Pokkén Tournament DX Review

Next year I’ll have been a Pokémon fan for twenty years, and every time I jump into one of the games (of any sort) I get this rush of excitement it’s hard to completely explain. As a kid, I thought it was simply the awesomeness of something new, but today I’m more convinced it’s that feeling of being close to something amazing. I got that rush with the Pokkén Tournament DX demo last month, and now I’ve caught it with the full release as well. The game keeps talking trainer/Pokémon synergy, but I’m over here thinking about player/game synergy – and how it’s pretty pika-perfect if you ask me.

At the core of its career mode, Pokkén Tournament DX has players competing with Pokémon to rise to the top of their leagues and reach for the top rank. You’ll choose a partner and take on battles that will help you grow and/or get towards that top tier. It’s simple in concept, but may not be so easy in execution.

Players will take control of the Pokémon during battle using something called synergy, which links the trainers and their partners. At the start you’ll move your Pokémon in Field Phase like you would any player character in any 3D-plain fighting game, taking on the opposing trainer’s partner in a head to head battle. Sometimes the perspective will switch to a 2D-plain for Duel Phase, allowing you to take the fight to the enemy from a different perspective. It’s important to note that moves and abilities change when switching between perspectives, so you’ll have to learn two sets for each Pokémon if you want to be completely ready for anything that comes at you.

Speaking of moves, they’re executed with the face buttons (A,B,X & Y) and directional commands, while support Pokémon (L) and special abilities (R) are relegated to the first set of shoulder buttons by default. Gaining synergy by working with your partner will allow you to unlock burst mode, which can be activated by pressing both the L and R shoulder buttons together. When in burst mode, you can use your character’s special synergy move just once – so keep that in mind!

In most match-ups you’ll look to knock your enemy out by winning the best two of three rounds, though it varies depending on the situation. Sometimes you’ll only get one shot at the opposing force, so be ready to give it your all for every round. As for how things play out, that depends what you’re focusing on. If you so desire you can take to Practice to learn and hone your skills, or jump right into a Single Battle – either alone or with a friend (via local, wireless, or online multiplayer). If you’re wanting a more structured experience however, you need look no further than the Ferrum League; the career type mode for Pokkén Tournament DX. It’s where I started since I was already familiar with the moves from the demo, and it was a hell of a ride.

Competing in the Ferrum League involves taking on a series of five battles with other trainers in order to raise your rank within that league, and repeating the task until you’ve made it to the top eight. It’s only then that you’ll be allowed to compete in the league tournament and chase that number one spot. Once you’ve made it to number one in the beginning “D” rank league for example, you’ll be able to take on the league champion for a chance to rank up – which will then start you at the beginning of a harder tier.

It’s all very simple once you get into it, and you’ll have the help of Nia (your cheer section) along the way. She’s very well versed in the Ferrum League, and should be able to guide you through any obstacle in your way – aside from a powerful enemy, that is!

But that’s not all! Once you start to rank up and achieve true synergy with your Pokémon partner you’ll also encounter the true story behind the career mode, and yet another lofty goal. Someone needs your help, and since you’re out to be the very best trainer I’m sure you’ll help them – right? It won’t be easy, but it should definitely be fun for those looking for a challenge. 😉

Moving past what I’d consider the focal single player mode, there are many other things for you to do in Pokkén Tournament DX. For example, single battles allow you to hone your skills and level up your Pokémon in a controller environment – awarding you stat points to assign to their four abilities (attack, defense, synergy, and strategy). You can take part in single battles either in a Basic form (traditional rules), Extra form (special items in play), or Team form (with three Pokémon each). It’s a great way to play if you’re just looking to jump in, or need to level up your Pokémon for some tough fights.

Or how about a go at the daily challenge, which is a mode that refreshes every day with a new obstacle and conditions. Most of them seem to based around having the player use a certain Pokémon and win a certain number of times (with a maximum number of tries given), and though that might sound a bit bland it’s a great way to find new Pokémon you might want to take through a league. 😉

Then there are the multiplayer modes. Spanning Local, Wireless (two systems), and Online, there are various options for getting together with friends or strangers for a good ol’ Pokémon ass kicking. While I couldn’t manage a Wireless game, I tried my hand in both Local Battle and Online Battle with fairly good results. Local plays out as a single camera view style versus match between you and a friend (using pretty much any controller method available), while Online is much the same – though occasionally obstructed by lag. The lag seems to stem from poor connections however, as most of the games I played online were just as solid as a Local (or even player versus CPU) match.

It’s not all fun and games however, as there are bits that are more about data and look as well. In the My Town section of the main menu you’ll find your battle record, profile settings, Pokémon settings, advisor settings, and options. The battle record is your window into your statistics and online match ups, and will even let you check out replays (should you have any saved). Profile settings let you change up your in-game avatar – including options for their in-game name, clothing, title, and user comment. Pokémon settings is all about your partner Pokémon (as well as a place to assign skill points if you’ve got ’em), advisor settings is about your helper Nia (allowing you to choose her cheer skill, outfit, and advice frequency), and options holds both controller and sound settings.

The only other bit that I feel deserves a mention is the system menu, which is where you’ll be going to use amiibo (you can scan five a day for random cosmetic unlocks), enter special codes (again, for cosmetic unlocks), select a battle controller (if it’s not standard), and get control instructions. In this tiny menu lies some fairly useful bits if you’re looking to collect everything and play like a pro, so make sure to use it well!

Taking a step back from the gameplay and features for a moment, let’s talk graphics. In the visuals department, it’s clear that Pokkén Tournament DX is a good looking game with some very visible caveats. Dithering can be seen through many of the in-game models, shadows have an awkward quality to them, and the whole thing isn’t quite as crisp as it seems it should be at 720p. That’s not to say that the presentation is ugly though, as it isn’t – it’s just noticeably imperfect if you’re looking for it.

As for the audio, the only imperfection I could find there was in regards to the English voice actor’s interpretation of your advisor Nia. While I found the Japanese voice over to seem fitting and pleasant, the vocal tones and localization for the English option seemed a bit wonky. I’d almost care to wager that they had pulled a soccer mom off the street and told her to read the script – it’s that bad.

The rest of the audio was quite quality however, and everything from the noises the Pokémon make while fighting to the sound effects of the cutscenes and transitions seemed right at home to my ears. I’m grateful for the option for Japanese voices as well, ’cause it improved the experience for me ten-fold with the audio up.

Okay, so at this point I think you know my opinion is going to be glowing – but how much so? While I can certainly see some blemishes on the face of Pokkén Tournament DX, the truth is that it’s an extremely solid iteration of the game for the system – and it works well enough (despite those issues) to satisfy most anyone interested. While I can certainly attest that it’s not as polished as it could be in a perfect world, it’s a version that I’m happy to put time into on a regular basis, and it definitely makes me feel like a proper Pokémon trainer.

There’s also no doubt that it’s superior to its Wii U released predecessor, as it includes a higher resolution output and new content (in the form of additional characters and modes). While they may not all be exclusive as there’s already a version of the game in Japanese arcades with some of these additions, they’re new to many – especially those in the West (like me).

As such, I think any Pokkén (or Pokémon) fan worth their salt should have this in their collection, and any fan of unique fighting games should latch on just the same. Pokkén Tournament DX is a worthy Switch title, and one I’m proud to have in my system.