Friday, March 2, 2018

Pokken Tournament DX (NSW) Review

We're not resting on our laurels here at SuperPhillip Central. No, immediately into March we're leaping into our first review! Pokken Tournament originally released on the Wii U near the end of that system's life cycle in 2016. Now, Pokken gets a second time to shine with the Nintendo Switch's Pokken Tournament DX.

Fight for your right to Poké -- Again!

The fighting game genre is one I am definitely not adept in. Quite the opposite, actually. Despite my love of the genre and the zany cast of characters, explosive action and awesome combos that these games deliver, I just can't wrap my head around them (or I guess, "my fingers around the controller to hit all the required buttons", in this case). 2016's Pokken Tournament on Wii U was one of those fighting games that I could actually hold my own in, which definitely didn't hurt my thoughts on it. Nearly two years later, and I have returned to the game with this Nintendo Switch port of the game, Pokken Tournament DX. With more Pokemon to get skilled with and more modes to master, is Pokken Tournament's Switch port worth checking out again?

Pokken Tournament DX is an atypical fighting game in that it sometimes takes place in a 3D arena while on other occasions occurring on a 2D plane. These two different planes are known as phases. Battles begin with opposing Pokemon facing off in a wide open arena, able to circle around one another and avoid attacks. When one Pokemon deals enough damage through a specific type of attack, what occurs is a Phase Shift, changing the battle dynamically from a 3D one to a more traditional side-scrolling 2D encounter. Phase Shifts regularly occur in battle, and they tend to result in lots of HP being depleted by the opponent on the receiving end of it.

With a fiery and fast punch to the face from Blaziken, Lucario goes stumbling backward in pain.
The game's 20+ Pokemon (with this deluxe version introducing several new Pokemon into the mix like the arcade version's exclusives, Scizor, Empoleon, Croagunk, and Darkrai, as well as the Switch exclusive Decidueye) each feature their own repertoire of moves, ones great for smashing through defenses, ones that are perfect for setting up Phase Shifts, and much more. Learning a given Pokemon's move set is imperative to earn that coveted "W" in the win column, and if you find a Pokemon that you like, you should think about sticking with it to improve your comfort level with that Pokemon. Or you can play like me and switch between Pokemon at your leisure, which is just as fine as an option thanks to the helpful tutorial mode, which not just doles out the basics of Pokken Tournament DX's rules and controls, but it also supplies you with a set of moves and combos for each Pokemon you use in a safe practice setting.

The arrow-aiming Decidueye is an exclusive Battle Pokemon in this version of Pokken Tournament.
Pokemon like the mascot of the series, Pikachu, and his much more mobile and technical fighting counterpart, Pikachu Libre lead the charge (literally, with their electric attacks) with speed-based attacks, while other Pokemon like Charizard, Machamp, and Garchomp use their power to seal the deal and hopefully the win. Each Pokemon plays uniquely enough (even potential clones like the aforementioned duo of Pikachu and the characters of Mewtwo and final boss of the game Shadow Mewtwo), allowing for a wide spectacle of moves to learn, involved combos to pull off, and timing to get down.

Battles are exciting endeavors that really get my pulse pounding and palms sweaty. Timing your attacks so you don't leave yourself open for a counter by your opponent is always key in a fighting game, but Pokken Tournament DX furthers the strategy involved by incorporating a rock-paper-scissors aspect to attacking. There are three types of attacks and each one is bested by and strong against another. For instance, a grab can be stopped dead in its tracks by a normal attack, whereas a normal attack will get bodied by a counterattack, and a counterattack will easily be nullified by a grab. This attack triangle means that if you are on the receiving end of a counter, you have much more damage taken off of your health gauge than you would otherwise. Needless to say, it's good to vary types of attacks used and to concentrate so you can counter and react well to your opponent's actions.

Phase Shifts come about from all sorts of attacks, such as this
headache-inducing dropkick from Machamp to Gengar.
As battles wage on, your trainer and Pokemon's Synergy gauge increases. When it's full, you can let loose a Synergy Boost, an offensive and defensive boost that puts your Pokemon in an almost Zen-like state, able to ward off most weak attacks without flinching. You can also use your Pokemon combatant's ultra-strong special move once per Synergy Burst, and if it connects, it deals great damage to your opponent. It can be the difference between clinching the current round and creating the start of a marvelous comeback. 

In addition to the Synergy Gauge, there is also a smaller gauge, the Support Gauge. Before beginning a match, you select from 20+ duos of Support Pokemon. These are Pokemon that couldn't quite muster a full move set to be on the actual roster of Pokken Tournament DX, but still get a role to play in battles anyway. At the start of each round, you pick from one of your two Support Pokemon to assist you when your Support Gauge is full and you press the proper button to call them in. Some have offensive properties while others use defensive or healing ones to help out. A perfect call-in for a Support Pokemon can interrupt your opponent's flow, making a match that was going their way start shifting towards yours. 

