Pokken Tournament released in March of 2016 to a decent amount of fanfare. The game caused a spike in Wii U sales, 300% week over week in Japan during the release of the title, and even outsold Street Fighter V in April of that year. Pokken also found itself being nominated for The Game Awards for “Best Fighting Game,” where it lost out to Street Fighter V. Despite a strong 2016, Pokken‘s popularity didn’t wane, but it stagnated a bit. The arcade version of the game, which had limited appearances on Western shores, saw the release of 4 new Pokemon to the lineup. Unfortunately, the Wii U didn’t even get those fighters as DLC. Upon the release of the Nintendo Switch, Bandai Namco and The Pokemon Company announced that Pokken Tournament DX will be releasing on the new portable console, featuring all four of the arcade fighters, as well as the Sun and Moon grass starter Decidueye as a playable fighter with Litten and Popplio as Switch exclusive support Pokemon. Will the explosive popularity of the Nintendo Switch, combined with the sheer timing of everything else on Nintendo’s newest home console, give hope to this seemingly underrated fighter?
Game Name: Pokken Tournament DX
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch
Developer(s): Bandai Namco/The Pokemon Company
Release Date: September 22, 2017
Price: $59.99 (Amazon)
As someone who hasn’t played Pokken Tournament before, and coming from games such as Tekken, Street Fighter, King of Fighters and Virtua Fighter, I wasn’t all that sure as to what I was getting into. Sure, I’ve watched some high-level play before, but for a game that wasn’t in the limelight much, I never paid much mind. Well, I’m pleased as punch to say that I was pleasantly surprised. Before I get into that though, I’ll share some basic info about Pokken Tournament for the uninitiated.
Pokken Tournament DX is a one-on-one fighting game that pits Pokemon against each other in battles that are vastly different than your average Pokemon battles. You typically select one of a roster of 21 Pokemon to fight with, and you can select one of 16 pre-set teams of 2 assist Pokemon to provide buffs. Unlike Pokken Tournament before it, everything is unlocked from the get-go, so Mewtwo and Shadow Mewtwo, as well as the two Dark Colosseum stages. Battles are held in circular or oblong (read: oval) shaped stages and they have two phases to them: Field Phase and Duel Phase.
Field Phase is where you start every battle. You can move in any direction along the plane, and the camera is at a somewhat isometric view from over your shoulder. Duel Phase is most similar to traditional 2D fighters, where you can only move back and forward while attacking. Pokken DX‘s default button layout has three attack buttons: Y is your weak attack, X is your strong attack and A is your Pokemon move. You can use these attacks in combination with the D-Pad or thumbstick to execute different variations of attacks. Jump is relegated to your B button, the left bumper (L) calls out whatever Support Pokemon you selected before the start of the round, and the right bumper (R) is your block button. Players who are used to the block function being tied to pressing back on the D-Pad will have an adjustment period when it comes to getting used to pressing a button to block.
Grabs are executed by pressing Y and B together, while your Counter Attack is executed by pressing X and A together. You can charge select moves and your counter attack to do more powerful versions of these attacks. In addition, certain attacks are exclusive to one phase or the other, so you have to be aware of what phase you’re in. Also, certain attacks, as well as grabs, will cause an automatic phase change.
Synergy Bursts are performed by pressing L and R together when your Synergy meter is full. This mode gives your Pokemon a brief power-up while giving certain moves additional properties. Take Decidueye for example. Its Fury Attack -> Leaf Blade gets an additional follow-up attack in Synergy Burst mode. Scizor gets its neutral Y attacks buffed, and Gardevoir gets its Moonblast buffed as well, and that’s only a sample. Synergy Bursts also allow for the usage of Burst Attacks, which are pretty much your Pokemon’s Super Combo or Critical Art, depending on what game you’re coming from. They’re devastating, and they hit very hard. When they do hit, they present some of the most amazing cinematic moments in the game.
There are also a wealth of mechanics in the game that you can take advantage of and learn in the Practice Mode, such as optimal combos, Counter Attack Dash Cancels (yes, Pokken has FADCs,) and lots more. It’s not as thorough or as welcoming as Killer Instinct or Skullgirls‘ tutorial or practice modes, but it will suffice. The game is deep, and it has a lot to teach. It is to note, the balance changes that exist in Pokken Tournament DX are NOT the same as the Japanese arcade cabinets, and there are quite a few, according to sources within the Pokken Community.
