To some extent, if you tell someone, "There's a Pokemon fighting game on the Wii U," they will probably think they have a good idea about what it is. Despite being recognizable for its mostly-cute aesthetic and family-friendly content, the Pokemon series is, at its core, about monsters fighting each other. So the idea of a game that's entirely about that might not be too surprising.
But Pokken Tournament might not be exactly what you think it is. And not just because it's got a luchador version of Pikachu called Pikachu Libre. That's just proof that nothing is sacred.
For starters, it's not played on a 2D field like Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat. Made in collaboration with Bandai Namco, the developers behind the Tekken series of fighting games, you might expect it to play just like Tekken -- only, you know, with Pikachu in it. But it doesn't look or feel much like Tekken at all (at least to me. Admittedly I was never a hardcore Tekken expert).
In fact, when you first take control of one of the 16 main Pokemon characters, you have free control to run all over the arena, and the camera is positioned behind your Pokemon's back. It's only when you or your opponent land certain attacks that you switch into a different "phase," which shifts the perspective of the battle to a more "traditional" side-on view of the action.
You might also expect Pokken Tournament to be simple. After all, the Pokemon series primarily appeals to children (though the main games in particular are enjoyable for all ages), so you would think this would be a game that children can easily play. And they can ... mostly. The story mode in particular starts off very easy (like, "easily win 50 matches in a row without paying much attention" easy), and its possible to find success just by running around and hitting buttons. Mashing the Y button is enough to pull off combos.
But if you want to play competitively with other, similarly skilled Pokken Tournament players, you might find that the game has a surprising amount of depth.
Attacks themselves aren't much like a standard fighting game's. Instead of buttons dedicated to punches and kicks, Pokken Tournament is more about ranged attacks (which will let you chip away at your opponent's health from a distance) and homing attacks (which will get you up close and personal so you can wail on the other Pokemon with melee hits).
When you are up close, there's a very important "attack triangle" to keep in mind:
Normal attacks beat grab attacks.
Grab attacks beat counter attacks.
Counter attacks beat normal attacks.
Anybody who isn't already deep into fighting games might think things are starting to sound complicated, but don't worry: Pokken Tournament has a surprisingly good tutorial. I say "surprisingly" because the other big fighting game release so far in 2016, Street Fighter V, has a short tutorial that is practically useless, and the game as a whole (at least as it stands right now) is absolutely terrible about teaching its players how to get better.
But Pokken Tournament is different. There are a lot of gameplay systems to worry about, but the game introduces them all at an easy-to-digest pace. It starts easy with concepts like simple attacks and blocking. Then it gets until the added layer of Support Pokemon, which can be called in during fights and which each have different types.
Then there are guard breaks and a "Synergy Gauge" and high and low stances and piercing attacks and counter attack cancels and ... Look, it gets complex, OK? But it never feels unmanageable, because the game is good about teaching you everything you need to know.
If you're still intimidated and don't want to play against other people (either online or off), that's OK. There's a nice, long story mode in Pokken Tournament, complete with cutscenes and dialogue and the chance to earn unlockable avatar items. I don't love how its progression is structured (as ranking up in each new "league" of Pokemon fighters can be needlessly stretched out), but it's a fun diversion that could keep you busy for awhile.
I expected Pokken Tournament to be a dumb little diversion that might keep Pokemon fans busy for a short time. Now, though, I could see it developing a competitive following that attracts new players for years.