Reviewed on Nintendo Switch, copy supplied by Nintendo.
Pokémon battles are usually something we experience from the view of a DS or Gameboy. They are relatively static fights in which cute animals use magic so some orphans can hoard badges, rarely do we experience the sheer ferocity of nature that is animals fighting. Well, thanks to Pokkén Tournament DX , you can now take a mobile cockfighting ring everywhere with you, yay! Blending traditional fighter game mechanics with the adorable world of Pokémon, the title is a welcome addition to the Switch, especially considering the original Wii U release was somewhat lost into the obscurity of the console.
Fast and tactical gameplay make this stand apart from other fighters. With a split between traditional and 3D movement rather than just side-on aspects, the combat has more than enough variation to keep you hooked. Fights take place over different phases, to begin with you will be given free movement around an arena during the Field Phase, and take on more traditional fighting in the Tekken like Duel Phase. Phases are rapidly switched between in a bout, keeping you on your toes – for example, ranged attacks might be best for your mon in field combat, but you might want to get in your opponent’s grill in a duel.
Thankfully a solid roster of Pokémon keeps the match ups exciting. You will probably find one fighter you’re most comfortable using, but that doesn’t mean every fight will be the same. Personally I found the speed of Pikachu to match my preferences, but depending on whether I was facing a Machamp or a Gengar, I’d have to change my tactics.
Other than hitting different attack types, battle strategy also comes down to timing your special ability and picking the right support Pokémon. At the beginning of a battle you select your support pair, which take the form of timer released buffs that pop up mid-fight for you to activate. During each of the best of three rounds you can select which of the two supports will join you on the field. For fans of the original 151 there’s a good nostalgic selection to choose from. Personally I was a fan of having Lapras surf across the field to help me out.
As a fighter game there are the expected game modes, consisting of no strings attached solo play, solo arcade, practice, multiplayer and online multiplayer. Across solo play there is a rough plot. involving a dark Mewto and its mysterious trainer. Whilst it’s cool that there’s an overarching story, it mostly slips you by as you smash the shit out of some pets.
After each fight you’ll have the opportunity to level up the Pokémon you’re currently using, boosting their stats. There will also be a chance to unlock some fancy gear for your avatar, and new titles to psyche out your opponent. Although I love my “Undefeated Trainer” title, it’s going to be damn embarrassing when I inevitably lose a match with it equipped. The only criticism here could be that there’s too many customisation options and they start to overwhelm you.
The cast of Pokémon at your disposal is strong, with a new addition specifically for this version, Decidueye. Although some of the monsters are from newer iterations of the franchise, their fighting styles and types will be familiar to even the old school fans. Each special move looks great and hits with massive impact, such as Gengar getting heavily into the psychological warfare and Pikachu making it rain electricity.
Pokkén Tournament DX is a great game, and unsurprisingly it’s another solid edition to the Switch library. It’s one of those titles that is easy to pick up and play, but a lot harder to master. It’s also decidedly different from other fighters on the scene – despite having been developed by Tekken creators Bandai Namco Studios – and it holds its own as a distinct title.
Pokkén Tournament DX is out on Nintendo Switch on September 22.