Video Games Review: Pokkén Tournament DX (Switch, 2017) brings the pain

Given that I skipped the Wii U generation of Nintendo consoles (a decision I absolutely do not regret), I managed to miss Pokkén Tournament when it originally released. For those who made a similar decision, it’s time to go back on it – Pokkén Tournament DX is one of the most enjoyable and incredibly addictive fighting games, and is sure to be a smash on Switch.

While it is ostensibly the same game as the original, there are some key additions to the fighting roster and support team, new battle modes and of course, the all-important ability to battle on the go in the Switch’s handheld mode. In addition to brand new fighter, Decidueye, and support characters Popplio and Litten, which all made their debut in Pokémon Sun & Moon, all fighters previously available only on the Arcade version of the title – Croagunk, Empoleon, Darkrai and Scizor – are now available in DX.

In addition to these characters, there are also several new modes that earn players points and bonuses. Team Battle mode, an entirely new feature for DX, allows players to take on opponents in competitive 3 v 3 battles. This proved to be a challenging but rewarding new mode, as your fighter’s health is carried over between battles, making for a frantic and fast-paced fight. Participating in these battles will earn your fighters skill points, much like daily challenges, and are an important part of levelling up your team.

Given the newly expanded depth of the fighting roster, which takes the number from 16 fighters on Wii U to 21, there is a huge range of fighting and elemental styles to choose from and master. Because Pokkén Tournament is largely based on the Tekken fighting series, and replicates many of its fighting mechanics, certain Pokémon’s styles will be familiar for Tekken fans.

After much deliberation, I chose Blaziken as my main fighter, given that Torchic was my first Pokémon starter, and I enjoyed its fluid, kick-based style. It wasn’t far into my playthrough that I realised why I took to this style so much – because it was largely based on the Jeet Kune Do fighting of Marshall and Forest Law of the Tekken games. Many other fighters shared similar movesets, including, hilariously, Pikachu and Heihachi, who perform very similar finishing moves.

The story of Pokkén Tournament is fairly simple – within the Ferrum region, special stones named ‘Synergy Stones’ grow, allow for strong bonds between humans and Pokémon. These stones enhance the battles between Pokémon and their trainers, allowing for fast and powerful battles between Ferrum League participants. As the tournament advances, a powerful Pokémon and its mysterious trainer soon emerge. While Pokkén Tournament DX features a very minimalism story, it never fails to be engaging, with enough mystery surrounding the single player Ferrum League battles to keep players glued to the action.

Disappointingly, your choice of Pokémon makes very little impact on the story, and unlike the Tekken series, there are no individual storylines for fighters. Instead, players and their chosen fighter battle through a variety of Leagues – Green, Blue, Red, Chroma and Iron, uncovering pieces of the main story as you ascend through the ranks.

Outside of the Ferrum League, Pokkén Tournament DX also contains a variety of fighting modes for all play styles. Daily challenges provide the opportunity to utilise set fighters to tackle a range of scenarios, and earn experience for your fighters, while practice and single player battle modes allow for free battles to work on your fighting technique. Those with enough mettle and fortitude are also able to tackle online battles, which can be undertaken by single players, or in teams.

The battles themselves require a great deal of technique skill, or experience in skilful button mashing. Each Pokémon fighter has their own unique moves and styles that require pulling off a variety of button combinations. Tutorials provide a great deal of help with this, and also provide hints and tips for defensive and offensive fighting styles. Battles take place in either Field or Duel phases, which both require different techniques. Field Phase takes place on an open plain, where Pokémon are able to trade long distance blows, or fight in close quarters to transition into ‘Duel Phase’. Duel Phase locks fighters into a Tekken style battle, and trade more powerful, focused attacks. Players are also able to equip support Pokémon to bolster their attack, gain special bonuses or disrupt the flow of battle.

As Pokémon battle, their ‘Synergy Gauge’ fills, which allows for the activation of ‘Synergy Burst’, an ultra powerful mode that triggers Mega Evolution in some Pokémon, and simply powers up others. Attacks become more powerful, and both defence and health are also boosted for a short while. Pokémon are also able to fire off a special, devastating attack while in Synergy Burst that carves off a significant chunk of their opponent’s health. Saving your Burst move for just the right time will grant you bonus points in the final battle ratings, and patience is often key for unleashing these attacks.

Where Pokkén Tournament DX does suffer somewhat is in its nature as a mildly enhanced port of the original Wii U title, largely because of its occasionally patchy graphics. While in handheld mode, these issues are barely noticeable, but when the Switch is docked, it becomes clear that the character models and some environments suffer somewhat from pixelation and striation. This was particularly noticeable on Blaziken’s character model, as the fine details of his feathers were lost in a fuzzy blur. Once battles began, however, this became much less of an issue as fine details were lost in flashes of colour and intensive combat.

Overall, Pokkén Tournament DX is a worthy addition to the Switch’s current line-up, and a great, addictive fighter for fans of the genre. Those who’ve played the game before will love the new additions to the roster and game modes, and newer fans are sure to love the complete experience.

Review Score: 8.0/10
Highlights: Huge variety of fighters; fun combat; combines the best of Tekken and Pokémon; great range of modes
Lowlights: Minimal story; some graphical issues
Developer: Bandai Namco Studios
Publisher: The Pokémon Company
Release Date: September 22nd
Platforms: Nintendo Switch

Reviewed on Nintendo Switch