Tag Archive: pikachu


I’ve been playing Pokémon games for nearly 20 years now, and have loved almost every second of them. As exciting as all the changes I’ve seen have been over that time, some things have remained steadfastly the same. But, with the release of Pokémon Sun/Moon, many of those seemingly untouchable pillars of the Pokémon universe have been changed—resulting in the freshest game the series has seen since its early days, and possibly the best yet.

Sun/Moon begins like many other games in the series. You wake up at home, and your mom tells you to go meet the local professor to begin what will surely turn out to be another fantastical Pokémon adventure. Unlike in others game, you’re the new kid on the block here, having just moved to the new region of Alola from Kanto (the region from the original Red/Blue Pokémon games). Breaking from what you may be used to from the franchise’s previous locations, Alola doesn’t have eight gyms for you to defeat. Instead, you’ll travel to four islands—each overseen by a Kahuna and their Captains who serve as gatekeepers to the powerful Guardian Pokémon on each island—and conquering them all is your primary challenge.

Because of your character’s roots in Kanto, Sun/Moon has a lot of callbacks to that original region—as well as other previous Pokémon games—with cameos galore from both characters and Pokémon alike. No other Pokémon game up to this point has been as self-aware of the universe in which the games take place, and it makes the region feel bigger than it is because of the influences from each previous game manifesting themselves in different ways. It also drips of nostalgia, giving long-time fans something to get excited about when they recognize obscure references, while potentially filling in the blanks for newcomers that want to learn more about those earlier generations. A perfect example might be the new nefarious group of Pokémon snatchers named Team Skull, who are more incompetent and comical than the original Team Rocket, but whose modus operandi falls alarmingly in line with the Kanto crooks and less with the world changing extremists of later titles.

Alola may take some cues from previous games, but in many ways it has a dynamic all its own that might actually make it my new favorite region in the series. Part of that comes from the fact that Sun/Moon is again pushing the 3DS’ graphical boundaries. While X/Y offered the first polygonal graphics in a Pokémon game, there was still a lot of grid-based movement. Sun/Moon finally does away with this altogether (while also smoothing out some of those rough polygonal edges), giving your character the full 360-degrees of freedom to move around as you would in most modern games. Making most of the game incompatible with the 3DS’ stereoscopic 3D effect likely helped to boost the graphical power, and I, for one, did not miss it. The camera still remains out of the player’s control to help keep items and secrets hidden via perspective shifts, but this was a huge step forward to making the world of Pokémon feel even more alive and vibrant.

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There is also the aforementioned Kahunas and Captains, who give a shot in the arm to the old gym system. Instead of just battling your way to the top of each gym and then taking on the Elite Four, Sun/Moon offers up a wide variety of gameplay beyond battling. Each Captain will place you on a trial that involves battling at some point, but which also require you to solve some sort of puzzle, such as collecting the ingredients for a recipe or needing to pass a memory exam. Only then will you be able to take on their Guardian Pokémon in a fierce battle that will reward you with a Z-crystal—proof of you conquering the trial and your proficiency as a trainer, which also unlock more areas of Alola. Once an island’s Guardians and Captains are behind you, you’ll then face the island Kahuna as you try to conquer the four corners of Alola.

Speaking of Z-crystals, they’re just the first of several major changes to the battle system. Besides taking the place of traditional gym badges in how they prove your mettle as a trainer, they also unlock special moves for your Pokémon. While there are Z-crystals representing each of the 18 Pokémon types, there are also lesser ones meant for specific Pokémon like Pikachu, Snorlax, or the three new starter Pokémon. A Z-crystal move can only be used once per battle for your entire team, so choosing when and what Pokémon to use it for adds an extra level of strategy that goes far deeper than X/Y’s Mega Evolutions. My only wish now is that Pokémon could carry two items, because it sure is hard to take a Z-crystal away from a Pokémon unless you definitely know what you’re going up against in the next battle.

Another major change in combat is how the UI now provides a chart showing stat changes (like if you’ve been hit with Growl and your Attack has fallen) and what moves are strong against what Pokémon. The stat changes are depicted via a series of arrows, which could be better if we were given actual number changes—but it definitely helps if it’s a back and forth bout. At first, I admit I was leery about the idea of the game just telling me what moves were effective and what ones weren’t, but I suppose it falls in more in line with what a Pokédex is supposed to do. With so many Pokémon and types changing from game to game, most people were probably heading to Google every few minutes to look up a Pokémon they were unfamiliar with anyway.

