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Pokemon: The Movie 2000 Review

In the year 2000, Pokemon was at the height of its popularity. With the second installments – the now-beloved Gold and Silver versions – on the way later in the year, and after the box office success of Pokemon: The First Movie in 1999, Pokemon: The Movie 2000 was sure to be a hit, especially with its emphasis on some of the new Gold and Silver Pokemon. Pokemon: The Movie 2000 didn’t quite reach the ticket sales of its predecessor –  though it is the only anime film that comes close to it in the US box office – it is actually a better movie, with improved character development and a bit of a stronger story.

Pokemon the Movie 2000 sees Pokemon trainer Ash Ketchum, his friends Misty and Tracey, and, of course, the adorable Pokemon Pikachu on an adventure that takes them to Shamouti Island, after a massive storm sends them on a little detour from Ash’s usual Pokemon journeys. The group soon learns that the people of the island are in the middle of a festival, celebrating an ancient prophecy based around the mythical Pokemon Lugia and the three legendary birds; Articuno, Zapdos and Moltres.

The prophecy states that the elemental birds of ice (Articuno), lightning (Zapdos) and fire (Moltres) will lose their balance over the world’s climate, and their ensuing war amongst each other will awaken Lugia, the guardian of the sea, to try to ease the warring birds and bring balance back to nature. But Lugia will need help from a chosen hero and a special song.

A young girl named Melody is the festival’s maiden, and selects Ash to be the “chosen one” of the festival. As the chosen one, Ash is to retrieve three crystal orbs from the islands of the legendary birds, take them to Shamouti’s Shrine (located in the middle of the three islands), where Melody is to play Lugia’s Song.

This turns out to be more than a ceremonial ritual, however, as an obsessed Pokemon collector named Lawrence III seeks to bring the prophecy to fruition – by means of capturing the legendary birds with his immense, flying fortress – in order to awaken Lugia, which Lawrence believes to be his ultimate prize.

Suffice to say Ash’s role as the chosen one ends up being more vital than simply being part of a festival, and due to Lawrence III’s actions Ash’s duties hold the fate of the planet in the balance.

The plot may be a bit simple, and storylines being built around prophecies are always a bit of a tightrope to walk (more often than not, they tell you exactly where the story is going). But Pokemon has that innocent charm about it that makes it hard to resist, and with Lugia’s presence as a mythological creature, it’s a fitting story.

What gives Pokemon the Movie 2000 extra points in the story department, however, is its improved character development. While the first film focused more on Mewtwo’s backstory, 2000 gives Ash the chance to show a more heroic and selfless side, as if his actions towards the end of the first movie carried over and continued for the entirety of the sequel. Misty – though perhaps needing of some more screen time – is also given time to grow as a character.

Perhaps most notably is how this sequel actually gives Team Rocket something important to do, and gives them new dimensions. While they primarily served as bumbling, villainous comic relief in the series (and still do a bit here), Team Rocket’s Jessie, James and Meowth end up playing an integral role in the plot. It’s a shame that the series would more or less retcon all these character changes away, but hey, they’re still enjoyable to watch during the movie.

As is often the case with Pokemon, 2000 has a go at some emotional moments, and is surprisingly effective with them. Look, it’s obviously not Pixar levels of making audiences cry, but its heart is in the right place, and the emotion resonates more than you’d expect from a movie based on a TV show based on a video game.

Much like the first movie, Pokemon the Movie 2000 has improved animation over the TV series. Though it isn’t without some notable limitations, the jump to the big screen gave Pokemon a new visual life. Plus, the island setting and environmental changes (not to mention Lawrence III’s fortress) gives audiences a wider variety of scenery than the first movie’s focus on Mewtwo’s labs.

An even bigger improvement over the show and the previous film is the musical score. While the English version still contains some pop music of the time, they’re mostly saved for the end credits (and hey, we get a Weird Al Yankovic song out of it, so I can’t complain too much). But the original score of Pokemon: the Movie 2000 is surprisingly good, with “Lugia’s Song” in particular being a standout, and seems to have more than a little bit of inspiration from Princess Mononoke.

