Ever since its announcement for the Japanese arcade scene Pokkén Tournament has been closely followed by Pokémon and fighting game fans. Unofficial efforts have often pitched 'mon against each other in crude efforts, but the flashy Bandai Namco-developed release caused quite an online buzz. Of course, its status as an arcade placed it into niche and unobtainable categories for many.
Considering the decent but ultimately humble visuals of the arcade, thoughts of fans naturally turned to a potential Wii U version - for some it was a no-brainer. Why wouldn't it come to Wii U?
There were doubts of course, simply because of the Wii U's sales performance. We've been at the stage, probably for around 12-18 months, where plenty of studios and even Nintendo would have re-assessed projects for the system. It's only logical that some development cycles in their early phases will have been dropped, or potentially diverted to the still-mysterious 'NX'. Wii U momentum has improved, yes, but its sales levels have remained so modest that even GameCube lifetime sales look like a challenging target - games like Super Mario 3D World (late 2013) and Mario Kart 8 (May 2014) helped when a big push was still taking place, but didn't lead to an explosion of hardware sales. The tipping point to truly bring the Wii U into the retail contest on a mainstream level didn't quite happen.
As a result apparent no-brainers like Pokkén Tournament remained as doubts, with its arcade release in Japan this summer bringing little encouragement aside from the potential for trial runs in some select Western arcade chains. In the end, thankfully, The Pokémon Company evidently just wanted a grand occasion, confirming a Spring 2016 release during the Pokémon World Championships.
With a big announcement comes the question, which we've seen here on the site and around the web - is this the Wii U saviour? The short answer is 'probably not', but that needs context. It could potentially be a solid sales success, and will surely help to shift some Wii U systems, but 'saving' the Wii U was something that needed to happen a while ago - that's how we see it, in any case.
One needs only look at Nintendo's modest sales targets for the console, of just 3.4 million units in a 12 month period, to have a reasonable idea of where the system's placed in the market. While it's not unknown for systems to toil early on and recover late, the Wii U's slow progress has been particularly punishing, while key games to tempt more adopters are limited in number and coming almost exclusively from Nintendo and its closest partners. As we've argued before, there are some exciting games on the way for Wii U owners, but in the big, mean world of video game retail they're unlikely to prompt sudden dramatic surges in hardware sales - at least not to PS4 and Xbox One levels.
We ran some polls recently on these topics, and the majority are excited about Pokkén Tournament but aware of its limitations in lifting the Wii U. A combined 60%+ shared the fact they were hyped to varying degrees and planning to buy the game, but 56% answered the following when asked to consider whether it'll be a sales success - "Yes, but I don't think it'll sell too many extra Wii U systems".
With that acceptance in mind, the Bandai Namco fighter will possibly have a clean run as the Wii U game to be excited about in Spring 2016. While the first part of 2016 is relatively well served on 3DS, the Wii U has had little lined up so far, with the weirdly named Genei Ibun Roku #FE joining Mario & Sonic at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games with 2016 release dates, and The Legend of Zelda sitting on a TBC status. Without Pokkén Tournament, frankly, 2016 would be looking particularly grim at this stage.
In positive news for the Wii U version and the intentions of The Pokémon Company, meanwhile, it was pleasing to see the recent Pokkén Tournament Invitational (albeit they seemed to be playing on a special arcade unit), streamed live online and featuring eight competitors including some well-known fighting game pros. A final between Rip and Justin Wong was keenly fought and, even with the players having relatively little practice, was showcasing what the fighter was all about. It boded well for the potential depth of the game's mechanics, while also raising hope that there's a desire to try and develop the title's presence in the competitive gaming scene. Looking long term, potential success and enough desire from the public could see a new franchise potentially get well established.
Pokkén Tournament's upcoming arrival on Wii U, then, will hopefully achieve a few things - first of all it'll give Nintendo a quality game to highlight for Wii U in early 2016. Secondly, it could indeed be a sales success, tempting some (probably in modest numbers) to finally pick up a Wii U. Finally, it'll be a nice treat for fans, who'd been fearing that this new diversion of the Pokémon brand would be restricted to arcades in Japan. Hopefully, assuming porting costs are reasonably low, it'll prove to be a win-win for all concerned.
It's exciting and something to look forward to, then - just beware chatter of it 'saving' the Wii U. It'll help, but Nintendo's sales goals for the system are modest; we should take our cue from that, at least.