Game Title: Pokken Tournament DX
Developer: Bandai Namco, The Pokemon Company
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Availability: Retail | Digital
Battery Life: 2.75 – 3.5 hours
Download: 3.9 GB
Lately, I’ve been itching to play a Pokemon game, fully knowing that the Pokemon Nintendo Switch game isn’t coming out for quite some time. So, instead, I keep checking for small price drops and sales for the one Pokemon0based game that is out on the Switch, the Pokemon fighting game.
I’ve actually been watching for sales since a little after launch, and I finally got it when I saw Amazon selling it for a little under 50 dollars. After having gotten way more into it than I thought I would, here is my review of Pokken Tournament DX for the Nintendo Switch!
Just like a new Pokemon game, Pokken takes place in a new region of land in the Pokemon World, although I question how ‘canon’ it is to the rest of the series, considering there are dozens of people running around with Suicunes when there is only supposed to be 1 of each Legendary in the entire world, as far as the plot is concerned.
In this Ferrum Region, there are Synergy Stones, special forms of energy that let trainers communicate and sync their own movements with their Pokemon partners, enabling them to do a new more action-oriented form of battles and the Ferrum has their own tournament system around these battles.
You play as a new trainer doing what every Pokemon wants to do: To be the very best, like no one ever was. The plot shows your journey through the Ferrum League to be Number One as well as becoming involved with a strange plot that puts the entire Ferrum Region in danger when a certain Psychic Pokemon shows up and starts stealing all the Synergy Stone Energy for himself.
Pokken Tournament is a bit of a unique thing in the library of fighting games. It’s a mix of 3D and 2D fighters in its system, so let’s call it a Hybrid Fighting game with RPG elements. Across its fights, you’ll be duking it out in 1-on-1 battles in both 3D and 2D fights along with leveling your fighters and increasing their stats.
First of all, this is an updated port of Pokken Tournament from the Wii U and Arcades, so what did they add in the Switch version? First of all, every fighter that was exclusive to Arcades that never hit the Wii U version are here as well as new fighters and support sets from Pokemon Sun and Moon Switch version exclusives, marking the complete roster of 21 fighters (not counting the recent Aegislash/Blastoise DLC Packs) outside of arcades, but also in the West in one console format.
Aside from its roster, the Switch version added Team Battles, letting you go through a gauntlet with multiple Pokemon instead of just one for every fight as well as Daily Challenges, offering character-specific missions with set parameters for earning extra Skill Points, not so different from the Character-specific Raid Mode missions from Resident Evil Revelations 2.
Now, let’s get into the game, itself. When you go into the game, you have 3 different kinds of modes you can go into. You have My Town for character and Pokemon customization, Single Player Modes for the Ferrum League Story Mode, Single Battles against the CPU, and Practice for Tutorials. Finally, you have Multiplayer Modes for Split-Screen, Local Wireless, and Online battles.
But let’s talk about combat. Pokken is a fighting game where you are constantly shifting between it being a 3D fighter and a 2D fighter. Certain attacks will shift the battle between the more Shin Budokai 2-esque 3D gameplay and the traditional Tekken-style 2D gameplay. The strategy is that you will constantly shift between these two modes and all of your attacks do different things in each of these modes, so it’s like 2 battle systems in one fighter.
As with a lot of fighters, you have 3 different kinds of attacks with the action buttons: Ranged Attacks, Homing Attacks, and Strong Attacks (which can be ranged or close-range depending on your character). You also can combine buttons for Grabs and Counters.
The final pieces of the puzzle are Support Pokemon and the Synergy Gauge. As you fight each battle, you’ll gain energy for your Synergy Burst, which is your Ultimate Attack Form, where you can use your Ultimate Attack once per battle and all of your stats are significantly boosted. You also gain Support Energy over time and, when it is full, you can summon a temporary ally to buff your stats or attack your opponent, similar to Assist Attacks in Dissidia 012: Final Fantasy for the PSP.
