Pokkén Tournament DX Review
Release Date: September 22, 2017
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch
Developer: BANDAI NAMCO Entertainment, Inc.
Genre: Fighting, Action
ESRB Rating: E 10+
Pokkén Tournament DX is not a game for everyone. If you’ve played the original, it’s not worth getting the DX edition. However, if this experience is new to you, you’re in for quite a joy-ride. While it’s fundamentally flawed, Bandai Namco clearly put a lot of work into this. Between the creative mechanics, diverse characters, and numerous maps, Pokkén Tournament DX is incredibly engaging.
Pokkén Tournament DX is a 2.5/3rd person fighting game developed by the minds behind Tekken. The fighting aspect consists of a rock, paper, scissors-like battle triangle. This format allows for strategic battle similar to how the type matches work in original Pokémon. The attack types are normal, counter, and grab: counter beating normal, grab beating counter and normal beating grab.
There are two battle phases: Field Phase and Dual Phase. The concept behind the battle phases is simplistic, appealing, and makes everyone happy. You get the best of both worlds without any drop in quality. Field Phase consists of a 3rd person view that uses the whole arena as a battlefield, the perfect opportunity for long range attacks. Dual Phase focuses a 2.5D viewpoint by transferring to a linear field, since movement is restricted, it emphasizes close range combat. The only way to switch between the two phases is to knock your opponent into it with a strong attack.
Besides the base combat, there’s Synergy Burst, you can activate this once your Synergy bar is filled to perform stronger attacks as well as a super move. These ultimate moves are unique to each Pokémon, look absolutely stunning and don’t take up much screen time as opposed to games like Injustice 2.
In addition to that, there are support Pokémon that assist in combat as well as your adviser, Nia, that boosts up your stats between rounds. And lastly, after every battle your Pokémon will gather experience so you can level up desired stats. While everything may seem easy in the beginning, leveling pays off when you’re in the Chroma League.
The game starts off pretty basic, story wise. You’re a Pokémon trainer who wants to become the very best, so you start participating in League matches in order get a shot at the tournament. You must reach rank eight to fight in that tournament. Once you’ve beaten the tournament, you then take the promotion challenge, similar to gym leaders, to rank up from class D to C, so on and so forth.
Much like other Pokémon games, there’s a story going on as you’re trying to make your way to the top. A mysterious Shadow Mewtwo pops up and pretty much messes up the world. This happens at the end of every promotion challenge and you have to fight him at least three times before the story starts explaining why you’re doing it.
Unfortunately, the story never really does go underway. It’s just a bunch of nonsense about stopping Mewtwo and that’s it. There’s nothing to connect to, the script is laughably bad and there aren’t any separate cutscenes for Mewtwo’s arrival. Yep, you have to sit through the same cutscene about three times across the Leagues until it finally changes. I understand it’s a fighting game, but it’s also a Pokémon game. The audience shouldn’t have to sit through exhausting exposition about Synergy stones and ridiculous anime tropes that repeat that same information over again. The developers should have dedicated more time to fleshing out the story, instead of making it sound like an expository essay.
The parts worth remembering are when you travel outside of the tournament to visit these unique maps to fight trainers. This was incredibly fun because each battle took different things away from you: Synergy bar, support Pokémon, or both, which made it difficult. This eventually led up to an epic battle with Shadow Mewtwo, otherwise known as the unexpected difficulty spike. The only complaint I have is that I didn’t get any EXP from that whole section.
If we ever see a Pokkén Tournament 2 in our future, there better be an actual story and not some half rate fanfiction.
The DX Edition
My analysis throughout will be for someone who never experienced the original Pokkén Tournament, but for those that already have, this section is for you.
Pokémon that were added to the roster are Scizor, Empoleon, Croagunk, Darkrai, and Decidueye. You also get a new support pair, Litten and Popplio. These additions are pretty fleshed out so don’t worry about character clones. What’s more relieving is that all of the fighters, supports, and maps are automatically unlocked at the start of the game.
Regarding new game types, Team Battles—which I’ll go deeper into later—as well as Daily Challenges were added. The latter being a mode where you’re given a predetermined Pokémon to compete in a random game type. It’s a neat feature that’ll reward you with skill points for the Pokémon you use, plus it’s not very difficult.
Online group matches were also added in, allowing you to create a private lobby.
The amount of content added simply does not warrant the $59.99 price tag.
“Why no Greninja?”
Yes, there aren’t that many beloved characters in Pokkén Tournament DX and yes, it’s disappointing that Pokémon like Chandelure get a spot among the barren 21 character slots. While it would be fun to nitpick every single Pokémon and question why only 21 characters—with duplicates—were chosen, Bandai Namco does the best they can to bring life to all these characters.
Every single Pokémon in this game has a diverse moveset and fighting style. Some Pokémon are labeled as Speed characters or Power characters, but those are just general stats. Each Pokémon, including duplicates, moves and feels different from each other, providing enough variety between characters. At first, I hated the idea that Pikachu Libre took up a slot, but in reality, Pikachu Libre is a badass. His speedy close range attacks and epic wrestling moves vastly differ from original Pikachu’s long range electricity based attacks.
Does his diversity warrant his existence? No, not really, but Bandai Namco doesn’t shorthand us on the creativity. While the character obviously has a striking resemblance to Pokémon’s favorite mascot, they play completely different.
Supports Get To Shine
There are 32 assist Pokémon and they don’t lack in creativity either, each pair can mean the end of a match. I can’t tell you how many times Latios saved my life by trapping an opponent in a cage so I can then lay in some Lucario Kamehamehas and steal the victory. Moreover, Yveltal—paired with Latios—has saved my life in close range encounters by stunlocking the opponent in an explosion, giving me the opportunity to switch phases.
The best part is that the moves not only do damage, but they have status effects as well. For example, Latios’ attack decreases the opponent’s defense and Yveltal’s seals off an opponent’s synergy burst. These two effects are vital to surviving towards the end of the game and fighting online. Every support pair has a diverse set of abilities that match with different fighting styles, seeing how there are 16 pairs, you’re bound to find one perfectly suited for you.
Speaking of supports, Nia is also one of your greatest allies. Besides being gorgeous, she’ll give you a boost based on one of the six cheer skills you choose for her. This choice involves a lot of strategic thought… that’s why I am overjoyed that they included the Whimsical cheer. It basically gives you a random status effect based on luck. You can either get nothing or hit the jackpot with both of your supports being ready for battle immediately as well as 40 percent of your synergy gauge filled. That kind of bonus wins battles flatout.
Maps, Maps Everywhere
The map design in Pokkén Tournament DX can present an epic background like a mountain top with a Rayquaza statue wrapping around it or a light hearted Magikarp festival on a ship surrounded by fishing poles. Bandai Namco designed 20 unique maps that are cleverly accompanied by different soundtracks to tune in to each setting. The maps simply look beautiful, assuring the player that they’re not just in the same virtual space for every match.
This is especially true when you see that each map forms a different shape and size. A particular map can be the deciding factor in how a battle will go. Depending on if it’s long range fight or close combat, the Field phase and Dual phase can be manipulated here in your favor, but if you’re not careful, the map may just be your downfall.
Team Battle Palooza, Please?
There is a Single Battle area that is begging to be critiqued because it carries one of the hidden gems of this game: Team Battle. It’s a three on three game type and once you’ve defeated one of the Pokémon, your health carries over to the next round, similar to original Pokémon. Team Battle on very hard was the only time I lost to the CPU outside of story, it was incredibly thrilling. I was finally presented with a challenge and it allowed me to tackle multiple play styles at once. Seriously, why couldn’t the whole game be like this? It’s without a doubt the best game type Pokkén Tournament DX has to offer.
There is another game type in the single battle area called Extra battle. It’s similar to regular battle, but there are items around the arena that give status effects to each player. Extra battle sounds good in theory, but the battles are so fast paced that you, or the other opponent, don’t care enough to go for the special items. This also has a lot to do with you being auto locked to your opponent so moving freely around the arena is annoying, especially when the game tells you to go around picking up items. The game type ends up becoming regular battle with the occasional status effect.
An online feature does exist of course, you can battle in Friendly matches and Ranked matches on different game types. While I didn’t get to spend much time with it, the time I did spend was a never-ending lagfest. It’s unclear whether this was due to Nintendo’s servers or regional connections, but one would hope something gets fixed.
These game types can be played locally as well with the use of a single Joy-Con, so any Switch owner automatically has two controllers.
Bandai Namco crafts an artstyle that not only makes it their own, but looks fantastical. It’s not too realistic to look gross, but just enough to give each Pokémon personality. They all look like a bunch of edgy brawlers, but in an ironic way because they’re just too cute for that. Except for Shadow Mewtwo, he’s just straight up edgy.
I absolutely adore the avatar customization. It’s simply addicting to be able to mess around with the numerous clothes, cosmetics and haircuts. Seriously, I’ll spend an hour designing my character before I start a new League. Not to mention, you can even choose an outfit for Nia… That, is just a dream come true. I would give this game a 10/10 just for that if it didn’t make me so damn mad.
The soundtrack is exactly what you would expect from a Pokémon game, but there are moments where epic guitar riffs blend in. It almost sounds like a Dragon Ball Z soundtrack, which makes every motion in combat feel so satisfying.
Oh and of course the cutest thing of them all is that the Pokémon actually watch the credits with you. It’s too bad the credits were a deceitful lie! Yes, while it shouldn’t have come as a surprise to me, like every single other Pokémon, the game doesn’t end just because the credits roll. And although I cried because my struggle would continue, I was thrilled that I had another mountain to climb.
Wombo Combo: The Game
The fundamental flaw that Pokkén Tournament suffers from is the absence of an escape maneuver. This is especially prevalent when you notice the severe difficulty spike during your last encounter with Mewtwo.
Around three fourths of the game consisted of me washing away the competition. It got so bad that I had to switch Pokémon every League set in order to keep things interesting. At first I assumed I was winning so often because the fights were simply easy. There is no difficulty option for story either, but there is a difficulty option when you battle CPUs in single battle. When I tested this I wiped the floor with a “very hard” CPU with only two hours of gameplay experience.
It wasn’t until the final encounter with Mewtwo that I realized I couldn’t escape his wrath. He pinned me into a corner and juggled me like a professional New York City street performer. I couldn’t escape, just like all those Pokémon I’d destroyed before couldn’t escape me. From that point on, the AI would not stop wombo comboing me. Even worse, while I was trying to keep the game interesting by playing all the Pokémon, I missed out on some severe leveling that every single trainer took advantage of. One juggling combo put me at half health, so after Mewtwo it literally became about not getting hit once.
In retrospect, there must be a difference between the difficulty—the AIs fighting style and the level—how hard they hit which there isn’t an option for at all. Pokkén Tournament DX brought a surprisingly difficult challenge and while I hated the reason, I absolutely loved the experience. Every battle henceforth was a thrill ride of Lucario and I trying to survive, I felt like a real Pokémon trainer.
A huge problem that I ran into, partly because I’m bad, was getting my time wasted by the slow progressional League rank system. The League sets five matches in front of you and upon completion you’ll have a new ranking. Each fighter in this set has a rank of their own as well and one would think if you’ve beaten someone you’d at the very least take their rank. Well this is a story all about how this trainer won four out of five matches, one of them being a rank eight, and only progressed from rank ten to nine. See for yourself:
This was one of the most frustrating moments that this game ever presented me with, especially because I did nothing wrong. Sure, I lost one match, but to force me to complete an entire League set again just to get one space further… I’m tempted to call it milking at this point. Considering that 80% of the game is ranking up in League matches, it’s safe to say that the game kind of forces “content” upon you. While I really do want to hate it, I can’t help but feel that rush every time I try to progress in League, forcing myself to win all five of the matches otherwise I’ll have to do more. It added quite the challenge, which in retrospect, was something I wanted when Pokkén started off easy.
Right off the bat, the voice acting is simply horrendous. Seriously, Nia sounds like a text-to-speech bot, put this game in subbed or turn voices off completely, for your own sake.
Also, why can’t we pick a Pokémon skin? The only reason I ask of course is because when you’re facing the same Pokémon, he changes into an alternate skin. Come on, I want to be a rainbow damn it!
Finally, there are things called Mission Panels which are basically challenges for each League and while it’s great in theory, it’s horrible in practice. This is due to the fact that the game only allows you to complete those challenges in that specific League. Bandai Namco, no one wants to stay in a League longer than they have to. It would have been a better idea to have the Mission Panels stretch across all the Leagues.
You can tell Bandai Namco put so much effort into designing this game. Yes, it may be flawed, but the journey to become the very best is hard and brutal just like it should be. If you’re a Pokémon fan and you haven’t played the original, buy this game. Pokkén Tournament DX begs to be experienced, the gameplay alone has so much to offer to people who love the franchises, Tekken and Pokémon. I firmly believe this IP should be continued because it has so much potential to evolve. Plus, Nia is hot.
- THE GOOD
- Creative Mechanics
- Diverse Fighting Styles
- Great Map Design
- Addicting Gameplay
- Adorable Avatar Customization
- THE BAD
- No Escape Maneuver
- Lazy Story
- Unbalanced Difficulty
Pokkén Tournament DX has its flaws, but you can certainly overcome those to become the best like no one ever was!