Pokemon: the Movie 2000 still suffers from some obvious shortcomings; the plot is nothing special, the animation – though improved – still can’t stack up to other anime features of the time, and its villain needed a bit more time on screen for his motivation to resonate.

But y’know, when you get to see Ash Ketchum, Pikachu and Team Rocket traversing a frozen ocean while Lugia has an elemental battle in the sky against three magic birds, it’s all too easy to look past Pokemon the Movie 2000’s flaws as a film and just enjoy it for what it is. It may not be great cinema, but Pokemon: the Movie 2000 is a good Pokemon movie. It got its fanbase hyped for Pokemon Gold and Silver back in the day, especially with its emphasis on Silver’s mascot Pokemon Lugia (who remains my personal favorite legendary Pokemon to this day). Better still, if you’re a Pokemon fan, Pokemon the Movie 2000 is still worth the occasional revisit for its improved characters and overall sense of charm and fun. Plus, Lugia is just so cool.

 

7.0

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Pokemon: The First Movie – Mewtwo Strike’s Back Review

Go back to 1999. Pokemon dominated the Earth. The monster collecting video game franchise got its start in Japan in 1996, but by the time it made its way to the western world in 1998, the games had a wildly successful anime and a trading card game to go with them. And they all hit stateside at the same time, creating a pop culture phenomenon that I don’t think has been equaled in my lifetime.

It’s not hard to see what made Pokemon popular: It’s ever-increasing roster of Pokemon give it a seemingly endless supply of cute and cool characters, its emphasis on collecting, trading and sharing makes it engaging, and its kid-friendly exterior hides a deceptively deep set of rules and mechanics, whether its in its original video game form or the other media that have spawned from it.

Despite being a marketing goldmine (its merchandise sales exceed that of Star Wars even today), Pokemon was always more than that. As stated, the games were (and are) much deeper than they let on, and the TV series – though often lacking in structure, heavy on repetition, and having its share of cheesy moments – similarly made the effort to be something more. It’s shortcomings were still there, of course, but the Pokemon anime made many attempts at pulling at the heartstrings with its themes of friendship, love, and even loss. It wasn’t simply a fun little franchise, but something that really resonated with its target audience.

A Pokemon movie was inevitable, and it arrived sooner than anyone could have guessed. Going back to 1999, a mere year after Pokemon made its way westward, the Pokemon generation was elated to see their beloved franchise make its way to the big screen.

Pokemon: The First Movie – Mewtwo Strikes Back was a big deal in its day (it remains the highest-grossing anime film in North America, with only its immediate sequel coming close), and it remains a nostalgic treat for those like me who were at the center of Pokemania in 1999. Although I wouldn’t classify Pokemon: The First Movie as a great film by any means, I would still label it as something more than a mere guilty pleasure, seeing as it – much like the TV show – made the effort to be something more than the cash-grab cinematic transition it also very much was.

As the title makes quite clear, Pokemon: The First Movie centers around Mewtwo, the legendary Pokemon who was – at the time – the most powerful Pokemon of all. While most Pokemon are like animals, and the other legendary Pokemon are akin to mythological creatures, Mewtwo was engineered by humans in a laboratory, by means of cloning the “first” Pokemon, the legendary Mew.

In the film, Mewtwo’s creation was commissioned by Giovanni, the mysterious leader of the villainous Team Rocket organization. Giovanni manipulates Mewtwo to be his own personal weapon, but as Mewtwo gains greater sentience and begins pondering his existence, he abandons Giovanni in hopes of making a greater purpose for himself. Mewtwo plans on creating his own cloned Pokemon to inhabit the Earth, after he rids it of humans and the Pokemon of the natural world (beginning with a massive storm that Mewtwo is creating using his psychic powers).

It’s a pretty heavy story for Pokemon, with the point being hit home when Mewtwo destroys the lab that created him (killing all the scientists therein) within the first few minutes. No one died in the TV series up to this point, so that shift in subject matter definitely made this feel like Pokemon the movie.

