Pokken Tournament & Why We Need a Pokemon Console RPG

Why Pokken Tournament reminds us that we really need a Pokemon console RPG.

There’s a small scene in Breaking Bad which I’ve always been quite fond of where Walt begins to launch into one of his overly elaborate cover stories and Skyler just quietly walks straight out of the door before he can even finish. It was just this great little moment that perfectly captured that frustration you experience when someone you love continues to spew the same rhetoric about why they behave in the detrimental manner that they do.

It also perfectly summarizes my feelings regarding the recent Wii U game, Pokkén Tournament.

As mentioned in my review, Pokkén Tournament isn’t a bad game. Actually, it’s a surprisingly solid little 3D fighting game. It is, however, disappointing as an adaptation, as it fails to really capitalize on the Pokémon series in a meaningful way. Of course, that is sadly pretty par for the course as far as Pokémon adaptations go, as many were built around the idea of simply taking an established genre and filling it with Pokémon.

What makes Pokkén Tournament so much more frustrating than an adaptation like Pokémon Pinball, though, is that it comes so close to evolving the core Pokémon series in a new and innovative way. When the game is at its best, it provides a hint of an evolved Pokémon combat system that comes closer to resembling the elaborate and organic combat found in the Pokémon anime series than any other game ever has. Much like Pokémon Stadium, it shows us a tantalizing glimpse of what a core Pokémon game with expanded technical muscle would look like, but falls short on the execution. Even though we are well past “Fool me once” territory so far as that style of adaptation goes, as we rocket past the 20th anniversary of the Pokémon franchise, it’s beginning to feel that the blame should fall solely on Nintendo.

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For years, fans have been clamoring for a Pokémon game on consoles that feels like an actual Pokémon game. While some debate if that game should take the form of an MMO or just a standard RPG with console graphics, the one thing that every fan can seem to agree on is that Nintendo has been sitting on a golden goose of a video game concept that could potentially dwarf the considerable sales figures that the Pokémon series already generates.

So far as Nintendo’s stance on the issue goes, the only real statement the company ever released regarding the lack of a proper Pokémon game on consoles comes from Pokémon developer Game Freak, who said that they enjoy making a game that you can take out into the real world and wouldn’t want to potentially compromise the integrity of the series by transferring it to consoles.

While not wanting to compromise the integrity of a video game franchise just for the sake of money would usually be a pretty admirable stance, it’s one that’s undone by several reasonable arguments, such as:

A. Nintendo has otherwise never shown a hesitation in farming out the Pokémon license in order to bolster the appeal of what would otherwise be solid but not spectacular games, so it’s not as if the property itself is incredibly sacred.

B. As Nintendo games like Metroid Prime and Super Mario 64 have shown, advancing a series into a new direction does not automatically mean that the integrity and spirit of the franchise must be compromised.

C. Game Freak proved they could make a compelling 3D Pokémon game that maintained the spirit of the series with Pokémon X and Y.

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D. It’s not as if hardcore franchise fans are ready to take to the street if Game Freak and Nintendo ever dare to move the main series away from mobile, as they are the ones that have been the most adamant that the transition take place.

That last one is the real sticking point. It’s one thing to avoid changing the Pokémon formula in order to respect the wishes of your most loyal fans, but quite another to avoid the long standing wishes of those very same fans, with an excuse that becomes more and more flimsy with each year — years that also see the once unstoppable gaming giant slip further down the industry hierarchy over a need to stubbornly cling onto similar conventions.

It is becoming more and more obvious that the reason that Nintendo and Game Freak have yet to provide the grand scale console Pokémon game of our dreams is much the same reason that we get shockingly similar Madden and Call of Duty games each year: they don’t have to alter the Pokémon formula much at all to sell millions of copies. Why put forth the effort and resources required to create such a Pokémon game if the franchise’s sales figures continue to grow even as the game sticks to largely the same design philosophy?

Much like the rumors that emerged not long ago regarding why Valve would never release Half-Life 3, you can make the argument that from a business standpoint, the fiscal rewards of such a Pokémon game are meager compared to what the company can make by staying the course. Not to mention that the Big N runs the risk of releasing a product that fails to live up to the hype the very idea has generated and forever puts a sizable black mark on the series.

It was recently revealed that the official total sales numbers for the core Pokémon games on Game Boy is 210 million units. Comparatively, the total sales figures for the entire franchise with spin-offs included only raises that number by 69 million units. One interpretation of these sales figures in relation to the lack of a console Pokémon RPG would be that perhaps Nintendo feels that the Pokémon market isn’t as invested in their consoles as we may think. That could be the case, but the one thing you do have to take away from those numbers is that the Pokémon series is able to keep sales of Nintendo’s mobile line strong, even as the industry is being gutted by smartphones.

And if that is the reason we have never gotten a proper console Pokémon game, then that’s fine. It’s a logical enough – if no less disheartening – reason. And, as always, the franchise is ultimately in the control of its creators to do with what they please.

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But at the same time, it is difficult to not feel as if we as gamers are missing out on something that could be truly special. It’s what sometimes makes a game like Pokkén Tournament, even if it is agood 3D fighter featuring Pokémon, as it instead unintentionally provides us the faintest glimpse of a compelling future for the franchise that we may never get to see.

Matthew Byrd is a freelance contributor.