This all comes together into a combat system that is simple and complex, depending on who you’re playing as. Some characters have extremely simple combos that even the youngest of Pokefans can learn to be competent with through most of Story Mode, while more technical fighters can take hours to learn patterns for and master. The Pokemon I chose as my main, Gardevoir, took me many hours to learn patterns for to be able to clear the latter parts of Story Mode. Thankfully, the Tutorial Mode has combos for everyone Pokemon to play as, so you don’t have to self-educate on what can be combo’d and what can’t.
Once you win a battle, the RPG elements come into play. You gain exp and level up, like any other Pokemon game, and earn Skill Points that can be assigned to your Pokemon. These can be used freely for Attack, Defense, Synergy, or Support Effects, giving you large amounts of stat boosts to help you, both in Story Mode and compatible Multiplayer matches.
Before closing up this section, there is one thing I want to talk about. When I first heard about Pokken’s Story Mode, I heard it was extremely grindy. When I played it, there was a point where it did feel like that, but I did not feel that way until the very last league, where all of the major story events had already been concluded. That league is extremely long and, while it is very grindy to get that last milestone to get the End Credits, the leagues and story leading up to that didn’t really have that grindy feel to them with shorter leagues tied with a mission-based system to unlock content as you went.
Now let’s talk about content and length. This game’s Story Mode has 4 leagues to conquer, plus the Story Quest that happens between Leagues 3 and 4. Setting aside the dozen or so hours I took to raise my Gardevoir in level and learn the game by fighting the Very Hard AI, I would gauge Story Completion at around 12 hours total.
Once you beat the story, you unlock a post-game league that’s even more difficult to master, but that’s all there is to the post-game. Outside of that, you can return to the other leagues to continue to fulfill missions and unlock the hundreds of Titles and accessories for your avatar and, of course, watch the Daily Challenges if you want more Skill Points for your fighters.
Controlling the game isn’t too hard. It is built to support single joy-con co-op play, so only two of the four triggers are used in-game.
You can use the Left Analog Stick or the Arrow Buttons / D-Pad to move around the arena. The L trigger is used to summon your Support Attack, R is used for for blocking, and both L + R are used for Synergy Burst Mode and Synergy Attacks / Ultimate Attacks.
Finally, we have the face buttons / action buttons. B is used for jumping, while X, Y, and A are used for different attacks. X + B are used for Grab Attacks and Y + A are used for Counter Attacks.
All in all, it’s pretty simple, and it’s also worth noting that Pokken has an exceptional Tutorial that not only explains how the controls work, but has in-depth Tutorials for each fighter, including all of their abilities and combos you can pull off with them.
Graphically, Pokken Tournament DX looks amazing. There’s a crazy amount of detail, all the way down to the flame on Charizard’s tail to the streams of hair on Gardevoir’s head. Even in handheld mode, the game looks jaggie-less outisde of Synergy Burst Mode, where the aura creates a couple jaggies here and there.
Performance is great, for the most part. In Single Player and Online Multiplayer, it is flawless. However, the Wii U version of this game had a history of having terrible frame-rate during split-screen Local Multiplayer, and that is still here. If you do SPlit-Screen in Pokken DX, you’ll get a lot of frame-drops well under 30 fps. However, if you do the shared-screen Local Multiplayer, frame-rate is fine, but harder to use for the opposing side.
Given how graphically-amazing this game is, it is no surprise that Battery Life isn’t so high. Here are my times, from 100% to 0%
Max Brightness + Wi-Fi – 2 hours, 46 minutes
Max Brightness + No Wi-Fi – 2 hours, 52 minutes
Low Brightness + Wi-Fi – 3 hours, 26 minutes
Low Brightness + No Wi-Fi – 3 hours, 30 minutes
So, about 3 and a half hours at the max, so that’s not a lot of Battery Liufe, but not the worst we’ve seen on the Switch.
In conclusion, Pokken Tournament DX has become the 'definitive' version of the title past its Wii U and Arcade counterparts. Although the Split-Screen frame-drops still happen, this is a fun fighting game past its Pokemon origins, combining 3D and 2D elements into a fun and unique way to become the very best, like no one ever was.