Pokken Tournament Switch Review – Shifting to Switch
Developer: Bandai Namco Studios/The Pokemon Company
Publisher: The Pokemon Company
ESRB Rating: E10
Release Date: September 22nd, 2017
Thank you to Nintendo for providing the game for reviewing purposes.
Pokken Tournament is a Pokemon fighting game developed by the talent behind the Tekken series, originally made for Wii U and Arcades. Instead of just making a Tekken game with a roster entirely made up of Pokemon, the developers decided to go a different route by combining 2D and 3D gameplay. Pokken Tournament DX sports new content, and a few quality of life changes to make the experience much better, but how much better is it overall?
Pokken Tournament featured a story mode that had the player go through many different leagues where they would face off against opponents to become the champion of Ferrum. However, a black Mewtwo is absorbing Synergy, a type of energy that the trainers use to power up their pokemon in the heat of battle. The player and the talkative announcer, Nia, must find a way to stop Shadow Mewtwo, so that the Ferrum League can continue to use synergy for its competitions.
The story mode returns for Pokken Tournament DX with some improvements; unfortunately enough, it manages to be very repetitive with very little character interaction. Nia is one of two characters that have a major presence in the story, and she can be quite annoying. Her English voice is dreadful, but even if you change the voice acting to Japanese, it doesn’t change the fact she doesn’t really offer much as a character, and is completely forgettable. On Wii U due to the small roster, the amount of Ferrum league battles the player has to go through only showed how much of a small roster the game has. There was very little variety, and due to that the story mode felt like a broken record. However, on Switch, this is less of a problem thanks to the five new Pokemon added to the roster bringing the total cast to 21 Pokemon to choose from. The story doesn’t change much, but at least there’s a bit more to it. The most important change is that you no longer need to beat story mode to unlock Shadow Mewtwo. So if you’re just looking to fight your friends and nothing more, story mode can be completely ignored.
Pokken Tournament’s main feature is that doing a combo that results in major damage shifts the battles back and forth from 3D to 2D. The 3D sections play like an arena fighter where you start off from opposite ends of the field, with the goal shift to the 2D mode where it plays like a traditional fighter. An issue with the 2D gameplay is that the size of the field stays the same with the transition, so if a long range character is able to shift the field from far away, it has a major advantage and may be extremely difficult to get close. Thankfully not all hope is lost as you can pick a support pokemon set to cover some weaknesses your Pokemon may have, or even enhance their strengths. Pokken Tournament’s gameplay revolves around its rock, paper, scissor mechanics. Grabbing beats counter attacks, counter attacks beat attacks, and attacks beat grabs. This causes matches to revolve around mix ups, and mind games, which does reward players for being more defensive than offensive. Though combos are devastating, and flashy, so if you read your opponent correctly you are rewarded with high damage and synergy.
Synergy goes toward your synergy burst gauge, which powers up your Pokemon when full and allows them to use a super move. Even cooler is when your Pokemon has the ability to Mega Evolve. It doesn’t mean anything in the grand scheme of things since every Pokemon gets powered up, it just looks cool and adds to the thrill of the match. While the matches can be engaging, Pokken Tournament DX is not a game with a high level skill ceiling. Understanding the mechanics and learning combos requires little effort from the player, and this simplicity is a double edged sword. All combos only require the use of two, sometimes three buttons while holding a specific direction. This simplicity can make the gameplay itself feel repetitive, which is problematic for a fighting game. Anyone can be good at Pokken, which means the truly skilled players will be ones who can read their opponents, and mix up their combos. Pokken is still a fun game to play, but its simplicity may be a turnoff for players looking for more. Those who were turned off by the lack of variety in the roster will be pleased to see that the five new Pokemon all play differently, and are very fun. Decidueye has become a new favorite personally, and may even replace Gardevoir as my primary character. Increasing variety leads to a healthier metagame, and allows for more people to find something best suited for their play style.
Local play has been greatly improved, as the game now runs at sixty frames per second on one console, unlike Wii U where you were required to use the gamepad as a second screen for one of the players, which halved the framerate. This change allows for tighter battles without the need for LAN play. Though, you can still use LAN and the new wireless mode if you so choose. A brand new feature that made me more engaged in my multiplayer matches was the new team battles. You and your opponent can choose up to three pokemon to use one at a time in battle, so if you’re losing because your opponent has the advantage, maybe your other two pokemon will excel at the matchup more, and backup your main. This makes it feel more like a Pokemon game as well since I’m building a team to cover my weaknesses. The only thing I would like to see is more options added, such as a way to change the time and how many support pokemon sets I can use. The possibilities of a team battle where you can choose from three support sets would make creating strategies fun by itself. This is the mode that I have had the most fun playing and I keep coming back for more.
Pokken Tournament DX moves away from the anime style of the Pokemon series for a more realistic look for the Pokemon. None of the Pokemon designs are changed, but they have more realistic textures. For example; Suicune has realistic fur, and its crest actually looks like it’s made of crystal, something Suicune is associated with. Honestly I’d love for this art direction to be used in a future installment of the core RPG series, it just looks really good. Even the Arenas look great, with lots of Easter Eggs that hardcore Pokemon fans will enjoy. The improved resolution also makes the Pokemon models look sharp up close. However, the texture detail of your opponent looks very blurry, which got distracting sometimes when I was playing casually. The visual and sound effects are flashy and robust, giving that extra oomph to that devastating combo. Not to mention how amazing some of these special moves look, with Scizor’s looking especially awesome. The only area where the sound design falls flat is actually the soundtrack as whole. There really isn’t any tune that sticks out, and while that may not be a huge issue for a fighting game, it detracts from the atmosphere of the many arenas the game.
Overall, Pokken Tournament is a fun fighting game that is perfect for casual play. While there is depth, and it can be a very competitive game, some players may find it too simple, and repetitive. The art direction is great, and the visual effects are a sight to behold. The new features are impressive and improve on some of Pokken’s biggest problems on Wii U. If some of these issues were what stopped you from playing it before, then this is the best way to play Pokken. Though if you owned Pokken on Wii U, paying sixty dollars again may be asking too much.