Whilst Pokken Tournament is neither a true Pokémon game nor a proper one on one fighting game in the sense of a Street Fighter or even Tekken (upon which it is based) it is still a lot of fun. The Switch version includes a flawless rendition of the Wii U original plus five additional playable Pokémon, a new 3 vs 3 mode and several new pairings of support Pokémon.
The game itself remains a bonkers hybrid of the Pokémon and Tekken universes that draws from both, but doesn’t actually feel restricted by the trappings associated with either series. Every battle features a single Pokémon facing off against another in the Field Phase view, which provides an over the shoulder camera angle that changes to a traditional, 2D angle when the combatants close in and trigger the Duel Phase.
The Duel Phase will be immediately familiar to Tekken fans, whilst the Field Phase is more reminiscent of a Pokémon Trainers view at the beginning of a duel. Either way, some ranged Pokémon fair quite well at distance, whilst others have a clear advantage in closer quarters combat. The change in view is triggered by certain moves, so experienced players will learn how to control their distance based on the ebb and flow of battle. I didn’t find any particular balancing issues as a result of different styles, but it is refreshing to see a competitive fighting game that offers decent variety.
At first, basic fighting appears to be a button bashers dream. Ranged and homing attacks can be triggered very simply with single button presses or two button combos and much like in traditional Tekken games, many moves can be modified with a push of the directional stick at the same time as the attack. There are also blocks, grabs, counters and Synergy Burst moves which act a bit like super moves and can only be achieved after filling a synergy meter. Then, of course, there is the ability to tag in your support Pokémon who can attack enemies directly to cause status effects and deal damage, or sometimes enhance the abilities of your main Pokémon.
If you were thinking that this combination of systems can develop into something quite complex, then you’d be right. Pokken has a pleasing ease of access that will appeal to everyone, but it’s very challenging to master. Blocking, countering and grabbing has a clear rock-scissors-paper mechanic that demands understanding, whilst choosing a synergy style and a pair of support Pokémon that suit your fighting aims is also very important.
I think perhaps the element I found hardest to come to terms with in the Wii U original was the fact that much of what made Pokémon games so unique was missing. The creatures themselves were present, but the strategy of battling was completely absent. The Switch version addresses this to a certain extent by including the new 3 vs 3 mode that I mentioned earlier, although that is still not quite the whole package. It stops short of allowing players to recall Pokémon and send others in depending on the situation and works much more like a traditional team battler. Oh, how I’d love to have a proper 6 vs 6 matchup with dynamic switching of Pokémon and perhaps a bit more focus on the types (fire beats grass but is weak to water, for example) that are so important in the core series.
Modes are otherwise quite well supported and the game is, if anything, far too keen to tell you how to suck eggs. Training modes and tutorials exist both where you might want them and where you certainly don’t, so expect to skip through reams of text early on. Multiplayer modes are all for 2 players, but both local and online play are supported across all key modes and whilst still far behind Sony and Microsoft offerings, the Switch is at least easier to play online than the Wii U was.
All in all, Pokken Tournament DX is actually very good. It looks fantastic and it really packs a lot of content in, especially with the additions to this version. It looks great either handheld or docked, and it is an easy to learn but difficult to master brawler that can easily support long term play. It won’t be for everyone, but I still recommend that you: