As a kid playing Pokémon Red, I’d stare at the black and white sprites of my Pokémon battling back and forth, exchanging blows one turn at a time, and imagine something more. In my mind, battles played out like the Pokémon anime—daring acrobatics and desperate commands to dodge, despair as my team struggled against Paralysis or Poison, and fantastic finishing spectacles as my Charizard soared through the skies, obliterating enemy after enemy in fire.
As video game technology improved and the Pokémon franchise evolved, it’s become clear that I wasn’t the only one. Pokémon Stadium and Pokémon Colosseum offered battles in a full 3D arena, and the main Pokémon games have followed suit with increasingly detailed animations and effects.
Pokkén Tournament DX, then, is the logical conclusion of this dream, combining the familiar creatures of the Pokémon universe with the up close and personal fights of the Tekken series. Though players are still nominally controlling a trainer avatar, directing a chosen partner Pokémon to fight through the use of a Battle AR headset, the effect is that you’re controlling the Pokémon itself, commanding it to counter, shield, and pull off noticeable signature moves like Spirit Shackle and Shadow Sneak.
Of course, the original Pokkén Tournament has already been out on the Wii U for over two years, so most interested parties probably already know all of that. And, for the most part, Pokkén Tournament DX is very, very similar to its predecessor—though there are a few tweaks that could make it worth a second purchase.
First and foremost, of course, is the roster. For a game based on a series with over eight hundred unique Pokémon designs, Pokkén Tournament DX has a disappointingly tiny roster, though it’s still a step up from the Wii U version of the game. There are just 21 pokémon to choose from, and some of the choices are quite odd. Chandelure, while intriguing, certainly isn’t the first Pokémon that comes to mind for a fighting game. Croagunk appears twice, as both a support Pokémon and a main fighter on the roster, and it seems odd to use that particular widely-forgotten blue frog over the much more popular Greninja. The small roster problem is exacerbated by the fact that 2 of these 21 are effectively repeats—Pikachu Libre is a second, female, version of Pikachu with a mask and a different moveset, and another one of the 21 is just a boss variant on a standard form.
Of the remaining newcomers, four are actually old, but were inaccessible on the Wii U version of the game. Croagunk, Empoleon, Darkrai, and Scizor were all available in the arcade version of the game, but not the home console release. Since Pokkén Tournament DX is meant to be the full version of the game, they’re unlocked here as well, and they do go a good way towards adding some “new” content. I’m not inclined to award a game brownie points simply for consolidating its roster between versions, but it is new content for those migrating from the Wii U version to look forward to, and the entire roster is unlocked right from the start.
That said, the roster does offer a pretty balanced array of fighting styles, with certain Pokémon (such as Gengar and Empoleon) being noticeably heavier and slower, while others like Braixen and Chandelure bring more mystical, magical effects to the battlefield. And I am a fan of the one true newcomer: Decidueye. This tall owl-like archer Pokémon was introduced in Pokémon Sun and Moon, and he’s packed with personality, pulling his hood down to hide his face after a loss and or cheering excitedly after a win before hastily hiding his embarrassment.
Decidueye looks great, too, which is more than can be said about some of the other Pokémon. While the HD treatment looks great for Pokémon with smoother skin, like Charizard, Pokémon with fur like Suicune and Weavile have painfully flat, odd-looking fur textures in place of actual fur. It’s not really noticeable during a fight, when the Pokémon are smaller and there are plenty of flashy effects going off, but the opening dramatic angles and ending victory or defeat screens zoom right in on the models at their worst.
The next biggest addition to Pokkén Tournament DX is the Daily Challenge mode, which, as the name implies, gives players one extra challenge a day to complete. These challenges require you to use specific Pokémon in specific modes to win a fight, and rewards you with a bit of currency and a few extra points to spend to improve the Pokémon you fought with. While this requires players to leave their comfort zones and play with Pokémon other than their mains, the Daily Challenge isn’t much of an actual challenge. The AI barely put up a fight, and even when an early Challenge gave me a team of Pokémon I’d never used for a 3v3 mode match, I was able to win without getting a scratch on my lead Pokémon. The effect is more of a daily grab bag of random fight elements than an actual challenge.