Mewtwo decides to prove the worth of his clone Pokemon by posing as “the world’s greatest Pokemon master,” inviting trainers over to New Island to do battle. Among these trainers are the series’ original heroes Ash Ketchum, Brock and Misty. The trio – like the other trainers invited to New Island – are unaware of Mewtwo’s identity and of his clone Pokemon, and are only looking to test their Pokemon battle skills. When the trainers arrive and discover Mewtwo’s intentions, they find themselves trying to stop the legendary Pokemon’s plot.

It’s not exactly anything Earth-shatteringly new, but as stated, it certainly made Pokemon feel more dire than it did on the small screen. On the downside of things, the English version of the movie shoehorned a “fighting is wrong” message into the film, which is repeated ad nauseam in a single scene towards the end. Given the nature of the Pokemon franchise, with trainers battling each other with their Pokemon, it’s kind of hard for an anti-fighting message to resonate very strongly. Sure, the point the movie tries to make is that the fighting caused by Mewtwo is something truly brutal, as opposed to the competitive skirmishes of Pokemon battles, but all the movie does to make that point is say “Pokemon aren’t supposed to fight… not like this.” Granted, I understood that even as a kid, but I was familiar with Pokemon. I can’t imagine the parents who took their kids to see this movie in 1999 could understand the difference between a Pokemon battle and what the movie refers to as “fighting.”

It’s simply a forced message that doesn’t really work with the movie that’s presenting it, and it’s made all the less impactful due to the climactic battle between Pokemon and clones being accompanied by a pop tune that’s only included for the sake of a pop tune, which only clashes with the movie.

The Japanese version of Mewtwo Strikes Back better emphasizes the message of man playing God and its consequences, what with Mewtwo’s search for a purpose and all that. The English version may have benefitted both narratively and (perhaps) critically if it focused on that message instead of one that clashes with the nature of the franchise.

There are also some notable flaws with the translated version, with at least three Pokemon being referred to by the wrong name (confusing Pidgeot for Pidgeotto and Sandslash for Sandshrew are at least understandable, but when Team Rocket refers to a Syther as an Alakazam, it’s a hilariously glaring error to any Pokemon fan). Though at the very least I suppose there’s a bit of nostalgic irony to be had with these mistakes, but you do have to wonder if the translators had any reference material to avoid such errors.

In terms of animation, Pokemon: The First Movie is of course an improvement over the TV series, with more fluid character movements and more detailed backgrounds. Granted, it still has its visual limitations, but in its stronger moments, Pokemon: The First Movie has that distinct “90s anime” look that has held up pretty well. And excluding the shoehorned inclusions of 90s bands such as *NSYNC, the music is actually not bad, and hearing that original Pokemon theme brought up to scale for a movie still gives me goosebumps.

Pokemon: The First Movie suffers from some obvious flaws and shortcomings (including a brief running time, with the film’s theatrical release being accompanied by a Pokemon short film to add an extra 20 minutes). But what elevates it to being something more than a mere guilty pleasure of nostalgia for me are its attempts at emotional moments, some of which are actually quite successful. One scene towards the end in particular, is surprisingly effective. Hey, when Pikachu is crying, it’s hard to not get a little misty-eyed.

In the end, Pokemon: The First Movie – Mewtwo Strikes Back is far from a great movie (its sequels – though flawed in their own right – were improvements), but it makes enough worthwhile attempts to be something more that it still provides some entertainment. Despite all the blemishes, Pokemon: The First Movie is still a nostalgia trip that I don’t feel guilty about taking from time to time.

 

6.5

Pokemon the Movie: I Choose You Shows the Good in Nostalgia

I can be pretty harsh on nostalgia. With how often I deride Nintendo 64 games, and lambast many 90s kids favorite animated films, I often feel like I’m bullying my own childhood. But I never say anything I don’t mean, and am just trying to be honest. So if something hasn’t aged well, I gotta give my two cents on it. But nostalgia itself isn’t a bad thing, it only becomes bad when people allow it to blind them. Nostalgia itself, however, can be beautiful, as I just witnessed after viewing Pokemon the Movie: I Choose You.

