I’m beginning to understand some strategy behind Nintendo’s releases this year and I have to admit that it isn’t actually that bad of a strategy. Take all the Wii U games that succeeded on that system, and that made it somewhat good, and bring them to life again on the Switch, while the newer games are being built. It’s not a bad strategy, especially when you consider how good those games were. First, in April, it was Mario Kart and now it’s Pokken Tournament. When Pokken arrived on the Wii U it was one of the brighter spots of that systems’ library and it’s just as good on the Nintendo Switch.
Let’s dig right into it.
Pokken Tournament hasn’t changed in gameplay design since its Wii U days, which is a good thing because it’s a very entertaining title. The big changes for this game come in the form of a few new Pokemon introduced into the game, some from Moon and Sun, as well as a few modes (Team Battles, split screen and such). There’s a bit more content because of those characters and modes, but overall you’re getting the same game , which again, isn’t a bad thing.
The latter is especially relevant for new players. For those of you who have never played the game, you’re in for a treat on the Nintendo Switch. The gameplay mimics a typical fighting simulator in the main part of its girth. The exception, and more RPG-related, is that you get to upgrade your Pokemon in four different categories – Offense, Defense, Synergy and Strategy – to improve them. Every time you win a match, you gain XP, which equals out to potentially leveling one of the four above categories. When you level a category you do actually see the leveling affect the gameplay, which becomes a motivating factor to continually play against the same opponents (you get a lot of repeats). My daughter, who loved the original game on the Wii U, concentrated on the offense/defense category and leveled up beyond 50+ in less than a week. There is no solid strategy and right way to upgrade in the game, so don’t stress too much when deciding. It all works out in the end and the game allows you to succeed regardless of your choices. That’s a really good thing when you’re main audience is young gamers.
Anyway, outside of this obvious Pokemon carryover of leveling from the handheld games, you also get a support character to fight with you in the game. This is a smaller character, such as the non-Mega-evolved Litten, that will act as a stand-in to do some minor damage to your opponent. Sometimes it isn’t damage, but for my case it was damage with Little. Regardless, it’s another cog in the fighting gameplay built for the ground work of the game. It’s certainly a welcomed addition to the gameplay design.
Before we move on to more intricate matters of modes, what about the controls on the Switch. I loved how easy it was to pull off moves on the Wii U version of this game, so I was concerned how that would translate to the Switch’s controls. I know that seems ridiculous, but I have had some games on other systems, such as the Wii U, that didn’t translate well to the Switch. For example, I had a helluva time trying to use the Switch controls with the Street Fighter game that came out earlier this year. The Switch thumbsticks didn’t work very well for that, as I had problems with jumping and moving, something that is incredibly simple on every version of Street Fighter II on other systems since the 90s. For Pokken Tournament DX, the controls actually improved and I found myself pulling off moves I didn’t really have to think about too much. If I wanted to pull off a Synergy Burst in a fight, i would simply press down on the left thumbstick, press the left button up top on the switch and all the buttons on the right of the Switch. It usually pulled off a massive move that would end up as destructive as expected.
Beyond moves and controls, the enemies actually are pretty balanced with difficulty. This means that as you progress in certain leagues the enemies get progressively, and correctly difficult over time instead of all at once. That’s impressive considering that isn’t easy to pull off for most developers. As it stands, it creates an entertaining experience that motivates you to keep going. A fighting game, especially one with a heavy amount of repetitive enemies, needs to find a way to motivate players. Pokken Tournament DX does just that and it does it well.
Now, having said all of this, where does all the above take place? The majority of your time in the game will probably be spent in the Ferrum League mode, which is going to directly affect the above gameplay elements. In the Ferrum League mode of the game you get the campaign of the title, in a sense. There are some story elements of the game included, but nothing like an overdramatic Call of Duty-type campaign. Essentially, you go through different leagues, graded from D to A, with different difficulty of competition in it. The Ferrum League is broken down into league battles, which you must complete over and over to achieve top 10 status, then it goes into a small tournament that you get one shot to get through (well, at least one shot before you have to go through the entire process again). If you win the tournament, then you go into a promotion’s test that will see if you move up to a different league level. All of this also includes a secret, yet brutal fight. Like stated before, you’re going to spend a lot of time in this mode and you’ll find that, while it’s not exactly that deepest gameplay, there is so much progression protocol that it will seem incredibly deep.
Having said that, there are moments where you are competing to rank up in league play and it feels like forever before you qualify for a tournament. For me this is a downside of the game, as you see a lot of repetitive enemies, places and such, as you go through the motions to get into the top 10.
When you’re not fighting, though, you might spend some time customizing your Pokemon trainer, which is a heavy element of this game. If you enjoy doing such a thing, and I know a lot people (young and old) that enjoy constant customization, then you’re going to be in heaven. You can gain items by achieving certain things in the main game. For example, if you win 25 matches in a row, then you might get a character item, such as a shirt or tech, that you can equip to your Pokemon trainer. You can also purchase such things with money you win from fights in the My Town mode. In My Town you can find plenty of cool things to pick up and make your character/experience unique. It’s a cool place and one that fits right into the gameplay design of the game.
Beyond all of the above modes and design, you’re looking at local/online/team battles to choose from to entertain yourself. I’m not a huge fan of online modes, and I have plenty of kids at home to show no mercy at home to in local battles (unsatisfying), but I’m sure there are people out there that are going to absolutely adore some of the newer modes that the game has to offer. I’m glad all the new modes were included because they expand the gameplay experience.
As for the presentation of the game, it seems, at least visually for me, to have been improved a bit. The character design seems to be a lot sharper onscreen, as does the frame rate, which appears to be upped just slightly. Of course, all of it kind of downgrades when you put it on the big screen, as you’ll be able to see some pixelation in character design, but on the small screen it’s pretty sharp. It’s also one of the more colorful Switch games on the market right now, which is saying a lot.
Having chatted your eyes off about the above material, I will say that I’m not in love with the price point at all. This game is nearly a year old and it’s got a little new content, but honestly nothing incredibly huge. If it were $39.99 I would love it, but it’s a $59.99 game that has some age on it. It doesn’t honestly do enough to warrant that price point, though I will also argue that new people to the series will find it worthwhile. As for those who bought the Wii U version, the option to carry it outside the house and to fight in different modes outside of the Ferrum League might find this worth the price. Again, I think it would have been better at a lower price, at least it would feel more worthwhile. As it stands, the game is essentially the same, plus some bells and whistles. Price is my biggest gripe of the game.