Pokkén Tournament DX (Nintendo Switch) Impressions

Like many Switch owners, I have a subscription to Nintendo Switch Online. For those who don’t know what Nintendo Switch Online (or NSO) is, it’s a service that allows Nintendo Switch owners to have access to online gaming modes, cloud backups for save data (for most games), a library of NES and SNES games, and other NSO-exclusive offers, such as Joy-Con in the style of an NES or SNES controller.

(Credit: Nintendo)

Unfortunately, the features present in NSO can seem a bit lacking for those who, like me, are largely uninterested in NES and SNES games on the go. I already own the NES and SNES mini, and prefer to play games there.

That’s why I was pretty excited to hear that Nintendo started doing game trials where NSO members were able to play the full version of a select game for an entire week, with a discount available in the event that you wanted to purchase the game for yourself. This was done with big games that ended up being largely forgotten, with titles such as Mario Tennis: Aces and ARMS. This time around, NSO subscribers were able to play Pokkén Tournament DX in full from July 29th, 2020 to August 4th, 2020.

(Psst – if you see this article on release day, you still have 1 more day to play the game!)

Given that I’ll obviously be unable to experience the entirety of this game within the allotted time period, this won’t be a review but rather an “impressions” article. Let’s go!

Story

Pokkén Tournament is a fighting game first and foremost, and like many fighting games, there isn’t much focus on a story. The game takes place in the Ferrum region, where players and their partner Pokémon take part in tournaments around the region. Gaia is a driving force of energy that improves the synergy between a trainer and their Pokémon. With the help of synergy stones, an object not fully understood by scientists in Ferrum, trainers can use Gaia to their advantage by channelling it into synergy bursts when the measured synergy meter is high enough.

In the single-player campaign, you play as a new trainer who wishes to rise in the ranks of the Ferrum League. The Ferrum League is comprised of ranks from D → C → B → A. Once you’ve placed in the top 8 players within a rank, you are eligible to participate in a tournament, followed by a promotion test if you win the tournament. Only after beating every tournament battle and the promotion test will a trainer rise in rank.

What a fitting title for me.
(Credit: Nintendo, Gamefreak, Creatures, Bandai Namco)

After rising through D rank, winning the tournament and passing the promotion test, the player is ambushed and challenged by a strange Pokémon. It appears at first to be Mewtwo, but it sports a twisted, dark colour and there are large orange crystals jutting out of its body. After battling this strange Pokémon, you continue to rise in rank… but something is amiss.

Seriously dude, aren’t you past your emo phase?
(Credit: Nintendo, Gamefreak, Creatures, Bandai Namco)

The strange Pokémon, now known as Shadow Mewtwo, seems to be assisting in draining Gaia, Ferrum’s energy source, from the region. If this energy were to disappear, Pokémon and their trainers would no longer be bonded through their synergy stones, and the battles that the people of Ferrum treasure so much would cease to exist entirely. It is up to you to work together with the mysterious woman, Anne, who seems to be Shadow Mewtwo’s trainer. Together they can help restore Ferrum’s energy source and stop Shadow Mewtwo from causing destruction to the region.

Presentation

Pokkén definitely makes us think about the real-world animals Pokémon are based on. Pokémon’s skin, fur, feathers and claws really pop out to a degree that can be quite uncomfortable to watch at first.

The arenas in which fights take place are varied, from quaint farmlands to neon-lit cities. I’m going to be lying if I said that I really pay attention to them, though, as I’m usually concentrating on not getting my butt handed to me.

Gameplay

As you can probably tell from the title, Pokkén Tournament is a game that combines gameplay elements from Pokémon and the Tekken franchise, being developed by Bandai Namco themselves. The DX version on the Nintendo Switch differs from the Wii U and arcade versions in that it includes all playable Pokémon. In this game, two Pokémon face off in a circular arena  and use a variety of moves that combine the A, B, X and Y buttons along with forward, backward and sideways movement in order to reduce their opponent’s HP to 0.

The character select screen, featuring the best girl, Braixen.
(Credit: Nintendo, Gamefreak, Creatures, Bandai Namco)

Contrary to the mechanics of most Pokémon games, however, there are no type advantages. Unlike most fighting games, Pokkén is not played with a joystick, but with a traditional console controller, such as the Switch Pro Controller. There was, however, a special controller released for Pokkén, called the Pokkén Pad Pro.

(Credit: Nintendo, Gamefreak, Creatures, Bandai Namco, Hori)

Gameplay exists in two phases: Field Phase, where Pokémon move freely around in the arena, and Duel Phase, in which they continue fighting on a 2D plane, similarly to the gameplay of Tekken. In the same way that type advantages exist in Pokémon in a sort of rock-paper-scissors triangle, there is also an attack triangle in Pokkén:

  1. Normal Attacks: weak to Counter Attacks, strong against Grab Attacks
  2. Counter Attacks: weak to Grab Attacks, strong against Normal Attacks
  3. Grab Attacks: weak to Normal Attacks, strong against Counter Attacks
Battling in Duel Phase.
(Credit: Nintendo, Gamefreak, Creatures, Bandai Namco)

The attack triangle is easy to learn and hard to master, and has different properties depending on the current battle phase. Landing hits fills the Synergy Gauge, which when full can be used to trigger a cutscene and perform a powerful attack against an opponent. Support Pokémon can be selected at the beginning of the match to either enhance the player’s stats, disrupt the opponent or attack the opponent. To succeed at this game, players must understand the strengths and weaknesses of their partner Pokémon and whether they serve better as a powerhouse, a tank or a zoner.

There are a variety of game modes, including the single-player campaign, the online multiplayer, a dojo where moves and combos can be practiced, a daily challenge arena where you are given specific Pokémon to battle with, and a local multiplayer mode.

Final Thoughts

This is a game I can really see myself getting into. It’s simple enough, but there is a small enough roster for it to be relatively easy to learn matchups, as well as learn how to main several characters. Mastering the Normal/Counter /Grab attack triangle is something that will eventually come with practice, and the zoomed-in perspective makes battles very intense and personal. I’m not very sure how the online scene is, as I wasn’t skilled enough after a couple of days to really get into it, but it seems like something that’s just as good in couch co-op. The single-player content also seems fleshed out enough to last a while, while allowing you to learn the mechanics and matchups in an organic manner. Not the most moving story, but hey, it’s a fighting game. Overall, I’m glad I downloaded it, and will definitely pick up a copy used when I can afford to.

Best girl always wins.
(Credit: Nintendo, Gamefreak, Creatures, Bandai Namco)

FIRST IMPRESSION? – “Liked It”

Rating scale for games, from best to worst:

  1. Masterpiece!
  2. Loved it
  3. Liked it
  4. I mean… it’s aight
  5. Just… don’t.
  6. Certified trash, burn immediately

Pokkén Tournament DX is available on Nintendo Switch for $59.99 USD/€59,99 EUR.

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