My only issue with it is that it doesn’t go far enough. You need to capture or beat a Pokémon first before getting that information on your second encounter with it, whether in battle or in the wild. Why not just give people those stats from the start? Ash’s Pokédex in the cartoon gives him the information immediately upon seeing a new Pokémon. It could’ve, and should’ve, been the same here when Game Freak decided it was going make this change.

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One other major change in combat comes in the form of the removal of Hidden Machines. HMs used to have major traversal or world changing moves like Surf, Strength, and Cut in them. They would take up a normally useful move spot for a member of your team that you couldn’t change, or take up a spot on your team altogether with a Pokémon meant to just know everything useful. Sun/Moon does away with this, although some HMs are still present as normal move-teaching Technical Machines if you want to impart some of the more effective combat moves (like Fly). Instead, you get a pager and can call seven special Pokémon to help you make your way around Alola. For example, you can call a Taurus to break away rocks, or a Charizard to fly you to different Pokécenters. It’s a no-cost service, frees up space on your roster, and might be the most important change yet that Sun/Moon adds to the series. The ease of use was great, and the effectiveness of my party increased tremendously because of it.

Besides the new island challenge and battling mechanics, there are plenty of side distractions to take part in as well. One new aspect is the Poké Refresh, which allows you to pet, feed, and play with your Pokémon outside of battle via the touch screen. A benefit to building up a good relationship with your Pokémon this way is it will offer unique bonuses in battle, but also is a free way of removing status effects on Pokémon. That means items like Awakening (cures sleep) and Antidote (cures poison) are only now necessary during battle—and that means less trips to the Pokécenter or Pokémart for medicines, and more time spent exploring the world and enjoying it.

There are also new places to visit, like your own personal set of islands you discover called the Poké Pelago. Each island in the Pelago can house the extra Pokémon you’d normally keep in Boxes at Pokécenters, which you still use to change your lineup. Now, though, they can train to level up or gather items for you on the side, instead of collecting dust as just another statistic in your Pokédex.

If you’re more about upgrading your trainer, another new feature called the Festival Plaza allows you to talk to people and earn special Festival Currency. This currency can then be used inside the festival to upgrade your trainer’s apparel and offers some much needed trainer customization to the game. Of course, I think it’d be easier if the game just let you customize your character fully from the get-go like every other RPG out there, but at least Pokémon is trying to get with the times when it comes to giving players a bit more expression on that front.

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The Festival Plaza is also where you can trade with or battle players online, or use the new QR scanner via the 3DS’ camera to scan friends’ Pokémon to add their info to your Pokédex (minus the trading aspect). If you’re all about battling like I am, however, then I can attest that—at least in a pre-launch state—I was able to connect to a few folks online, and found there to be minimal issues in one-on-one situations. You can even record your battles and save them to your SD Card to watch and analyze battles later. Besides one-on-one battles, there’s also two-versus-two and the new Battle Royal matches, where four players put one Pokémon in and the last one standing wins.

Unfortunately, it’s in these multi-Pokémon battles that some issues start to arise. Whether playing online, or even offline in the main game, whenever more than two Pokémon appear on screen (yours versus one other), the game starts to slow down a little, load times become more evident, and animation beings to crawl. These issues aren’t enough to ruin the experience, but they are enough to snap you out of your Pokémon reverie for sure—and it’s particularly shocking when this even happens against the computer in the main game.

There’s also a new feature where wild Pokémon can call for help. Sometimes, a wild Pokémon that’s about to faint will call on another of its species, turning a one-on-one fight into a two-on-one (which also triggers the above mentioned slowdown). It offers you, the player, more experience for beating more Pokémon, but—especially if you’re trying to capture one of the two—it can prolong the fight considerably. I once got in a cycle where I had to face seven Zubats because I would take one out and the other would keep calling for help. Finally, I just gave up and ran away because no Zubat is worth that much time. So, this is one feature that I hope future iterations of the game do away with.