Easy AI is also a problem in the game’s single-player mode, which asks players to beat increasing numbers of AI trainers as they rise through the ranks. Now, my skill falls far short of the pro fighting game circuit, but it still seemed as if none of the trainers even tried to put up a fight until after I’d beaten the single-player story boss. If you’re just in the game for the single-player content, then you’d probably be disappointed—a huge chunk of it can be beaten with little more than button-mashing.
The real challenge in the game comes from facing off against other players in Pokkén Tournament‘s Online modes. There are a few different ways to find opponents, though all of them will be basically the same types of matches—there’s no arcade mode or anything similar. Pokkén Tournament offers players a Rank Match mode, which allows you to climb from the bottom to advance your rank and tracks your universal win rate percentage. A Friendly Match mode for playing against others without your Rank win percentage being affected, and a Group Match mode. This latter mode allows you to join specific groups—Nintendo has a few official ones up permanently for beginners, but these can also be created by users and opened to the public or restricted with codes—and you’ll have separate stats for your wins and losses within a Group.
Pokkén Tournament DX sets a high standard for its own matchmaking, one that’s perhaps too high. If an opponent in any of these modes isn’t found within ten seconds, you’ll be thrown into a practice match against a CPU until a real opponent is found. On the one hand, this gives you something to do; on the other, it can be a pain to sit through at least the entire opening sequence of a CPU match and “waste” the match battling a computer. Ten seconds is an ambitious matchmaking attempt for any system, and I wish that the game could provide an option to choose to wait it out instead of entering a CPU battle. Surely there are cases where a match is found after 12 or 15 seconds, but players instead have to wait through the entire CPU battle opening sequence before that match can be joined.
The game also offers local multiplayer, and this, at least, is a major step up from the Wii U version of the game. In the original Pokkén Tournament, a second player was forced to use the GamePad while the first player used the TV. On the Switch version, there are several different options to choose from. Both players can view the same large screen, which looks largely the same as the single-player screen but with player two attacking from the right as the “enemy.” There’s also a split-screen mode, which imposes a large menu over the top and bottom of the screen in order to make the “playable area” of each person’s screen maintain the usual aspect ratio. Unless you have a large TV, this is quite a bit harder to see, but perhaps worth the tradeoff to put both players on even ground. It’s also worth noting the options that open up if you have two Nintendo Switches, since both you and a friend could choose to play against one another while using the Switch itself as a handheld.
This revamped local multiplayer may be the biggest selling point of the game for returning fans, especially those who want to compete against family and friends without whipping out the GamePad. Those who never found much to enjoy in the first Pokkén Tournament, though, may want to give this version a pass. Pokkén Tournament DX changes enough to be called the definitive version of the game, but the new additions alone are likely not worth an upgrade unless Croagunk, Scizor, Darkrai, Empoleon, or Decidueye are your favorite Pokémon. If you’ve never touched the first game, however, and finally want to experience the thrill of controlling your Pokémon directly in battle, then Pokkén Tournament DX may be well worth a try.
Pokkén Tournament DX may only provide a few benefits for returning fans, but the improved local multiplayer and expanded roster may be enough to draw back the old crowd. Overly simple AI and easy Challenges make the game’s single-player mode a breeze, but new players may find that simply playing with their favorite Pokémon is enough to enjoy the fight.
The Pokémon Company
E10+ - Everyone 10+
|Pokkén Tournament DX is available on Nintendo Switch. Primary version played was for Switch. Code/hardware was provided by The Pokémon Company for the benefit of this coverage. EGM reviews on a scale of one to five stars.|
Emma’s early gaming was mostly done in secret, as the only gamer in a family of normal people. She still retains skills from this dark period in her life, such as the ability to teleport instantly across the house away from the computer, and holds a gold medal in the Olympic sport of “Hide the Gameboy.” Sorry, Mom, now you know.