Now, don’t get me wrong, this – the twentieth such Pokemon movie – isn’t a masterpiece or anything. But I will indeed go so far as to say it was one of my better movie-going experiences this year. Of course the Pokemon movies are all an extension of the TV show and, by further extension, the greater Pokemon franchise. They basically print money. But as I’ve stated in the past, I abide by the Andy Warhol approach, and believe that just because something is created with intentions of monetary gain, doesn’t mean they can’t also be more. And the Pokemon series and movies – though boasting more than their share of flaws – always tried to be something more, featuring some genuinely touching story elements from time to time.

I’ll save most of my praises and critiques of I Choose You for a more proper review (I plan on reviewing it, and the first few Pokemon movies, in the coming weeks). But in short, I Choose You is a retelling of the first saga of the Pokemon anime, and reimagines Ash’s iconic meeting with Pikachu, their early adventures, and their encounter with the legendary Pokemon Ho-Oh. It makes some changes to these stories (some work, others not so much). We get some new characters in place of some fan favorites, and Pokemon from the current generations of games are prominent. But for the most part, I Choose You recreates many of the show’s most iconic and heartfelt moments in a way that feels earnest. It serves as both a fitting introduction to the series for younger audiences, while those of us who are old enough to remember Ash and Pikachu’s early adventures will be taken back to their own childhoods.

It’s a fine line to walk, really. Playing up the nostalgia card can potentially be a manipulative move. But as stated, I Choose You recreates the nostalgic bits in meaningful ways, playing as something of a heartfelt gift to the series and those who grew up with it. Plus it throws in enough new and different elements to give it its own identity. Sure, not all of it works (more on that in my later review), but in a time when media and entertainment is so quick to fallback on nostalgia, Pokemon the Movie: I Choose You was one of the few examples in recent years in which the nostalgia had an emotional effect on me.

Pokemon the Movie: I Choose You probably won’t win over anyone who somehow isn’t familiar with the franchise to some degree. But in its own little way, Pokemon the Movie: I Choose You is a thing of beauty, and reminded me of the days when watching Ash and Pikachu’s adventures was at the top of my priorities list, and that there’s a bit more to Pokemon than simply catching them all.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I gotta get back to thrashing some N64 games.

Pokemon Moon Review

Pokemon Moon

When Pokemon Sun and Moon versions were released on the 3DS towards the end of 2016, they became the fastest-selling titles in Nintendo’s long history. New entries in the mainline Pokemon series are always a big deal, but it seemed more of a big deal than ever with Sun and Moon. Perhaps due in part to the (long overdue) changes the games made to the formula, and maybe partly due to the wild success of Pokemon Go earlier in the year, and maybe a little bit due to them being some of the last major 3DS titles before the Switch takes over Nintendo’s priorities. Whatever the case, Pokemon Sun and Moon were big. But did they live up to the hype?

In a lot of ways, Pokemon Sun and Moon were the breath of fresh air the series sorely needed for a long time. Despite Pokemon being a series that’s all about fantastic creatures and their evolutions, it has been – ironically enough – Nintendo’s most un-evolving series. Mario and Zelda have continuously changed up their formulas, but Pokemon was always content with going through the motions, and simply adding a new roster of creatures and some minor tweaks to the gameplay.

Pokemon MoonOf course, Pokemon Sun and Moon introduced a host of new Pokemon of their own, but here, even old school Pokemon were made new again. The games take place on the Alolan Islands, which are not-so-subtly based on Hawaii. Because of this, some familiar Pokemon have adapted and evolved differently in this region, which means not only do they have new character designs, but new types and movesets as well. Ratatas now boast villainous mustaches to go with their new Dark type, while Sandshrew’s shell looks like an igloo to match its new Ice type. Meanwhile, Exeggutor has become a palm tree, which somehow makes him Dragon type.

