It’s been a banner year for camp Nintendo. The Switch is a critical and commercial success. There has been a big budget AAA game released almost monthly for the new hybrid console. While some of those titles have been entirely original, others like Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and Splatoon 2 have been upgrades or sequels. Due out on September 22nd Pokken Tournament DX continues the trend of bringing a game from late in the Wii U lifecycle that was a hit and porting it to the Switch for a second lease on life. This is our Pokken Tournament DX review.
If you are entirely unfamiliar with Pokken Tournament it is the brainchild of the Pokemon Company and Namco Bandai. It’s what happens when you cross Pokemon and Tekken. You’ll take on the role of a trainer in this game but instead of working across the land to catch and train Pokemon you’ll take your Pokemon through a series of leagues and tournaments to become the number one fighter. There is also a light storyline that involves a Dark Mewtwo. You can’t confuse this with a serious Pokemon game but it definitely has some chops as a fighter.
This upgraded version of Pokken Tournament has 5 additional fighters bringing the roster total up to 21. The new additions are Darkrai, Croagunk, Empoleon, Scizor, and Decidueye. Those first 4 can be found in the Japanese arcade version of Pokken Tournament but the Switch version is the first time anyone will get their hands on Decidueye who is a grass type Pokemon introduced in Sun and Moon.
In addition to the 21 fighters, there are another 32 nonplayable Pokemon that act as support characters that can be summoned in during battle. You can only choose to have any two on standby with your team at a time.
Other than a roster of fighters that consist of Pokemon the biggest thing that makes this fighter stand out is the two different fighting phases. Those are the field phase and the duel phase. During the field phase, our fighter can move around the arena more freely. You can move up and down, side to side. During the duel phase, your characters move more linearly, in two dimension. You’ll go from side to side and can jump up and down. You also typically deal more damage to each other in this phase. Certain attacks or combos of attack will force your characters to switch from one phase to the other. While there is an element of strategy to pushing your characters into or out of a particular phase it comes off more as a gimmick than a make or break situation.
The game starts off with a light tutorial that teaches you just enough to get the basics. Fortunately if you jump from their to league play, of which there are 4, you’ll be able to button mash your way through the green league (the easiest of the 4). I managed to go 17-0 and I can assure you I’m not good at fighting games. Later tutorials will teach you more in depth tactics that will become required once you reach the top echelons of league play. What seems like a daunting learning curve at first ends up being relatively mild. It’s during league matches that you’ll also be introduced to the game’s story.
As you win matches with your Pokemon they will earn experience and money. As the Pokemon level up you can spend points on them to improve their attack, defense, and other attributes. The money you’ll be able to spend on cosmetics for your trainer.
In both handheld and docked mode the game performed admirably. Even when there were a lot of different effects on the screen at the same time there was no noticeable frame drop. I was able to test the game in local co op and split screen and the Switch held every time the action ratcheted up. I was not able to test the game online. While the service is currently up and running if you are placed in a queue for more than a minute the game will drop you into a match against a CPU. After fighting a CPU opponent a number of times I went back to league play and will try online play again after the wide release. As long as it works as advertised it shouldn’t affect the review score. If a few days after release the online systems are a mess we will update the review to reflect that development.
Pokken Tournament was a hit on the Wii U and while not an excellent game it is a solid fighter filed with some interesting Pokemon. However for each Pikachu Libre there is a Chandelure. With a roster of almost 1000 Pokemon you’d think they could have come up with a better lineup for the 21 fighters. While games like Mario Kart 8, Splatoon 2, and Arms do magnificent jobs of taking their respective genres and making excellent interpretations of Nintendo games Pokken Tournament DX only does an above average job for the fighting genre.