Another addition that was hit-or-miss is the new Alolan variants of Kanto Pokémon. For example, there’s now a dark-type Rattata (originally a normal-type), or an ice-type version of Sandshrew (originally a ground-type). For the most part, I like the idea of collecting different types of the same Pokémon, especially since only one is needed to unlock the Pokédex entry. What I don’t like about it is when those Pokémon are used in battle. When an enemy trainer is about to throw out a Pokémon, it only says “Ace Trainer is about to use Ninetails. Do you wish to switch Pokémon?” Normally, Ninetails is a fire-type, and I would counter with a water-type. The game never tells you what variant is being thrown out until it actually appears on your screen. If it’s the ice-type Ninetails, I basically wasted a turn needing to switch out my water-type for a fire-type. It’s a minor thing, but considering how serious some of us take our battles, wasting a turn isn’t something to be taken lightly.

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Pokémon Sun/Moon provides the series a shot in the arm we might not have realized it needed. Battling is more efficient than ever, and that cranks the fun up to levels we haven’t seen since the early days of the series—even with the occasional slowdown issue. New and old Pokémon come together to symbolize the balance this game has struck between Pokémon’s past and its future, providing nostalgia for us franchise veterans and some history for newcomers. Combine all this with more side content than ever before, as well as a beautiful 3D world, and Pokémon Sun/Moon is nothing short of an instant classic.

Publisher: Nintendo/The Pokémon Company • Developer: Game Freak • ESRB: E – Everyone • Release Date: 11.18.16
9.0
A couple technical issues aside, Sun/Moon might be the best Pokémon game yet. It freshens up a formula some of us PokéManics might not have realized was growing stale until now. Trials and Grand Trials provide variations on familiar gameplay, and the removal of HMs and telling players how effective their moves are rejuvenates battling.
The Good The island trials will make you never want to battle in a gym again. Ride Pokémon doing away with Hidden Machines from previous games.
The Bad Some slowdown in battles involving three or more Pokémon.
The Ugly Why is my character always smiling? Even when things take a turn for the worst in the game, my character’s facial animation never changes.
Pokémon Sun/Moon are Nintendo 3DS exclusives. Primary version reviewed was Pokémon Sun. Review copies were provided by Nintendo for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.
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WiiU_PokkenTournamentHeader

Gotta fight’em all

Whenever Nintendo develops a smash-hit franchise, it’s only a matter of time before spin-offs happen—and Pokémon is no exception to this rule. Whether it’s the Rouge-like Mystery Dungeon series, the safari-driven Pokémon Snap, or the arcade-inspired Pokémon Pinball, Pokémon has been a great resource for when it comes time to break away from its turn-based RPG roots. I think even those of us who have been playing Pokémon over the past 20 years were a little perplexed, though, when we heard of its latest mash-up: Pokkén Tournament, a mixing of Bandai Namco’s Tekken gameplay and Pokémon.

Set in the newest continent added to the Pokémon universe, Ferrum, players will choose from a roster of 14 Pokémon to fight by their side as they attempt to conquer the region’s different leagues and be crowned the Grand Master. Along the way, they’ll learn the history of the region, and come to understand why an old enemy has re-emerged and is threatening the sanctity of Ferrum’s battle tournaments.

What’s interesting about Pokkén Tournament is that it didn’t try to just throw a bunch of elements from both Tekken and Pokémon together, instead working to find the right aspects of each one to merge in hopeful harmony. And when that harmony was achieved, the basis for one of the more interesting fighters we’ve seen in some time was born.

Before the battles begin, you start by customizing your own personal trainer, choosing their gender and a handful of visual options such as shirts, hats, and more. As you fight, you’ll earn PokéGold, which can then be used to buy more lavish items including background lens flares, feather boas, or even a pirate costume. To personalize things further, you can unlock fight titles like in other games of the genre—my favorite of which is “Living Legend”, perfect for when I take on other players (or even the CPU) locally and online with my mighty Machamp. You can also earn up to five bonus items a day by placing Amiibo on the Wii U gamepad; they had to work the figurines in somehow, I suppose.