Pokemon MoonThis may not seem like a big deal, but it does add a good dose of freshness to the mix. Not only do you have a whole new array of Pokemon to catch, but now you have to learn about old favorites in a whole new light, which makes the entire lineup of Pokemon feel newer than they have in a number of generations for the series.

Additionally, the games now feature creatures known as “Ultra Beasts,” which are more or less alien Pokemon. Mega Evolutions also return from X and Y, allowing for certain Pokemon to reach temporary “mega” levels during battle. And now Pokemon can learn powerful Z-moves, which can only be used once per battle, but can greatly change the outcome of a fight.

Another useful change that helps streamline the experience are that HM abilities have been removed entirely. Some of the existing HMs have simply become TMs, while now instead of teaching specific Pokemon the “ride” ability, the player now has the option of “Poke Ride” which summons specific Pokemon to carry you across different terrains.

Other new features include Pokemon Refresh, which are simple uses of the 3DS’ touchscreen to pamper your Pokemon (by coming their fur, using a blowdryer to remove dirt, etc.) and help win them over to you. You also have more customizable options for your character, and now players have their own plazas to connect with other players to trade Pokemon and items, or do battle. You can even customize what kinds of special shops appear in your plaza.

Pokemon MoonPerhaps the change I most appreciate is that the actual structure of the series has been altered. No longer do you have to go through the usual eight gym leaders before moving on to the final section of the game. Now, you travel across the four Alolan Islands, and go through trials and build yourself up to take on each island’s Kahuna, a supreme Pokemon trainer who serves as the final obstacle of each island.

This is a greatly refreshing change of pace. Though I enjoy the Pokemon series, it was re-using the same format for so long that it became insanely predictable. While this change in structure doesn’t radically change things up, the fact that it’s changed at all makes it more enjoyable than the series has been in a long time. And the changes made to the Pokemon themselves help liven up the core elements of the game.

With that said, I do have reiterate that the changes aren’t anything radically new or different. Pokemon Sun and Moon add enough newness to make things feel fresh, but perhaps not quite enough if you’re among those who want a little something more from the series. This is still a deep gaming experience, but if you’ve been waiting for a reinvention of the series in the same vein as what Mario and Link have accomplished in the past, you may be a tad disappointed.

Aside from new moves, Pokemon battles really haven’t changed. Pokemon can still only learn four moves at a time, and the battles still use the same turn-based setup. Perhaps a little more interactive battles akin to the Mario RPGs of yesteryear might help make Pokemon battles more fun. As they are, they aren’t necessarily boring, but they are starting to feel dated.

Pokemon MoonAnother downside comes in the games excessive story and dialogue. I appreciate that Sun and Moon look to add more narrative to the series, and I like the story they have going on (especially the new villains, Team Skull, who act and talk like would-be hip hop artists), but things get so wordy and the cinematics can get so long, that you may find yourself skipping through as much of it as you can just so you can get back to the gameplay. Again, I enjoy the story, but maybe they could have told it with a few less dialogue boxes and some shorter cinematic moments.

Pokemon Sun and Moon are imperfect, then. But they’re still a whole lot of fun when they want to be. The fact that they’ve changed the formula up at all feels incredibly refreshing, and I greatly like the new Pokemon and the new spins on old ones. The graphics are an improvement over X and Y, and give the series a whole new visual life, and the music is enjoyable.

Pokemon Sun and Moon certainly serve as a fitting “final act” of the 3DS before the Switch takes away its spotlight, and they’ll satisfy Pokemon fans new and old. But hopefully by the time the next Pokemon generation rolls around, the series can double-up on that “newness” factor, and bring the series to a whole new level.

 

8.0

Pokemon Go Review

PokeGo

Pokemon Go has seemingly taken over the world. Though it shouldn’t be too hard to figure out why that is. Pokemon Go simplifies the Pokemon experience and brings it to the fingertips of anyone with a cell phone. While that simplification does come at the cost of some of the series’ depth, it does make Pokemon Go an appropriately addictive app.

