by Vaughn “Big Papi” Collins
It is no secret how much of a Pokemon fan I am. It is one of my favorite series to date that I could just lose myself for hours on end. I also am quite a bit of fan of fighting games. Then here comes Nintendo releasing a hybrid of Pokemon and fighting games with Pokken Tournament with the help of Bandai Namco. It is the absolute dream of seeing Pokemon in 3D on a home console that you could play with your friends or online. I wasn’t able to play it when the game first released on the Wii U but now that Pokken Tournament DX is now on available on the Nintendo Switch I could not wait to lay the beat down on my friends and some people online. i certainly have a ton of thoughts on my first few hours with this game. Sit tight and enjoy the ride.
The Start Up
From just booting up Pokken Tournament DX you are treated to a pretty cool cut scene showing off all the available Pokemon and their own signature moves. It was all incredibly flashy and cool to watch as some awesome music is blasting. Once the opening cinematic was completed you get prompted to create your own avatar to use in game. Naturally, I tried to create someone who looked kind of like me and also gave myself the online name BigPapi. You know just the essentials to let people know that I am the one laying down the law in a match. Once your character is created you get a brief introduction to the main hub screen. From here you could select one of the various modes such as Training, Online, and A Local Versus. The main area is literally just points on a map that looks like something that you would find in a Pokemon game. Even the character selection is much bigger than the original Wii U release. There are now over 20 characters to the game! How can you not be excited?
I instantly went into the dojo to try to figure out how in the world Pokken Tournament plays. Here I was able to follow some pretty intuitive controls and basics that helped me to understand the game as a whole. I was able to learn about the different battle phases that occur when battling. The first of which is the Field Phase. Here is where the Pokemon that are going to duke it out have free range of movement. You could jump, dash, or just flat out walk to or away from your opponent. The Pokemon that you choose will have two sets of attacks. You have a ranged attack and a homing attack at which both of them could be charged for more damage. What ends up happening is that you will try to circle around your opponent trying to deal a massive hit or enough damage to win, or knock them into the next phase with enough damage or one massive heavy attack.
That next phase I was talking about is called the Duel Phase. This is a bit more of a personal phase as now Pokken Tournament resembles more of a traditional fighting game. Here is where you will see the movesets of your Pokemon change almost dramatically. For example with Machamp, your Field Phase moves are a mixture of rushes to get in close and a projectile fist that you through. While in the Duel Phase Machamp is the hand to hand combat master with a bunch of air and ground command grabs and damaging fist attacks. You essentially will have to completely change your fighting style to either be a bit more aggressive or reactive in order to secure the win. Going into Duel Phase can either make or break your match.
Despite their being two different phases to switch in and out of based off of what kind of hit you give or get or the amount of damage given or received, the game is fairly slow. It is not as fast as games like Marvel vs Capcom or even Street Fighter 5. It is also not as slow Tekken 7. It sits right in the middle of not being too slow and not being too fast. This allows for you to get pretty acclimated with each Pokemon’s movements and movesets. It also really gives you a decent way to keep a close eye on the action going on and not get loss in the flashy combos. Pokken Tournament DX really has that fighting game feel without being to overwhelming. But then again that’s just with how it feels.
Visually, Pokken Tournament DX looks fantastic. Each Pokemon is highly detailed in the jump to the Nintendo Switch. You can even see the fur on the Pokemon that have it and even the finite detail in certain designs. I’ll have to be honest, some of the fur does look kind of weird at first but it did grow on me after a while. I say that because I just ended up on how flashy and exciting each move a Pokemon has. You can clearly tell what moves are what if you ever played one of the handheld games. For example, Charizard pulls off a Seismic Toss that looks just like it does in the anime and partially in the games. He grabs you, flies up in a circle around what clearly meant to be a globe, and then smashes you down on the ground. On top of that each hit sounds like you literally are beating some sense into your opponent. It has some significant “ompf” to each hit. The music on the other hand is just a standard affair of upbeat but tones to get you going. Nothing really to write home about. It is okay though because your main focus is just watching each Pokemon beat the snot out of each other as you talk some major smack.
Not going to lie, the controls for Pokken Tournament DX are weirdly simple but complex. You have a button for light attack, medium attack, Pokemon move, jump, and block. Where it get’s weird is that by pressing the heavy and Pokemon move button you can initiate a counter attack that could be charged. This could be used to tank a few hits before unleasing your very own attack. This could set up multiple combos or even take away the pressure from those button mashers. By pressing the other set of buttons you could initiate a grab to stop those pesky grabbers and even people who start to spam the counter attacks. Grabs in turn then could be stopped by using a regular attack. This rock, paper, scissors mechanic allows for you to mix up your attacks depending on the situation to not only keep you alive and keep the pressure on. You could use all of these moves in both the Field Phase and Duel Phase with varying effects that depend on your Pokemon’s moveset and natural reach.
Now, those phases are pretty different from each other like I mentioned earlier with the Field Phase being your way to close the gap between you and your opponent and the Duel Phase where you could finish the job. The Field Phase doesn’t really have much going for it other than the fact that you could move across the entire arena. The Duel Phase on the other hand is a whole other beast. There are high stances, low stances, cancels, and wall bounces. There is a surprising amount of depth to the combat. I honestly was just expecting a “press a button and win” but I was pleasantly wrong. Even in practice I was learning how to chain moves together from high and low stances, from dash cancels into wall bounces, and just basic moves cancelling into other moves. The complexity is insane but you are able to learn fairly quickly. I was chaining combo strains together in no time at all after some time in training.
To help you beat the snot out of your friend, computer, or someone random online you have the option of picking out 2 assist Pokemon to help you out. Each pair has very unique abilities such as a slow health recovery, boost to attack, or just straight up damage to push your opponent back. All of the support Pokemon have a cool down to them that recharges as the match goes on or even between rounds when you could switch to another one. This is some added customization to your fights to help you gain and then keep the advantage. Another way to help you dominate is to fill up your Synergy Bar. Pretty much it is like a super meter that builds up over time, through knocking your opponent around either in walls or to the ground, or even knocking them in and out of the multiple phases. Each Pokemon’s Synergy gauge is different in the sense that some recharge slowly over time like Gengar’s or very quickly like Weavile’s. It is very important to note your Pokemon’s Synergy bar’s charge length as when you activate it your Pokemon essentially becomes powered up, you recover a bit of your grey health, and you push back your opponent. You can even unleash a powerful special move that looks absolutely incredible.
Final Thoughts So Far
I have only played the online portion of the Pokken Tournament DX so far. I wanted to test my metal immediately because the game makes me feel like I could master it well. The barrier to entry isn’t that high as the controls are easy to learn but difficult to master. There is a good amount to stuff to remember with each Pokemon feeling extremely different from each other. The diversity is stunning and I just kept trying different Pokemon that fit my playstyle. I ended up getting destroyed in a few online matches at first but then I found my main man Machamp and the rest was history. I went on a 10 game winning streak before I decided to take a break in my last play session. As of right now I am definitely going to keep playing this game because it is so different from your standard fighting game. Eventually I’ll check out the “story” mode of the game. I’ll give my thoughts on that as soon as I get tired of ranking up online. Until then I recommend picking up Pokken Tournament DX and playing me in it. I want to see what you end up choosing to combat the main man Machamp. CHALLENGE ME!