The Ferrum League mode is where most of the action takes place. You’ll take your partner Pokemon and battle through 4 different leagues, Green, Blue, Red, and Chroma, to achieve supremacy in the Ferrum Region. You go up the ranks fighting 5 consecutive battles to determine your rank. Once you reach Rank 8 or higher, you’re eligible for the league tournament. Win three straight matches and you’ll face the League Master for the right to go on to the next rank. In each League, you can earn bonuses for your avatar and profile by clearing Mission Panels. There are multiple missions in these panels, such as “Use a certain support Pokemon X amount of times,” or “Win X amount of battles.” After you clear a league, you can always come back and take part in free battles to clear the various missions. The difficulty between leagues doesn’t spike incredibly hard, but you’ll need a legitimate grasp on the mechanics to do well in later leagues.
The story doesn’t simply end with clearing the four leagues. You also have to fight a mysterious threat that is seemingly coming after trainers with strong Synergy with their Pokemon. I’m going to avoid any spoilers, but the story around the Ferrum League battles is a pretty intense one. I wasn’t on the edge of my seat, but there were moments where I did have some feelings of excitement as to what comes next. Despite this, the League Battles feel like a grind fest, and even though it’s beneficial when it comes to increasing your Pokemon’s level, there are moments where you’ll feel like it’s not gonna end. Again, once you clear the league, it definitely feels like it was worth the effort, especially with the later leagues.
Looking at the game’s design, it seems as if Pokken DX looks absolutely fantastic on the Nintendo Switch hardware. The game looks vivid running at 60fps both docked and undocked, the colors are bright and the designs are true to Pokemon as they can be. Bandai Namco spared nothing into making a lot of these stages stand out, even though a few of them are Tekken Tag Tournament 2 stages with Pokemon themes. The transition to the Nintendo Switch did this game a lot of favors, especially some of the new ways to battle.
Team Battle mode is definitely one that stuck out to me. Team Battle plays a lot like The King of Fighters, as these are 3-on-3 matches where you must beat your opponents team to win. The winning Pokemon gains a small boost in health between rounds, much like KOF. The Daily Challenges are fun little challenges that give bonuses for not only the player avatar but Skill Points for your various Pokemon to level up with. These quick little challenges are fun diversions from the main content and can be of a significant benefit.
The music is also quite catchy and infectious. The Main Menu theme and the My Town menu themes are two of my favorites to just sit down and listen to for periods of time, or while I’m doing something else. Pokemon has always been lauded for their musical choices, and Pokken Tournament DX is no different. The sound effects in battle are crisp, and they feel like you’re actually in the arenas and stages watching the battle live. The voice acting is certainly a “your mileage may vary” deal. You can choose to have the voices play in Japanese, English or not at all. Also, Nia can either be turned off or limited to very basic advice in battle and in the menus. Of course, if you decide to have Nia on at Full Blast, expect a LOT of her.
Speaking of Nia, you can adjust how she appears or how your assist cheering works between rounds. This can be done in Advisor Settings in My Town. All of her outfits and Cheer Skills are available from the outset. Each of the six cheers give bonuses between each round, so make sure to pick very carefully, based on your playstyle. This only affects Ferrum League play. You can freely select your cheer in multiplayer matches. I typically choose ‘Special,’ which typically nets me a specific option depending on the outcome of the round.
As the game hasn’t been released as of yet, I wasn’t able to test the online capabilities of Pokken Tournament DX. I will update the review after the game releases with my thoughts on the online matchmaking. There is a LAN option for events known as ‘Event Mode” though. It’s a secret menu enabled by a button combination performed at the Main Menu. This will definitely help with tournaments and LAN parties. Just make sure you buy an Ethernet adapter.
Review Disclosure Statement: Pokken Tournament DX was provided to us by Nintendo of America for review purposes. For more information on how we review video games and other media/technology, please go review our Review Guideline/Scoring Policy for more info.
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Pokken Tournament DX is definitely worth the upgrade. The game has changed just enough to stay fresh and the five new characters, along with the Popplio and Litten assists that were introduced, freshen the game up enough to matter in the long run. Despite the changes, everything is familiar to old players, and while Pokken DX isn’t all that welcoming to newcomers, those who put the time into the game will definitely find a wealth of enjoyment. Pokken Tournament DX is a game that deserves way more than what it got in terms of support, and hopefully, on the Switch, it will get it.