Pokemon Go brings the Pokemon series back to basics, with only Pokemon from the original lot of 151 showing up in the game. The original 151 were always the most iconic, so no doubt they’re presence has helped the game’s universal appeal, while simultaneously providing a good dose of nostalgia for those who have grown up with the series.

Players take control of a Pokemon Trainer, who is sent on their Pokemon-collecting adventure by Professor Willow. Where this adventure differentiates from the main series, however, is how it uses your phone’s GPS to merge the real world with that of the Pokemon games.

By linking with your phone, Pokemon Go turns your neighborhood into the world of Pokemon. The titular creatures might show up in your own home, or you may go on a quick walk to find them. You may even find yourself going for a jog just to find a rare Pokemon nearby. Additionally, public buildings and local landmarks become either “Pokestops” – where players can get more items – or gyms, where players battle the current gym leaders to gain control of it for their team.

PokeGoThe augmented reality is emphasized all the more when trying to catch Pokemon, as the game syncs with your phone’s camera to place the Pokemon within the real world. It’s an amusing feature, made all the more memorable by the ability to take a photo with the Pokemon in place (the closest thing we’ve got to a Pokemon Snap sequel). On the downside, the augmented reality makes things incredibly shaky, and you’ll quickly find that catching Pokemon is more enjoyable with the feature turned off.

Catching Pokemon is a far more simplified process than in the main series, as there are no battles between Pokemon. Instead, players need to throw a Pokeball with a swipe of their phone, with their swipes helping to dictate whether the ball hits or misses the target. Some Pokemon may prove difficult to catch, in which case players may have to use items such as berries to help win them over. This streamlined Pokemon catching does remove much of the depth of the tried-and-true formula, but it works for the series’ transition to cellphones.

As players catch Pokemon and find Pokestops, their trainer will gain experience points. As players level up they will be able to catch stronger Pokemon and gain access to better items. Upon reaching level 5, players gain access to one of the game’s three teams: Team Valor, Team Instinct and Team Mystic.

By aligning with one of these teams, players are effectively allies to anyone else of the same team, with their goals being to maintain power over the aforementioned gyms. Gyms are in constant contention, with each team battling for supremacy. Should you be able to defeat a gym leader, your team then takes over that gym, and anyone else who belongs to your team can leave a Pokemon at the gym to help defend it from the opposing teams.

Unlike the trainer, Pokemon do not gain experience points to level up. Instead, players are left to catching multiple Pokemon from the same evolutionary chain, which can be traded to Professor Willow in exchange for candy which can be used to level up Pokemon from that chain. So if you want a Charizard, be prepared to catch Charmander after Charmander after Charmander in order to get enough candies to evolve them to a Charmeleon and then finally to a Charizard. It’s a bit of a tedious process, but an addictive one as well.

Another fun aspect to the game are Pokemon eggs, which are slowly hatched by walking. After finding Pokemon eggs, you can place them in incubators. So long as the app is on, your walking will bring your Pokemon eggs closer and closer to hatching. This, along with the constant searches for more Pokemon, makes Pokemon Go a game that not only encourages exercise, but requires it.

Aesthetically, Pokemon Go looks and sounds pretty solid, especially when one considers this is a cell phone app and not the next main Pokemon entry on a Nintendo handheld. Though it can’t compete with the visuals and sound of the Pokemon titles on the 3DS, it does mimic them with some pretty impressive results.

Not everything is great in Pokemon Go, however. The game suffers from some severe server issues, with total freeze-ups being an all too common occurrence. Worse still, these freeze-ups will often happen as you’re catching a Pokemon, and you won’t know whether you caught it or not until after you’ve exited the app and restarted it. Similarly, there are times when your character doesn’t move along with you, leaving you unable to interact with Pokestops and gyms even when you’re standing right in front of them. And you’re likely to run into lag issues at an annoying frequency.