Those personal touches are always nice in any game, but the real mixing of elements comes in the core fighting gameplay of Pokkén Tournament. Taking a page out of the Pokémon games, the more you fight with a particular Pokémon, the more they level up. So even though you can switch between Pokémon on the starting roster between fights, sticking with a single character rewards you more, and makes it easier to progress through the game, as they’ll have higher stats that can then be carried over into battle. For example, by the time I finished the single player story, my Machamp was a level 95, with points distributed relatively evenly amongst four categories: attack, defense, synergy (the speed at which your synergy meter fills up; think an ultra meter in other fighting games), and strategy (the strength of your support Pokémon).

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Those just-mentioned support Pokémon are an idea that adds an extra wrinkle of planning to every battle, similar to the Assist characters from Marvel vs. Capcom. There are 15 pairs of Support Pokémon, but while you’ll choose a pair before each battle, you can actually only use one of the duo each round. Each support Pokémon has a different effect: some do offensive damage, while others buff you or debuff your opponent, similar to the powers these Pokemon would have in the mainline games. This flurry of decisions can be difficult (especially with only a 10-second timer) but could mean the difference between victory and defeat. Personally, I prefer Quagsire and Magneton, mostly because Quagsire’s Mud Bomb has a nice area of effect and can do massive damage.

Besides Support Pokémon, players also get a cheerleader—the girl who introduces you to the Ferrum region. Between each round, she’ll give you advice (akin to real-life trainers in boxing or MMA), and while said advice is never really helpful, it can give you boosts to different meters depending on how you want her to coach you pre-fight. To be honest, I ended up finding her kind of annoying after only a few fights—another casualty of atrocious voice acting across the board in Pokkén Tournament—but I won’t argue with a fully-charged ultra meter to start round two, and it’s another surprising layer of choice to how you approach each fight.

The most impressive part of Pokkén Tournament’s gameplay, though, is the actual fights themselves. This doesn’t feel like some cheap re-skin of Tekken, nor is it some poorly-balanced clone. While I don’t agree with every move made, the heart of this fighter is strong. If you play other fighting games like myself, there is a bit of a learning curve, especially with the limited button re-assignment options. Like Mortal Kombat, you have to press a button to block instead of holding backward, but more unnatural was another button-instead-of-dpad-direction decision: jumping with the B button rather than up.

Once I finally got my brain retrained, I found that Pokkén Tournament might actually be a great introductory game for players new to the fighting genre. Its controls are super-simple, with no special move requiring more than a combination of a single direction and button press. Throws, counters, and ultras, meanwhile, all only require two buttons. While the move inputs may be simple, the core of gameplay is the rock-paper-scissors system not only found in many fighting games—throws beat counters, counters beat normal attacks, normal attacks beat throws—but also the Pokémon RPGs themselves. Of course, here everything is themed to the series, with moves such as Rock Throw, Ice Punch, and Seismic Toss.

When you combine all of that with the speed of the action (courtesy of devices that give players psychic links to their Pokémon according to the story), this is the first time in video game form we actually get battles close to what we see in the cartoon. In the back of every Pokémon fan’s mind, mine included, we’ve always appreciated the strategy and RPG aspects of the games, but have longed for a more visceral experience like we see on the TV show. Pokémon Stadium got us closer to that than the handheld entries, but it still never reached that fever-pitch that most competition brings because of a lack of speed and intuitiveness. Pokémon is extremely enjoyable, but you can take your time with it, often requiring dozens of hours per playthrough. Pokkén Tournament requires faster thinking and action and lasts 80 seconds, and that leads to a special kind of frantic fun that fans of Pokémon have been waiting for whether they realized it or not, and I couldn’t get enough of it, particularly when playing with my friends.

With that said, not everything in Pokkén Tournament is in perfect harmony. One major flaw I found was the “Phase” system, which dictates how battles play out and from what perspective. Each match starts in Field Phase, which sees players fight in a 3D space like the Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm series. When you perform certain attacks on your opponents, however, everything shifts to a more traditional 2D plane called Duel Phase. The primary problem with this system, besides the jarring movement of the camera, is the moves of your Pokémon change along with the shift. It’s almost like you have to learn two different characters and be ready to alternate between them on the fly. While I’m sure the best players will be able to transition seamlessly between Phases in due time and string out massive combos, the rest of us would probably prefer learning a single set of moves and mastering those. It feels like that while trying to keep the controls simple—to perhaps draw in that Pokémon crowd that may not necessarily be fighting game fans—the developers still wanted a large moveset that could appeal to fighting game veterans. This shifting phases was the result of that odd compromise and in the end I don’t think either camp will be completely happy.

