Also available on Wii U
Pokken Tournament was one of the most unique Wii U exclusives and really could have (and should have in my opinion) been a system seller. While part of me is always disappointed to see a game for my favorite underdog console lose exclusivity, it really would have been a shame for Pokken Tournament to have been played by so few gamers relatively speaking, but what would be a bigger shame is for console players (as opposed to arcade) never to have gotten the extra content added over time since Nintendo and Bandai did not deign to give Wii U owners any of the arcade DLC.
For those who aren't familiar with Pokken Tournament, it's a fighting game with Pokemon characters. Given that it was developed by Bandai Namco, it feels a lot like Tekken in many ways, although it's important to note that Pokken definitely does have a very distinctive feel that makes it far more than just "Tekken with Pokemon." The game features 21 playable Pokemon as well as 32 non-playable assist Pokemon (which are bound in preset pairs) as well as a very nice variety of stages with an array of themes. There's a single player mode, online play, local play, and - added to DX given the handheld nature of the Switch - a wireless play mode. The game gives an all around very nice choice of game modes, stages, and characters. The cherry on top is that has a clever "phase" system that will switch between a 3D "Field Phase" and a 2D "Duel Phase" whenever a player makes a strong hit. It sounds like it would get jarring and obnoxious, and I'm sure that there are some who dislike it, but I personally find it to be an extremely clever feature that flows very well and adds a depth and quirk to the game that makes me stand out from the fighting game crowd even more.
Given that Pokken Tournament DX is an enhanced Switch port of the original Pokken Tournament for Wii U, the game is mostly the same as the original release although there are some key differences.
First and foremost, the four characters added post-launch to the arcade game that were omitted from the Wii U port - Croagunk, Empoleon, Darkrai, and Scizor - are all included as well as one character that neither the arcade version nor the Wii U version will get - Decidueye. Also exclusive to the Switch port is a new pair of support Pokemon - Litten and Popplio. My only real complaint with the character roster here is that Shadow Mewtwo is unlocked right from the start; in the Wii U version, you had to finish the story mode in order to unlock Shadow Mewtwo or use the Shadow Mewtwo amiibo card included in the first print of the Wii U game. Not only is it nice to have the "boss" character as a goal to unlock, but it does kind of suck that my sexy Shadow Mewtwo card doesn't really have any use here. Sad face.
While the Wii U wasn't a graphical powerhouse and, as a port, the Switch version doesn't make any big changes to the visuals, the game is still a very good looking game. There's an impressive amount of detail on the character models that make the Pokemon feel more "real," for lack of a better word, and they ever did in the other games. The music - especially on the Magikarp Festival stage - is also fantastic. Legit I think Magikarp Festival has the greatest background music of any stage in any fighting game ever made. It's a light but infectiously catchy EDM beat that you'll start bobbing to without realizing it. While Magikarp Festival certainly stands out as the most memorable, all of the music in the game is quite well done. The sound design in general is, for the most part, quite good with attack sound effects that make the stronger hits really have a satisfying feel to them.
Most fighting games aren't really known or played for their narratives and single player campaigns, but as such things are a big deal to me, I have to address Pokken Tournament's story mode. In the context of fighting games, it's not terrible, but it's certainly not one of the better single player experiences I've played. The story itself is okay - something made Mewtwo turn dark and go crazy and you, for some reason, seem to be the only one able to stop him and turn him back to normal - but it's not particularly memorable or compelling. The pacing is pretty bad; I understand that a lot of developers want to make a single player mode last more than an hour or two, but through a single playthrough of the story mode, I fought nearly 150 battles. When you've only got a character roster of 21 Pokemon, it starts to feel repetitive. I really think the single player could have benefited from some brevity. As tired and stale as the story mode itself can be, however, the greatest sin that this game's single player commits is having what is truly among the worst voice acting of this entire console generation. If HD graphics had been a thing in 1997, I'd absolutely believe that this game was from that year. That's how atrocious the voice acting is. It's bad enough that your "adviser" won't shut the hell up and even her "Please don't talk to me" option just makes her limit her obnoxious voice to before and after a battle, the terrible voice acting makes it extremely cringe-worthy. Just hit the mute button while characters are talking; none of them were voiced by legitimate actors.
While I found the story mode to be every bit as disappointing as I remembered from my Wii U playthrough a couple years ago, this is a game that not even I play for the single player. This is one of the few fighting games that I've found that I actually enjoy. It's extremely approachable with simple controls and easy to learn combos and controls that allow customization. It also supports the Pokken gamepad that Hori released back when the Wii U original came out, and the Wii U controllers are identical to the Switch branded one in all but color scheme and branding; 90% of my playthrough was done with my Pikachu Pokken controller. The online matchmaking is fast and stable, and the array of local play options make this a game that is absolutely able to fill the void until the inevitable Super Smash Bros game for Switch.
Pokken Tournament DX may not be the next Dreamcast Soul Calibur in terms of fighting game masterpieces, but it's an exceptionally well crafted and well balanced fighting game that's had more care put into its development than pretty much any traditional fighting game of this generation. Between its beautiful visuals, its clever 2D/3D hybrid style, and it's nearly perfect gamepad (assuming one chooses to buy one), it's an extraordinary game that is an absolute must-own for Switch owners and especially Pokemon fans. As fantastic as the Wii's Pokemon Battle Revolution was, a fighting game like this really is the closest we'll probably get to the Pokemon battles we all watched on the anime, and that's hella dope.
My Rating - 4 Neps
I'm a teacher.
And I like to play video games. I like to collect video games. I like to talk about video games, and I like to write about video games. During the day, I teach high school history; during the night, I spend my spare time gaming. Then I write about it.