In the end, Pokemon Go is a fun and incredibly addictive experience, even if it is shallow when compared to the main series, and it is plagued by technical issues all too frequently. Still, Pokemon Go is a rare gaming experience that has – because of the social and physical activity it asks of players – become bigger than what the game itself provides.

Also, Team Mystic for life!

 

7.5

Pokken Tournament Review

Pokken Tournament

It seems that Nintendo fans have been clamoring for two types of Pokemon games forever now: a Pokemon-themed MMORPG, and a fighting game. While we may have yet to get a Pokemon MMO, we do finally have a Pokemon fighter in the form of Pokken Tournament, which comes from the makers of Tekken.

On face value, Pokken Tournament is exactly what it sounds like, a traditional fighting game featuring Pokemon characters (including the iconic Pikachu, Mewtwo, Suicune, Gengar, and one of my personal favorites, Machamp, among others). But Pokken Tournament has a few original tricks up its sleeve that prevent it from simply being a basic fighter with a Pokemon makeover.

Perhaps most notable of these tricks are the game’s “Phase Shifts.” To put it simply, the two Phase Shifts are two different perspectives of battle, with “Field Phase” working more like a 3D fighter and “Duel Shift” working like a 2D one. Certain moves and mechanics are only available in a particular Phase Shift, and the shifts only change when one of the fighters hits a particularly powerful move on their opponent (this can admittedly lead to some battles feeling fragmented when they switch too frequently, but improvising between two play styles is a unique touch).

Pokken TournamentPokken Tournament also employs a simple but fun rock-paper-scissors-like concept in the characters’ moves. The moves are divided into three primary categories: normal, grab and counter. All three move types have their uses, and each one is effective in outperforming another. Normal moves work well against grabs, counters work against normal, and grabs work against counters. It’s a simple and accessible setup, but it helps give the gameplay some depth.

Players can also use a set of support Pokemon during battle. The support Pokemon all come in default pairs of two, so don’t expect to customize your teams of support Pokemon to your liking. But the support sets come with a wide variety of uses, with some supporters granting additional offense, while others can heal hit points and grant other such bonuses.

Additionally, players slowly build up a special “Synergy Gauge” as they battle. Once built up completely, the Synergy Gauge allows players to become temporarily supercharged, giving them more powerful attacks and the opportunity to hit a devastating special move.

Players can progress through tournaments in the single player mode, with subsequent level ranks providing a noticeable increase in difficulty. Pokken Tournament also allows for local and online multiplayer, where players will probably spend most of their time.

It should be noted that the online gameplay is some of the smoothest to come from any Nintendo game. As of this writing, I’ve only experienced one match with any notable lag problems so far, and even then it was pretty brief. Pokken Tournament nearly rivals Mario Kart 8 with how smooth the online matches are, and how quickly it finds opponents.

The game is given additional replay value outside of the core gameplay by means of leveling up and unlockables. By competing in matches, whether single-player, local or online, your Pokemon gain experience points and level up, allowing you to boost one of their four stats with every level (power, defense, synergy and support).

The unlockables include not only new fighters and support Pokemon, but also cosmetic changes for your character’s avatar, as well as that for your manager/cheerleader, Nia. They’re not substantial rewards by any means, but at least it gives you a reason to care ever so slightly about Nia, considering she otherwise falls under the category of annoying Nintendo sidekicks like Skyward Sword’s Fi, who constantly blab and point out the obvious (mercifully, you can make Nia’s commentary less frequent, or turn it off entirely).

Pokken TournamentIn terms of aesthetics, Pokken Tournament looks great. The jump to HD on the Wii U means that the Pokemon themselves have never looked better. The soundtrack, while certainly not one of Nintendo’s most memorable, is nonetheless fun and appropriately tense.

