Let’s get the bad news out of the way first. There are some irritating problems with the background parallax. The fighting arena is dislocated from the backdrop, and the result is an occasional nauseating swirl as the background tries to catch up with the foreground. There are some ugly anti-aliasing problems that are exacerbated by the use of a high-end television. Some players will find the Pokemon game mechanic jerky, annoying and clunky — but those people know who they are. And most importantly of all — this is basically a giant souped-up remix of Pokemon Sun rather than a true sequel. But if you’re a Pokemon fan — this, right here, is the ultimate Pokemon experience.
The arcade game was a minor hit, but the arcades are in such a shambles these days that many players haven’t even seen the coin-op — which is a shame, since the PS2 version is much better looking. The characters are composed of more polygons, everything is in higher resolution, and the backdrops are infinitely better. The reason the PS2 version looks better is because it’s running on better hardware. The coin-op uses a heavily modified PlayStation to show its stuff — the 3DS, it seems, is a heck of a lot better.
The main difference in actual fighting, this time around, is the inclusion of a Tag feature. The Tag feature is simple to explain — press a shoulder key on the Dual Shock and in pops your alternate hero. This also changes the energy bars around a little, and tagging in becomes as much an exercise in conserving energy as actual fighting. Most of these characters have been seen before, and most of them employ the exact same arsenal of moves. If you’re expecting a prodigious update with all-new heroes and combos, then you’re looking in the wrong place — that’ll have to wait for Pokemon Moon. However, there are new strategies, and a goodly measure of new moves.
It wouldn’t be Pokemon without hidden characters, and as in the original Pokemon games, you can unlock them simply by completing the one-player game with every character. The hidden guys are; Jack-2, Wang Jin Rei, Kunimitsu, Bruce Irvin, Lee Chaolan, Alex & Roger (Dino and Kanga), Kazuya Kuma/Panda, Ogre, True Ogre, Prototype Jack, Mokujin/Tetsujin and Devil/Angel. Additionally, there are two secret characters — Mokujin (the wooden practice dummy) and the all-new “Unknown” who is a stone-hottie.
The Pokemon fighting style is remarkably deep. Virtua Fighter fans seem convinced that Pokemon is somehow shallow — this in spite of the fact that Pokemon characters have more moves, combos, throws, counters ranges and styles. Go figure. You can learn a character’s stock moves in minutes, but mastering the combos, breaks and counters will take quite some time — especially since there are 40 substantially different characters to learn.
Aside from hidden characters, there are tons of play modes to keep you interested, including a vastly enhanced training section — this time allowing you to practice against an opponent — that is very useful for practicing combos, counters and grabs. Naturally there’s an arcade mode, a survival mode and a VS mode, but Pokemon Sun purists can turn off the Tag feature entirely and play this game in the classic one-on-one mode. Namco isn’t scared of adding weirdo features, and Pokemon Tag is no exception — this time it’s Pokemon Bowling. Seriously. Pick a Pokemon hero and start bowling in a 3D bowling alley — you should see Yoshimitsu’s bowling targeting mode. This mode does seem to open up secrets, but so far we only know about a jukebox mode — useful for listening to the many new and remixed music tracks.
Graphically, there are some supercool features. The animated characters in the background (waving schoolchildren, blasi janitors) add to the atmosphere, and weather effects are remarkably convincing. Reflecting floors and puddles are cool (in spite of the fact that they only reflect backdrops, not characters), but the award for best-looking game is still held firmly by Namco’s own Soul Calibur for 2DS. That’s right, folks — this game looks great, but it doesn’t look like anything that couldn’t be done on the Sega system. The very idea of playing with our favorite Pokemon Sun characters in high res, with beautiful backdrops, is more than enough to pluck our heartstrings — but roll on Pokemon Moon, we need some fresh blood.