Pokken Tournament DX is, as the original always has been, a fantastic and novel approach to an overly-saturated genre. It's a breath of fresh air; a colorful brawler featuring combatants from one of the strongest franchises in the world. For those of you who never got around to playing Pokken on the Wii U, I can promise you that it's pretty much exactly what a "Pokémon fighting game" should be.
As it turns out, there are very few differences between Pokken Tournament DX and it's non-DX predecessor. In fact, if I had one complaint, it would be that not much has changed at all. There are five new combatants here to challenge the Pokken veterans, a new set of supports, and a few new challenge options, but otherwise things have remained exactly the same.
When it comes to mechanics, timing, pacing, and balancing, that's fine. I would have loved to see some substantial additions, though. Even the visuals seem largely unchanged. The resolution bump is noticeable, but so are the graphical artifacts, somewhat-spotty shading, and poorly animated cut-and-paste background assets. Don't misunderstand me. That is not to say that the game looks bad, because it doesn't. I was just slightly disappointed that Bandai Namco and Nintendo didn't go above and beyond to take advantage of the Switch's extra horsepower.
But that's enough nitpicking. The only reason I'm able to nitpick enhancements at all is because I spent an irresponsible amount of time with Pokken Tournament on the Wii U, and I can tell you based on well-over a hundred hours of play time in the bank that this is one fighting game that can't be missed. Even if you're not a huge Pokémon fan, there's so much here that will surprise and challenge you.
Pokken Tournament is a game that relies more on reading your opponent than on executing insane combos. None of the available Pokémon are capable of long combo-chains requiring advanced and delicate input. Instead, an implementation of a balanced rock-paper-scissors formula keeps players locked in never-ending bouts of aggressive offensive, timely defense, and opportunistic punishes.
Basic attacks can be blocked, and can also be absorbed and countered. If you attempt to counter at the wrong time, you'll leave yourself open, and you can also be grabbed while blocking or countering. On the other hand, grabs can be completely negated and smashed through with basic attacks. You'll never dominate or be dominated by endless combo strings in Pokken Tournament. Instead, fights play out as strings of much smaller actions, each of which may turn the tide of the match in favor of one player or the other.
Pokken Tournament also plays out in two distinct phases, and this is where things get juicy! Every match begins in Field Phase, which enables both players to freely roam that battle stage. As you move about in 3D space, you'll launch ranged attacks at your opponent or home in for a quick physical flurry. If you succeed in landing a powerful blow, the match will shift into "Duel Phase," which is the traditional left-to-right fighting game format that we're all familiar with. Your Pokémon will have a much more expansive moveset available during duel phase, and this is where you'll attempt to execute your fancier combos and dish out some major damage.
Additionally, you'll always have two support Pokémon at your side at any given time, and you'll generally call them in once per round. Each support Pokémon will unleash its own unique attack and offer you specific buffs, or else wreak debuffs upon your foe. As the match wears on, players will fill up a special synergy gauge. When it's full, unleash a powerful synergy burst that transforms your Pokémon into a mega evolution form. In this unique form, damage output, defense, and mobility are buffed greatly, and powerful super attacks can be triggered.
Sounds pretty overwhelming, right? It's not at all. In fact, Pokken Tournament DX manages to be one of the most accessible fighting games on the market due to its leaner combo repertoire and strike, grab, and counter mechanics. You should be able to fight somewhat competitively with your first Pokémon within an hour's time, and there's plenty to do once you're feeling more confident.
If you love loot and unlocks, let me tell you, there are plenty for you here. Pokken is a play on Tekken after all, so expect plenty of avatar customization, clothing and accessory unlocks, custom title banners and online greeting messages, and much more. As you use each Pokémon in battle, they'll continually level up, granting you stat points that you can use to boost their attack, defense, synergy power, or "strategy" (support Pokemon charge).
Pokken Tournament rewards you constantly for playing, but returning players will be relieved to know that you no longer have to unlock Mewtwo or Shadow Mewtwo. All fighters are available from the outset.
If you're even remotely interested in Pokémon and fighting games, you don't need to be reading this review. Pokken Tournament has always been a freaking treasure, and this is hands-down the definitive version of the game. I wore out the original, and I can't tell you how glad I am that I can finally play Pokken in bed without worrying about how close I am to my Wii U, and despite the lack of "deluxe" additions, the resolution bump makes for a markedly improved visual experience while playing in handheld mode.
Pokken Tournament is charming, challenging, rewarding, and deep enough to warrant a serious competitive scene. Pick this one up and find your main. Me and my Gengar will be waiting for you.
WWG's Score: 4 / 5