So far, 2017 has been a phenomenal year for Nintendo but most importantly the Switch. We have seen both new titles gracing the new hybrid and a few fantastic Wii U titles being brought over to the Switch. Needless to say, given the arguable lack of success of Nintendo’s asymmetric gameplay console, giving some of the games of the Wii U another shot at gaining the audience they deserved is a fantastic idea. The latest example of this to come out of the Big N is Pokkén Tournament, which is receiving a DX (I assume short for Deluxe) version, Nintendo’s Pokémon fighting game. But how is the Switch update for the fighter?
The game itself is split into various modes, laid out across an aerial map of the Ferrum Region. As well as modes returning from the original such as Ferrum League, Single Battle, My Town, Practice, Local Battle and Online Battle. Now theres a couple of new icons for the Daily Challenge and Wireless Battle modes. The Daily Challenge is exactly what it says on the tin. The player can return each day and participate in a challenge entered around a particular Pokémon or team of Pokémon of which success will net the player in-game currency and experience points to be used on levelling up those Pokémon’s basic statistics.
In the Ferrum League, the player can participate in battles against CPU opponents to raise their rank in each league until they can take on the tournament to become the number one ranked player in that league, also simultaneously earning the right to challenge the champion of the league and fully rank up to the next one. Also, each league has a set of missions to complete that net their own rewards such as avatar customisation tools and titles the player can have attached to their online presence for all to see. Finally, if a league is causing you trouble, you can participate in Free Battles that allow you to ease yourself into the difficulty level of the increasingly challenging leagues before challenging the ranks.
The online modes manage to hedge the midpoint between robust and lacklustre, falling somewhere in the region of mediocre. The normal modes are here, with Ranked, Friendly, and Group Matches making up the choices. The online connection is great and stable when you get matches, which is necessary considering that the frenetic nature of the game would be compromised by input lag. One issue I take with the online is the method in which it finds opponents. Personally, I do not think that a ten second timer to find an opponent is long enough and, considering my extensive experience with fighting games, I find myself disappointed by the lack of a means to enter myself for online matches whilst in other modes. The game does activate a CPU battle if there is a time out, but being able to mess with my avatar or Practice Mode wouldn’t go amiss.
The local modes in this game are fantastic, with the Local Battle mode now supporting much better play for two players on one console. The way that this differs from the original title is the ability to play the game in split screen, which is easily the best way to play, especially together (both cosy and competitive) using a JoyCon each. There’s also the ability to play it from a single angle, but I personally find that this give too much advantage to player one on many levels but most importantly perspective. The player fighting from off in the distance is at a large disadvantage in terms of spacing, especially in the Field Phase (more on Phases later). The Wireless Battle mode is exactly what it says, a battle between two separate Switch consoles with each player using their own screen.
The final key mode is the My Town mode. In this mode, the player can customise their avatar with an extensive amount of clothes, hairstyles and other bits. Not only this but the player can customise the Advisor, Mia, with different outfits, as well as changing the frequency of her advice (I could not recommend this more). Furthermore, the player can change their Pokémon settings here such as Partner Pokémon, stat distribution and favourite Support Pokémon. In short, the amount of customisation in this game is staggering and a lot more is unlocked throughout the Ferrum League, making there always something new to see.
But how does it play exactly? Pokkén Tournament DX is, to most intents and purposes, pretty much identical to it’s prior iteration. The player chooses their Pokémon, their Support, then engages in arena-based fighting against another ‘Mon. The basic mechanics are that of a fighting game with light, heavy and special attacks for each character that can be linked together into combos as the player tries to reduce his opponents life bar down to zero. To aid in both this and avoiding damage to their own character there is a block button, a dodge mechanic, a counter and a throw and, finally, the support Pokémon.
It’s the last one of those mechanics that is the most interesting from a gameplay perspective. The support are summonable creatures that have a variety of different effects on a match. They can create shields, attack the opponent or augment the player with ability boosts and disrupt the opponent with negative status effects. These cannot just be used at any point, they require a power-up time (or charge) and different supports require different lengths of time to charge. This is also changed by the “Cheer” system, in which the main NPC, Mia, will cheer the player at the end of a round fully charging one of the Supports. Using this mechanic, the player can still use the slower charging Supports and much easier than dragging a fight out.
The original concept of Pokkén is that the play shifts between two separate planes, giving different gameplay in each. In Field Phase, the player can move at will around the arena, collecting Special meter boosts and attacking from a distance with projectiles. Once enough damage is caused to one of the Pokémon, the play shifts into Duel Phase, which plays out closer to 2D fighting game with a greater emphasis on combos and it’s here the game feels most like a standard fighting game. Once enough damage is done once more, the phase shifts again, and so on and so forth.
The final mechanic in combat is Synergy Burst. During battle, a bar will fill called the Synergy Gauge. When this bar is full, the player can activate an enhanced state of their Pokémon gaining a temporary invincibility on activation; then enhanced attacks, damage output and access to the character’s Burst Attack, which is a tremendously powerful and incredibly dangerous attack. For those of the fighting game persuasion, this is similar to a “Super” in many other fighting games. These attacks are high on spectacle, and thoroughly entertaining to watch, but the player needs to be careful as they place you at risk if the attack is then blocked. Add to this and all of the above a strange attack triangle in which attacks beating throws, throws beating counters, and counters beating attacks and you have one of the most interesting fighting games currently available.
Aesthetically, the game is a mixed bag. The anime influences of the character and location design look great and and the user interface is both bright and clean for ease of navigation. Where the jarring moment happens is with the Pokémon themselves, which look a lot like toys. They look overly glossy and out of place with the rest of the game, creating a horrible dissonance between the fighters and the rest of the game. The character models just simply look out of place. The music in the game is fantastic if slightly forgettable; some of the arena tracks are wonderfully catchy and the menu screen is gently upbeat. The overall feel of the game is a complete package, yes, but not without it’s problems.
So, should you buy Pokkén Tournament DX? If you like fighting games and Pokémon, this is a match made in anthropomorphic heaven. The gameplay is undeniably solid and, a few niggles aside, it is a fantastic game that is thankfully being given another lease at life on Switch. If you are worried about whether it will be for you, there is a great demo currently available on the Switch eShop. A good little fighter and definitely worth a look.
Pokken Tournament DX is released for Nintendo Switch in both retail and on the eShop on Friday 22nd September 2017.
Thank you to Nintendo for kindly supplying this game to review.