Pokken Tournament DX Review: An Excellent Intro to Fighting Games
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Pokken Tournament DX is a Pokemon fighting game developed by Bandai Namco, the creators of Tekken. Originally released as an Arcade Cabinet in Japan, a port eventually landed on the Wii U early last year. And now, after watching the Arcade Cabinet receive frequent updates while its console port collected dust, an updated version is finally coming to the Nintendo Switch.
I loved the original version on the Wii U, but I gotta say it: I'm enjoying every minute of my Switch copy even more. Decidueye, one of the new Battle Pokemon, has quickly become a favorite of mine over the course of a few matches. The new features are fantastic and there are a lot of solid quality-of-life touch-ups that simply make the game that much better.
Let's dive in.
Pokken Tournament DX Review
Have you every just wanted to take full control of your Pokemon to battle it out in real-time combat in a true test of skill? Well, Pokken is your chance to do just that. It features a roster of 21 Pokemon to choose from, alongside straightforward fighting controls, easy-to-grasp fundamentals, and a unique, perspective-altering feature called Phase Shift.
When a hit connects with an opponent, there's a chance that it will initiate a phase shift (a chance based on so many factors that I'm not even going to begin to get into it here). This shifts the perspective between a 3D Field Phase and a 2D Duel Phase.
Phase Shifting will slightly change up your move pool, but overall the controls stay fairly straightforward. Field Phase tends to focus more on Zoning and Homing attacks while Duel Phase switches it up to a more familiar Light and Heavy Attack combo.
Much like other fighting games out there, Pokken offers a far more apparent Rock, Paper, Scissors battle system dubbed the Attack Triangle. Essentially, Counter-Attacks beat Attacks, Attacks beat Grabs, and Grabs beat Counter-Attacks. Most of your available moves are attacks, though you can press a button combination for a stock Counter-Attack or Grab.
The best part is, this system isn't foolproof; it requires finesse to pull off accurately. Some early attack animations will only be tech grabs, for example, and there is a small window during Counters that you can actually punch through with an attack. The further you dive into the game, the more intricate it all becomes.
Whether you're a new or returning Pokken player, there's plenty to keep you occupied here. New players are looking forward to a thrilling fighter with robust Offline and Online modes, while returning players have a bunch of mouth-watering New Features to be hyped about.
There are a number of ways to play Pokken Tournament DX offline, including facing off against CPUs, sharpening your skills, and battling locally with your friends, which really helps keep bouts fresh and exciting.
This isn't exactly a game you pick up for the story, but there is a pseudo "story mode" called the Ferrum League where you fight your way to the top in tournament-style matches. Each league you complete winds up unlocking a plethora of new Trainer Customization options, so it's worth it for the fashion-conscious.
The Ferrum League now has new Mission Panels that hide a bunch of cool rewards. Completing the objective on a Mission Panel uncovers it and often nets you new Titles or exclusive Trainer Customization options. Completing the entire board reveals the picture underneath and sometimes unlocks an entirely new Mission Panel to complete. I'm totally addicted to completing these as I make my way through the Ferrum League.
New to the Switch version is a Daily Challenge that you can attempt for the chance at free levels for your Battle Pokemon. The fighters and Support Sets are both pre-set, and you only get the free levels if you win, but it's a great way to steadily raise the level of everyone on the roster if you play a lot.
Finally, if you just wanna kick back and chill, you can duke it out against CPUs in custom Single Battle matches. You can choose between Basic Battles, rogue-like Extra Battles, and 3v3 elimination-like Team Battles. Considering most battle's you'll find yourself in are basic, it's actually nice to spice things up every now and again.
If you get the chance, duking it out in special battle modes in local multiplayer is great fun. Both the Local and Wireless modes feature the same battle options as Single-Player, so you can get up to all kinds of crazy fights with your friends.
Play against your friend on the same screen in Local Battle mode by connecting a second controller. There's a split-screen mode that lets you battle from both player's perspective, though there's also a full-screen mode positioned on Player 1, which leaves Player 2 to play from the other side of the screen. Neither solution is exactly elegant, but I'm just happy they found a way to bring it back without the Wii U Gamepad for DX.
If your friend has their own Switch and copy of Pokken, you can face off in Wireless Battle mode. If you use this mode, your matches are recorded and can be replayed and saved in My Town's Battle Records.
Finally, if you press L + R + Down + B simultaneously on the title screen, you'll enter Event Mode for LAN Battles. Here, you can choose whether or not to use your Pokken save data, and then you get to select the stage and number of rounds for the match. It's a pretty barebones battle mode, but it's wonderful for setting up tournaments.
Of course, you'll need to sharpen your skills if you hope to do well in these tournaments. To this end, there's a Practice mode in the game complete with tutorials, action walkthroughs, example combos, and a free training lab.