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Now, most people will likely jump into single player when they start up Pokkén Tournament for the first time, but to say that mode is a grind would be like saying Charizard likes to burn things. To finish off the loose story woven through each of the game’s five leagues, I battled my way through about 150 fights (with only a handful of losses) before I could be declared Grand Master. And with a glaring lack of personality from everyone you fight (including the league leaders), the story feels horribly shallow and devoid of any character whatsoever. Only by continuously winning can you quickly shoot up the leaderboards in each single player league, filled with an ever-increasing number of dozens of combatants. You don’t have to fight through each person, but considering you only move up 10-20 spots every five battles before taking part in an eight-person tournament and then getting to fight the league leader, you can see where the grind starts to creep in.

Pokkén Tournament also features online and local versus. I played several matches online, and found no issues whatsoever with the servers. Mind you, there were probably never more than a few hundred people online at any given time during my pre-release time with the game, so hopefully the servers will hold up come release.

Local versus is another matter, though. While there were no technical issues, I found one aspect particularly irritating—and it goes back to the camera I mentioned while speaking about Phases. Because the 3D arena camera has been positioned behind each Pokemon, each player ends up needing their own personal view of the action. To accommodate this, Pokkén Tournament forces player one to use the gamepad’s screen as their main display, while player two must use whatever TV the system is connected to. It is a means to try to simulate the fight feel you have with the Pokémon RPGs, hiding what main and support Pokémon each player is selecting. One person playing on a six-inch screen, and another on a 46-inch screen always feels like the player with the better screen has a slight edge, though, and when dealing with competitive fighting games, anything that tips the balance in another player’s favor that isn’t skill-based is just asking for trouble.

My final gripe with Pokkén Tournament might’ve been my most disappointing. There are over 720 Pokémon now, yet only 14 are playable in the game (16 if you count the two special unlocks) with another 30 appearing as Support. There are 20 pure-fighting types alone in Pokémon, and Machamp is the only one on the roster. No Primeape. No Hitmonlee, Hitmonchan, or Hitmontop. No Throh, Sawk, or Hariyama. And that’s not even including Pokémon with secondary fighting characteristics, of which there are only two others on the roster—Lucario and Blaziken—out of another 24. Not to mention all the other Pokémon who could’ve easily been worked into this game, like Greninja.

One saving grace that comes with such a small roster is that at least all the Pokémon are extremely well-balanced. Clearly some time was invested to make sure that no Pokémon, no matter its natural-type advantages in the RPGs, would be so outclassed here that it became frustrating to play with any of them. Whether it’s a power-type like Machamp who specializes in up close and personal melee attacks, a speed-type like Sceptile that can pummel you with a variety of high-counting combos in no time flat, a technical-type like Gengar that relies on its specials, or a standard-type like Lucario that is even across the board, all the Pokémon work nicely in combat and it shouldn’t be long before you find a main Pokémon to specialize in, again harking back to the relatively easy to learn controls.

When I started reviewing Pokkén Tournament, I had no idea how the gameplay of Tekken and the world of Pokémon were going to find a way to reconcile, yet amazingly, they did. In fact, when elements of both fit together, it arguably produced gameplay greater than the sum of its parts. But when those elements didn’t mesh, the train wreck it created was doubly worse, and the small roster is disappointing. There were enough successes amongst the failures in this odd marriage though, and because of that, Pokkén Tournament has created a solid core to build on for potential future continuations of this spin-off series—even if this game is not quite ready to be declared a champion quite yet.

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Developer: Bandai Namco Games • Publisher: Nintendo, Bandai Namco • ESRB: E10+ – Everyone 10 and up • Release Date: 03.18.16
7.0
Pokkén Tournament was a brave experiment, and it succeeds in many areas. However, it fails in some others—whether from lack of depth or outright poor design—that keeps it from reaching that upper-tier of the fighting game genre’s elite entries.
The Good Solid balancing of all the characters leads to fun and frantic fighting game action.
The Bad Small roster. Switching between phases. Single player is a grind. Having player one forced to play off the Wii U gamepad in local battles.
The Ugly “Luchachu” would’ve sounded so much better to me than “Pikachu Libre”.
Pokkén Tournament is a Wii U exclusive. Review code was provided by Nintendo for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.