In the end, how much you’ll love Pokken Tournament may depend on how much you love Pokemon itself. The roster of playable characters is surprisingly small, considering just how many Pokemon there are to work with (the fact that there are two alternate versions of both Pikachu and Mewtwo also feels like a missed opportunity for more original Pokemon), and there’s not a whole lot of variety in the different modes (especially when one remembers what Nintendo managed to cram into Super Smash Bros. for Wii U). But as a whole, Pokken Tournament is certainly one of the better Pokemon spinoffs to be released in a long time.

It may not be the dream come true we may have wanted from a Pokemon fighting game, but Pokken Tournament does serve as a fun and engaging game that hints at what the greater Pokemon franchise is capable of. Perhaps, I don’t know, an MMO, for instance.

 

7.5

Pokemon X Review

Pokemon X

It is a bit of an irony that Pokemon, a series that prominently features the evolutions of its titular creatures, has also proven to be Nintendo’s most un-evolving series. While Mario and Zelda are always looking for ways to reinvent themselves – oftentimes with wild success – Pokemon has remained content doing as its always done. New editions always mean new creatures, but to see the series aim for a sense of reinvention is as rare as its legendary Pokemon. While Pokemon X and Y may still not bring that reinvention, it does bring some of the most meaningful changes to the series since the Gold and Silver days.

Pokemon XThe most immediately noticeable difference between this Pokemon generation and its predecessors are the visuals. For the first time in the series, Pokemon is now played in a full on 3D environment, giving the series some much-needed visual liveliness. There are some framerate issues during Pokemon battles, a possible side effect of the visual overhaul, but it’s nothing too damaging given the series’ turn-based nature. The series has never looked better or more colorful, and the character animations and special attacks benefit from the 3D effects of the Nintendo 3DS.

The overall structure of the game itself remains nearly identical to past entries: You play as a Pokemon Trainer, choose a starting Pokemon, battle other trainers and catch wild Pokemon as you defeat eight gym leaders before facing off with the Elite Four and a final battle. Along the way, you cross paths with yet another villainous organization, this time in the form of Team Flare (can we just bring Team Rocket back?). But within this familiar design are some welcome changes to the formula.

Mega Evolutions – ever prominent in the games’ marketing upon release – serve as advanced versions of more powerful Pokemon (such as fully-evolved and legendary Pokemon) that can be summoned within battles to give you a temporary edge.Pokemon X

Improving your Pokemon’s base stats, which was once a taxing affair, has been mercifully streamlined with “Super Training.” Super training are simple mini-games that focus on particular aspects of a Pokemon’s base stats. Performing these mini-games over and over for each of your Pokemon can become tedious, but it is an improvement over the overcomplicated methods of past entries.

Pokemon battles also see some fun tweaks, with certain attacks being able to interact with background objects, or Sky Battles, where only flying Pokemon can compete. You can also come across large swarms of wild Pokemon in Horde Encounters.

Other small, but fun additions outside of battles include the ability to customize your player character, and the opportunity to have a “second starter” Pokemon in the form of the original Pokemon generation’s Bulbasaur, Charmander and Squirtle. And for the first time since Gold and Silver, a new Pokemon type is introduced in the new Fairy type.

Aside from the super training, these changes aren’t anything radical, but they do help bring a sense of freshness to the table. It’s just a shame that this freshness can’t be brought up to a larger scale. The gameplay itself remains fun, but the changes are too small to make it feel truly new, and the overall structure doesn’t stray from the beaten path.Pokemon X

It would be refreshing if Pokemon introduced more than the standard eight Gym Leaders. Or maybe a different setup for the adventure altogether. The new tweaks may bring a little life back to the series, but you kind of wish the series could be given a whole new life. As fun as Pokemon is, there is a strong sense of “been there, done that” to it that Nintendo’s other mainstays have actively avoided. Even when Mario was still chasing Power Stars, he found ways to change his foundations with water packs and trips to outer space.

Pokemon X is most certainly a solid gaming experience, and diehards will find that the game gives them what they want, with a whole new host of Pokemon and a fresh coat of paint to boot. But if you’ve grown a little tired of Pokemon being Pokemon, then you’ll still probably find yourself craving more from the series.

 

7.5