The first time you turn on Pokken Tournament DX, you'll be greeted by an NPC named Nia, who is more of hassle to listen to than a help. Besides being grating to listen to, she has "wonderful" advice mid-battle such as telling you when battles aren't going your way. Thanks, Nia. Wouldn't have known that without your help and without your need to sort of rub that in. Fortunately, you can remove her appearance entirely from battles so you won't hear any of her unhelpful commentary. 

Other than a quick introduction of the game from Nia, you get to make a character that serves as your avatar. Starting out, the customization options aren't too expansive, but as you complete matches in the Ferrum League, the main single player mode of Pokken Tournament DX, more and more outfitting options are unlocked. Everything from sports jackets to graduation gowns, glasses to monocles, and even sunset backgrounds to accessories like surfboards are available eventually, and they can be purchased with currency earned from battle. 

As I said, the Ferrum League is the primary mode for those wanting some hands-on time with Pokken Tournament DX before jumping in with the sharks for online play. The Ferrum League features a series of leagues that get progressively more difficult, having you start each league at the 100th rank and earning your way within the top eight. This is performed by winning battles against opponents of varying ranks in sets of five, and after each set, your performance is evaluated and you move up or back in rank. Once you reach the top eight, you enter a tournament to determine who the winner will be. Win that, and you do battle with the current league champion to allow you to move on to the next league.

Empoleon isn't entirely new to the world of Pokken Tournament. This piercing penguin Pokemon made waves in the arcade release.
As the leagues play out, a story unfolds relating to a mysterious Pokemon dubbed by the people of the island as Shadow Pokemon. This strange Pokemon is causing havoc across the island, and while you're participating in the Ferrum League, you occasionally are forced to do battle against the powerful Pokemon. Thus, you're not just fighting through league battles and ordinary matches of that type over and over again. There are some breaks in the mode for story-related reasons. 

Also included in Ferrum League this time around for the Nintendo Switch version of Pokken Tournament is the addition of challenge walls in each of the mode's leagues. This is a set of 16 challenges per wall that task you with completing optional goals (e.g. use a specific Battle Pokemon multiple times in battle, get a Phase Shift a certain amount of times total, etc.) for awards. As you complete these goals, panels on the wall will be removed, ultimately showing a picture for completion, and netting you with a unique reward in the process. Some of these panels are a bit tedious to finish off, as having to meet the requirements (such as winning 45 matches in a given league) can requiring quite a bit of grinding. Throw in the fact that later leagues have multiple walls of panels to tackle, and by the end of the Ferrum League, I was thanking Arceus that these were entirely optional. (But the completionist in me still tried to go after them anyway.)

Score the battle's first hit for some nice and well earned bragging rights!
Other modes in Pokken Tournament DX include a versus mode against the AI where you can face any Pokemon at any difficulty on any arena for practice and for fun. There is a new 3-vs-3 mode exclusive to the Nintendo Switch version that pits three Pokemon against another team of three in an elimination-style bout. Two Pokemon face off at once, and when one is defeated, the next on that player's team comes in to take its place. Meanwhile, the opponent's Pokemon must stay in and keep fighting until it either carries the entire team to victory or falls in battle and must, too, be switched out. (Sorry, Marvel fans. No mid-battle character switching here!) A separate versus mode can be played between two local players, either on two different Nintendo Switch screens or in split-screen, another new inclusion in this Switch port. However, split-screen suffers from a spotty frame-rate, so it's not the most recommended way to play with nearby friends and family.

I think Charizard mistook Garchomp for a pile of charcoal in this picture.
Additionally, there are also Daily Challenges that pop up which by the virtue of their name, change every day. The win conditions are always the same, but the Battle Pokemon or Pokemon team you use is pre-determined. Winning these earns you skill points that can be used on your Pokemon to increase their attack strength power, defensive ability, and Synergy or Support capabilities. 

Once you've gotten accustomed enough to the controls of Pokken Tournament DX and have developed a nice sampling of skill, you can choose to hop online to battle players internationally. You can play with friends, setting up private rooms that require passwords to enter, or you can try out battles against total strangers in either casual fights or the more tense Ranked matches. Starting in Ranked, you begin at rank E5. Winning battles increases this rank slowly, from E5 to E4, E4 to E3, and when you get to E1, E1 to D5. This allows you to face off against players who are at your skill level so you're not immediately overwhelmed. That's mostly how it works in Pokken Tournament DX, though you get the occasional battle against someone who's way too good for his or her rank who just flat out owns you 2-0. 

Swing your partner 'round and 'round, Machamp!
Pokken Tournament DX offers a robust and comprehensive fighting system that possesses a large amount of depth to it, perfect enough to master for fighting game professionals but accessible enough to not leave any other players behind. Both fighting game fanatics and Pokemaniacs alike can enjoy Pokken Tournament DX. With already released and upcoming DLC in the form of new Battle and Support Pokemon and constant updates, Pokken Tournament DX delivers a fighting game fever that Pokemon trainers the world 'round will want to catch and train their Pokemon to do battle in.

[SPC Says: B+]

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