the power boosts on the field can be inhibited by your placement near them, as you tend to strafe around them rather than move freely. I also had my health chipped away by a number of annoying ranged attacks.
Of course, that's not all there is to Pokken Tournament. When you make a successful approach (your attacks need to connect and deal damage), the perspective switches to a more familiar 2D fighter field, where movement to the sides is lost but your moveset opens up a bit more. This is where combo attacks, launchers, and the like find their home, and feels like the most rewarding part of the gameplay. I did not learn how to properly interrupt combos, but I did perform quite a few, and this is where the game feels most like a proper fighting game. You can snap opponents out of this perspective with a launch attack, leaving them in free range mode, which can be an awkward transition for them, but I didn't manage to nail down the mechanics of that perfectly.
I had believed that Pokken Tournament would attempt to bring something new to the genre with free movement and dynamic characters, but at the end of it all, it's pretty much exactly what you would expect. There is a jump button but it offers as much movement options as a normal fighting game jump, and characters have supers and assists that can turn the tide of battle or mesh well with a fighting style. Out of he three characters I played with, I found Gengar to be the most comfortable, with a wicked Mega Evolution that possessed great combos and a mixture of ranged and close combat attacks. Weavile was fast but its ranged attacks were awkward and it didn't seem to deal a whole lot of damage. Lucario was extremely uncomfortable to play as, though.
I'm not sure if I'll go back and play more of Pokken Tournament- in order to obtain better assists, one needs to save their progress to a special credit card that I don't have a lot of time to take advantage of, and the game ultimately feels a bit too costly to invest time into. The mechanics are simplistic even though the battle initially feels quite different, and all-in-all, its low roster count (eight Pokemon, with an eventual ninth soon to follow) makes it hard to get all that excited about. There's plenty of depth to be found in every characters' movesets especially with their range-shifting mechanics, but it still feels like a bare-bones experience, and not one that meshes with the American style of arcade experience.