Most of my time with Pokken Tournament pre-release was spent with the single-player content, which I didn’t particularly enjoy. While I was beating the AI mercilessly hour after hour, however, I could feel that there was a fun game in there somewhere. I was very excited to test that theory when the online servers opened up, and I got to experience Pokken Tournament against actual human beings for the first time. I certainly had a better time playing the game online compared to pummeling the AI, but I think it would be fair to say the online portion of Pokken Tournament has some ups and downs.
The matchmaking system automatically searches out opponents without letting you choose any criteria, which personally gave me some red flags right off the bat. With no control over what connections or regions that I would get matched up with, you might as well be playing a game of roulette. For the most part, however, the matchmaking seems to be pretty smart. I was consistently matched up with people in my home state and its close neighbors, so clearly the game had some idea of what to look for.
Unfortunately while location seems to be a major factor in pairing people up, connection quality seems less important. Most matches I played ranged from smooth to mostly fine with an occasional hiccup, but once in a while I would find myself taking part in what was as close to a traditional turn-based battle as Pokken Tournament could get as the lag forced my opponent and I to essentially watch as one of us threw out a move and have the other person react to it about 10 seconds later.
Pokken Tournament relies heavily on reading the opponent and reacting appropriately, so playing matches in a slideshow form because of a bad connection can be extremely frustrating. With no way to avoid getting paired with a poor connection quality, I can almost see why someone would want to rage quit for perhaps the first time in my life. Thankfully, the game warns you very sternly that rage quitting is rude and that you will be punished for taking part in it.
Interestingly, the ranking system seems to be rather focused on casual play, even in ranked. All of the customizations that I assumed were around to keep the single-player interesting actually carry over into the online, including Cheers (effects that happen in between rounds like buffing your gauges) and Skill Points. The Skill Points seem like a particularly big deal, as this means the opponents can have wildly different stats and clear disadvantages just because one person hasn’t put as much time into the game. While none of the Skill Point differences I’ve seen so far seemed to make a huge difference, I really don’t think it was a good decision to have these customizable aspects carry over, particularly in the ranked mode.
Pokken Tournament’s online does do a lot right, though. I love how quick getting into matches can be, especially when playing ranked. Even after multiple nights of playing, I’ve never had to wait more than a minute or two to get right back into a match. If for whatever reason getting into a match does take longer, the game will set you up with an AI to beat up on while you wait. I also enjoy that there’s a “strike system” for rank ups, giving you up to three chances to win a match in order to officially go up a rank. It seems like an idea put in explicitly because they knew the matchmaking system wasn’t perfect.
I’ve had a lot of fun playing online despite my annoyances. It has been interesting to see strategies evolve since playing the game pre-release up until now. Zoning definitely feels like the dominant strategy right now, but the Pokémon I’ve seen using that strategy have changed pretty significantly. Initially I saw a lot of Braixens, but Mewtwo has now become the Pokémon of choice, likely because people have now had time to unlock him. With a competitive Evo tournament coming up, I’ll be interested to see how people end up playing this game.
Pokken Tournament’s online isn’t perfect, but it’s very serviceable. I’ve had more enjoyable matches than bad ones, and I love everything about the interface and speed in getting matches. I don’t know how likely it is, but I would like to see some more competitive friendly options added into the online at some point, including options to search for connection qualities and the ability to turn off customizations. For now, though, Pokken Tournament’s online is plenty fun and definitely the most enjoyable way to play the game, barring a LAN set up to get the offline mode working properly.