For years, we’ve always wondered what it is like to see Pokémon battles that rival the action and intensity of the TV show. I mean sure, the games have evolved and battles look more entertaining and flow faster, but it’s still a turn-based affair. So how do we take the excitement and pace of the anime and combine it with the depth of the role-playing games?
Enter Pokkén Tournament DX. Long-running fighting game aficionados Bandai Namco entered the fray, bringing the much-loved traits and skills from the Tekken series to Nintendo’s high-selling monsters franchise to craft an entirely new fighting experience. With the release of the Nintendo Switch, Pokken Tournament sees visual updates and minor tweaks that brings this uniquely blended fighting game to a new audience.
Pokken Tournament DX takes place in the Ferrum region, where Ferrum Battles are held. You are a trainer who joins the league, attempting to work your way through the ranks and become the champion of the Ferrum League. Linked to your Pokémon by a strange material known as a Synergy Stone, this allows you and your Pokémon to be one and for your Pokémon to gain unimaginable strength during battles. But in fighting, a mysterious woman and a dark Mewtwo appear to challenge you, feeling the power of the Synergy between you and your partner. Who is this strange woman, and her Black Mewtwo?
With the extensive fighting game history of Tekken in their back catalogue, Bandai Namco know exactly what they are doing when it comes to crafting a game of this calibre – on the surface the game appears like any other fighting game (albeit with a coat of Pokémon over the top) but after playing for a while, the complexities begin to show. Different Pokémon have different fighting traits such as speed or power (Machamp is an absolute tank) which can affect the way the battles play out and how one player’s style can be completely contrasting to another. The system lends itself well both to button-mashers who throw everything into trying to defeat an opponent by jamming every button they can see, and for more technical fighters whose best friends are the block and sidestep moves. Grabs and counters play a huge part in this too – using them at the right time can mean certain victory or utter failure.
A feature that takes a while to get used to is the ‘Phase Shift’ of battles; which changes the fight plane from a 3D arena axis to a 2D Tekken-esque fighting mode. These are triggered by powerful attacks or moves which allow players to chain and change the way the fight plays out. The biggest issue is that while often you know what moves can cause a Phase Shift, you still forget that it’s going to happen and cause the massive combo you were preparing to fall by the wayside.
The Synergy Gauge and Support Pokémon are two additional features that can change the tide of a battle dramatically. As you fight, you build up energy in the Synergy Gauge as well as collecting this energy as it spawns across the arena, leading to the ability to unleash your Pokémon’s Mega form and moves. This can be taken further yet again by pressing the same buttons to activate a Synergy Burst attack, which depletes the gauge quicker but can cause massive damage to your opponent (and is in most cases hard to avoid). Allowing you to build your attacking power or throw off your opponent, Support Pokémon also come into play here, where their pre-selected talents can help you in winning the match at key moments. Both of these functions can be performed multiple times per match, if they go that long, and can really change the flow of a fight.
One of the biggest pitfalls of the game is the learning system in general. While the tutorials are narrated, and seem to explain things relatively clear enough, the lack of practice is quite startling; the game instead opts to tell you everything and show you rather than letting you take turns on your own. This lead to frustrations and forgetfulness further down the track – at one point I had forgotten how to perform Counter moves, and could not remember it in my training. Given I finally managed to do it, by then I had completed most of the rank in the Ferrum League meaning there was no point in chasing it. The game’s complex fighting system may even be problematic for younger players too – where a new player will be able to pick up the base controls, the pros and long-time players will be able to practice and anticipate nearly every move thrown at them.
Lastly, but not least, is the customisation options. Just like its sister series Tekken, Bandai Namco have gone almost overboard in allowing characters, name plates and quotes to be ultra-customisable, with unlocks coming from almost every fight.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Multiplayer and Online functions were not available at the time of this review.
With a decent sized roster of characters and enough content in the game to keep even the pickiest of fans satisfied, Pokken Tournament DX is one of a growing list of worthy ports from the Wii U. With a fresh coat of paint splashed over the top, this fighting game is one for both Pokémon and Tekken fans alike; and while the combat depth and lack of hands-on training may throw off a few people, the game makes itself accessible for all those who are chasing a good fighting experience.