Don’t catch this one

We’ve always had to take Pokémon spin-offs with a grain of salt. Sure, there have been some interesting ideas like Pokémon Mystery Dungeon and Pokémon Snap that have been able to pique our curiosity for a little while along the way, and natural evolutions to the series like Pokémon Stadium, but most don’t have the staying power for sequels or simply fail outright. It’s just hard to capture the core of what makes the main series of Pokémon games great and put it into a different format that still appeals to consumers. Yet, Nintendo still keeps on trying to milk its precious cash cow in different ways.

The latest attempt at capitalizing on their beloved Poké-brand is Pokémon Rumble U, the third in the Rumble spin-off franchise and the first Pokémon game of any kind on the Wii U. In the Rumble series, players play as wind-up toys designed to look like Pokémon. You battle your way through a series of arenas, mashing a single button for a signature move that corresponds to the Pokémon. (You get two moves if they happen to be a dual-type.) As you fight your toys against other toys, you can add those you defeat to your collection, trying in essence to signify the capturing of a Pokémon from the main series.

The big difference between this iteration and previous titles in the Rumble franchise is that it takes advantage of the Wii U’s built-in NFC technology. This allows you to buy special figures (17 in all) that can help their corresponding Pokémon in the game, giving the a sense of leveling up for the first time in the series. You don’t need these figures to beat the game, mind you, but Pokémon fans and collectors alike will probably want to try to pick up a couple.

Of course, this has the beginnings of a slippery slope for Nintendo and consumers. First, there are all 649 currently available Pokémon in the game, and only 17 figures, leaving the door open for more figures to be added. The figures are also concealed, so whatever you buy is given to you randomly. It comes across as a lottery system really that takes advantage of Poké-fanatics’ willingness to throw money at anything with a Pokémon label on it.

Moral ambiguity aside, the worst part is that Pokémon Rumble U really isn’t a very good game. It’s by no means broken, and the ability to have four people play at once, trying to collect as many coins in battle as possible like some deranged Mario Party mini-game, makes it something that could offer younger children a distraction for an hour or two. But the strategy, the gameplay, the characters, and, most importantly, the bond you may develop towards your most familiar Pokémon are completely absent from this game.

From the very first battle, you’re encouraged to leave behind the Pokémon you start with for the ones you capture, who are typically stronger than your previous crew. Even then, when you actually get into one of these arenas, most of the time all you’re doing is mashing a single button. The gameplay is beyond mindless and gets tired fast no matter how many Pokémon figurines you want to collect.

When all is said and done, Pokémon Rumble U comes off as nothing but Nintendo trying to build up some hype for the highly anticipated Pokémon X/Y and line their pockets with some cheap action figure sales in the process. The game works as a proof-of-concept for the NFC technology (even if no one else is using it right now), but beyond that, this is the kind of dull downloadable game you hope will get lost in the ether sooner rather than later.

Developer: Ambrella • Publisher: Nintendo • ESRB: E – Everyone • Release Date: 08.29.13
5.0
Serving as little more than a proof of concept for the Wii U controller’s NFC technology, Pokémon Rumble U is a boring, pointless game that should just be chalked up as another failed Pokémon spinoff.
The Good A Mario Party–style competition system that could make the game fun for multiple players.
The Bad The lack of any of the core gameplay mechanics that make a Pokémon game great.
The Ugly The parents who will surely be duped into buying the companion NFC figures.
Pokémon Rumble U is a Wii U exclusive. 

Originally Published: December 24, 2010, on Youtube.com/CGRUndertow

As a part of CGR Undertow, I reviewed Pokemon Battle Revolution for the Nintendo Wii.

Originally Published: July 27, 2010 on Lundberg.me, Sportsrev.tv, and NationalLampoon.com

This week I reviewed Batman Beyond #2 (of 6), Singularity from Activision, and in honor of San Diego Comic Con, had Jessica Nigri as my hot chick pick of the week.