The Tutorials found here are excellent and should all be completed immediately if you're a new player. They do a fantastic job of explaining the mechanics to you in a way that's approachable and easy to understand.
The Action Dojo runs through every move in a Pokemon's arsenal. Going through the Action Dojo every now and again is a perfect way to refresh yourself on the attacks at your disposal, which helps with your creativity and mix-ups in battle.
The Combo Dojo walks you through a series of six unique combos for every Pokemon. These combos aren't generally ideal by any means, but they're a great place to start while you work on developing your own.
Free Training is where you go when you need to practice specific scenarios against an opponent or lab your own combos and mix-ups. There are plenty of options that make the CPU opponent here dance the dance you need them to for training. Alternatively, you could plug in a second controller and train against another player in this mode, too.
All of these Practice modes combine to make Pokken Tournament DX a rather accessible fighting game. The tutorials make it easy to learn the fundamentals while the Action and Combo Dojos are a great help while trying to learn how to play your main fighter.
Once you have a feel for your chosen Battle Pokemon, you can pit your skills against other players by participating in Online Battles. There are a couple things you can do online, such as duking it out in a variety of match modes, checking out the Ranked Leaderboards, and viewing replays of other players' matches.
In Rank Match, you fight to earn your rank on the leaderboards. It's a fairly straightforward point-based ranking system with promotion requirements every rank-up. People who disconnect too many times in this mode even receive a warning symbol next to their name.
Friendly Match allows for more casual fights, either against random players or those who use the same VS Code. Group Match, on the other hand, allows you to create or join a group for more private battles. These groups have many interesting features, including the ability to turn on Ranking and set event start and end times.
While online, you can also view the Leaderboard and see Rankings filtered by Points, Wins, Trainers, and Pokemon. From here, you can select trainers and view their recent replays if they upload them. Alternatively, you could search for the replays you're looking for via the Replay Theater. These replays not only let you view the match from either perspective but they also let you pull up the button inputs and watch them unfold in real time.
Unfortunately, all Online Battles are the basic type of Pokken match. There's currently no way to play Extra or Team Battles online, and that's a crying shame. I really hope they update the game with this feature, at least for Groups. I was really looking forward to facing off against my friends in 3v3 Team Battles.
So while yes, the Online mode is a little lacking, it's still a far cry better than the one we had in the Wii U version. Group Match makes organizing online tournaments loads easier while the Replay Theater makes learning from the pros a far simpler affair. Speaking of new features, let's go over all of them real quick.
New Features in Pokken Tournament DX
- Five New Battle Pokemon -- Decidueye, Croagunk, Empoleon, Scizor, and Darkrai join the fray, expanding the roster of playable Battle Pokemon to 21.
- New Support Set -- Litten and Popplio make an appearance as their own Support Set.
- New Stage -- There's a new tropical-themed Stage called Thalia Beach.
- Team Battle -- 3v3 single battle elimination match.
- Replays -- Study up on plays by watching replays of old matches.
- Daily Challenge -- Face off against CPUs with a preset team for the chance to win free level-ups.
- Wireless Battle -- Battle against nearby friends using the Switch's wireless connection.
- Group Match -- Battle and rank against other players in the same Group.
- Mission Panels -- Side objectives to complete for exclusive Titles and Trainer Customization options.
- New Trainer Customization Options -- There are all new facial expressions, clothes, accessories, hairstyles, backgrounds, and titles to personalize your Trainer.
- 2-Player Free Training -- Hook up a second controller and dive into Free Training with a friend.
- No need to unlock Battle Pokemon, Support Sets, Stages, or Cheer Skills anymore.
- No need to register your three favorite Support Sets anymore.
Pokken Tournament DX is an Excellent Intro to Fighting Games
Yes, Pokken Tournament DX is still a Pokemon fan's dream come true. After all, what fan wouldn't dream of a game where you could battle with Pokémon in real time combat? However, brushing it off as merely fan service is hugely underestimating what this game has to offer.
If you like fighting games but never felt like you could break into the competitive scene, this is honestly, a great place to start. The game presents itself in a way that makes it easy to pick up and learn the fundamentals, making it accessible to players of all skill levels -- and it does this without sacrificing any depth in the combat system.
This is by no means a dumbed-down fighting game. It may seem simple at a glance, but the longer you invest yourself in it, the more you'll get out of it. You may be surprised by what you discover.
All in all, fans of both Pokemon and fighting games alike will love Pokken on the Switch. Whether you're looking for a new competitive scene or just want a new multiplayer game to impress your friends, you really can't go wrong with this one.
Pick up Pokken Tournament DX on the Nintendo Switch this Friday, September 22, for $59.99.