Despite being slated to return to the Pokemon World Championships in 2017, the competitive Pokken Tournament scene is facing a massive problem. The console version of the game, which some players train on before competing on arcade units, is badly in need of an update. But the the people behind Pokemon have made no indication that they plan on releasing one.
Pokken Tournament launched first in arcades in July 2015 before heading to Wii U in March 2016. The game merges the monster-battling sensibilities of the Pokemon franchise with the one-on-one fighting mechanics seen in games like Street Fighter and Guilty Gear. The Pokemon Company tapped Bandai Namco Entertainment to helm the project, with Tekken's Katsuhiro Harada and Soulcalibur's Masaaki Hoshino acting as producers.
Once it arrived on home consoles in March 2016, Pokken Tournament was an almost immediate hit, moving just under 70,000 units in Japan alone in its first week. By August, Bandai Namco claimed they had shipped over a million copies worldwide. That year's Evolution Championship Series saw Pokken Tournament on Wii U surpass 1000 participants, making it the only game not named Street Fighter or Super Smash Bros. to achieve that figure in 2016.
But as competition ramped up, Pokken Tournament's console community found itself left behind. Additional characters like Darkrai, Scizor and Empoleon were regularly added to the arcade release, available primarily in Japan, starting in July. The Pokemon Company provided zero word on similar updates for Wii U despite data for these characters having previously been spotted in the console version by fans datamining the game. Furthermore, these new playable Pokemon were accompanied by balance changes that significantly altered how Pokken Tournament played.
In the fighting game community, parity is king. With the news that Pokken Tournament will again be at Worlds and no word on potential updates, the competitive playing field is in peril. It's still unclear whether the tournament organisers plan to continue using the console release or ship in arcade cabinets for the event. On one hand, players without access to the arcade release (that is, everyone outside Japan) won't be able to keep up should the tournament organisers decide to use the latest version. On the other, Japanese visitors who have been playing an updated Pokken Tournament in arcades will be forced to compete in a game they no longer recognise if Worlds is played on the current Wii U build. The changes made to Pokken Tournament in arcades are so significant that it's completely different from the game Wii U players have been stuck with for months, and there's even a fear that Japanese players will forgo attending Worlds entirely.
"Right now, the rest of the world is stuck two versions behind Japan, and there's huge differences between them," top Pokken Tournament player Wesley "Cat Fight" Garland told me. "For example, Braixen, who is currently considered one of the three best characters in the game, is certainly dropping after being adjusted in the newest patch, which is a pretty big deal."
Although they have been seemingly left behind by The Pokemon Company, the Pokken Tournament community remains fiercely loyal to their game. Players raised over $US60,000 ($77,950) during Evo 2017's donation drive in an effort to earn a spot at the world's largest fighting game tournament. Although the game ultimately lost to Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, the Evo organisers plan to support Pokken Tournament competitions throughout the year to the tune of $US10,000 ($12,992).
Garland still has concerns. "The idea of never having the opportunity to learn the same version as Japan definitely crosses players' minds," he explained. "If we do get the new characters and balance patches, Japan might already be on a different version. It's frustrating. There's a huge amount of potential players waiting to jump into the game for that reason. Having something to look forward to means so much, but right now, we're in the dark and that worries new players."
Photo via Dreamhack
In a since deleted tweet, Pokken Tournament producer Katsuhiro Harada told players that his team has been in contact with The Pokemon Company, following that up with a request that fans no longer ask him about the issue. His statements place the ball firmly in The Pokemon Company's court, and competitors are hoping the company breaks their silence before it's too late, either by announcing a release date for the patch on Wii U or possibly even a Switch port. We reached out to The Pokemon Company about the state of the game and its missing patches but did not receive a reply.
"Pokken players are some of the most unified, dedicated, and positive people I've ever met, and spent months before its release analysing arcade footage, entering early access tournaments, and more," Garland concluded. "Having a console update would make it feel like all of our efforts this past year weren't for naught, but ultimately we're at the mercy of The Pokemon Company. We believe in this game, and we want them to believe and trust us, too. We won't let them down."