In 2016 the world was treated to something special from Japanese arcades; a Pokémon fighting game from the creators of Tekken. All eight Wii U owners got to enjoy it, one of which was our own Matthew Codd. Now thanks to the Switch’s success, an even larger audience gets to visit the Pokémon brawling action with Pokkén Tournament DX.
For those entering blind like I did, the Tekken creators’ involvement can be a little deceptive, in that it doesn’t spend the whole time in a 2.5D plane like you’d expect. Instead it throws you into a 3D arena, and this is where one of the game’s genius elements kicks in. Phase Shift attacks allow you to switch between a 3D and 2.5D field. Once you get the hang of it, and learn some attacks to get in and out of phases, it feels fluid.
Controls don’t quite conform to the Tekken style. Rather than the four action buttons matching each limb, they cover strong, weak, jump and Pokémon style attacks; the latter of which is a ranged/elemental strike. This makes it simple to jump into the game and hold your own in the easy leagues, but it has plenty of complexity in timing, combos, and countering for when you get in deeper.
The game’s story mode (although it’s generous to call it that) is broken into four coloured leagues of escalating difficulty, each containing three phases. The first involves ranking up through sets of six battles. Once you reach the top eight, you enter a knockout round. Getting through that lets you fight a boss, and hopefully earn a promotion to the next league.
There are brief moments of story after promotions, but the bulk of it is thrown between the final leagues. It involves a mysterious force that has been draining Gaia energy which is required for Synergy Stones to work. Your goal is to beat a dark Pokémon to free him from being trapped by this energy. The thin plot hardly detracts though, as it presents light entertainment, and some fights with mechanical restrictions, like not being able to use Synergy Burst.
Synergy Burst is one of two bars that builds when you attack or are attacked. Activating it basically triggers a Mega Evolution. During this phase you’ll heal slightly, attacks become more powerful, and you can use a Burst Attack. If this lands, a small cutscene triggers while doing some serious damage. It’s far from unstoppable if you get your timing right, which I rarely did.
The other bar – which fills on a timer – initiates a move from the support Pokémon you choose pre-match. These come in three main types: attack, disrupt and enhance. Enhance gives you buffs or health boosts, disrupt stops an opponent in their tracks by putting up a barrier, and attack is exactly that – an attack. These moves aren’t overpowered, but add some variety to the fight, and pad out the roster.
Speaking of, the roster sits at 21 Pokémon. This may seem like a reasonable number for a fighting game, but as we’re so used to the massive number of Pokémon in the main series, it feels like a small offering. It’s worth noting though that it’s still five more than the Wii U version and one more than the Arcade version thanks to Decidueye from Sun and Moon. Litten and Popplio even make an appearance as Support Pokémon which helps the game feel more like a new release, and not just a port.
One major thing the game gets spot on is waiting for matches online. It doesn’t take long to find a ranked or casual match, but if it takes more than a few seconds the game throws you into a CPU match while you wait. I never finished one of these due to matchmaking being quick, but it’s far more enjoyable than looking at a timer.
There’s also plenty of replay value in the game thanks to a leveling system, a secret post-credits league, and challenges to beat. The latter are tasks like use Magikarp's support attack 25 times, which rewards you with cosmetic items for your trainer.
A major drawback is Nia’s narration, who for the most part provides useful tips, or comments giving personality to the game. The problem is she is poorly voiced, like the lines were being read for the first time or with sarcastic undertones. This resulted in the game being muted multiple times, which isn’t ideal as the music and sounds are great.
If you are weighing up the decision on whether you should buy Pokkén Tournament DX, it’s an easy one to make. Despite its flaws, it’s a fantastic fighting game that is easy to pick up, making it appealing to the casual and hardcore audience alike. Fans of Pokémon would be crazy to overlook it, and fighting game fans should find something unique here.
Blair received a digital copy of Pokken Tournament DX from Nintendo for review.