I can’t stop playing games on the Switch! Well, I can when the battery runs out while I’m in handheld mode, but you know what I mean. There’s a reason this thing keeps selling like hotcakes, after all, and it’s probably something to do with how a hybrid console/handheld can do justice to pretty much any genre of game from JRPG to strategy. With Pokkén Tournament DX, Nintendo shows that even fighting games can work on their little hybrid that could, much to the delight of fans of the original Wii U release of the game in 2016.
This is essentially a director’s cut of the original Pokkén Tournament that we talked about some time ago. It’s a similar experience all around, though some work has been done making this a more welcoming experience; in particular, several of the more irritating unlockable features begin unlocked in DX, so you don’t have to replay the entire single-player story or anything like that. There have been upgrades both large and small all over the place, though the most noticeable are going to be the fact that this is now a handheld game (hooray for the Switch!) and the several new characters that have been added. Other changes include new game modes like a Daily Challenge and 3v3 battles.
The former doesn’t really need a lot of discussion; this is a fairly simple fighting game by the genre’s standards so it works great via the Switch’s handheld configuration. As for the latter, we’ve got five newcomers; four of these became available on the arcade version of Pokkén over time and one, Decidueye, is new and exclusive to the Switch version. Since you’re unlikely to have access to the arcade game, they’re all going to seem new to most players. Empoleon is a well-rounded penguin who focuses on quick sliding attacks, Scizor is a bulky grappler who uses a self-buffing ability to ready up before striking, Darkrai is a zoning and trapping character whose moves can be modified to behave in different ways and Croagunk is a goofy speedster who revolves around debuffing (and buffing?) its foes. The aforementioned Decidueye was a personal favorite, a Grass/Ghost owl introduced in Sun and Moon who uses powerful ranged and aerial attacks to keep opponents pinned down.
As for the gameplay itself, that hasn’t changed much. Pokkén still revolves around a tug-of-war between two combat phases. In the 3D Field Phase, the opposing Pokémon fight from long range or struggle to close in to land powerful attacks. A solid strike in Field Phase will shift the fight to Dual Phase, a 2D mode similar to traditional fighters where close-range combat is usually the order of the day. Most Pokémon are more or less powerful in a given phase, so learning which moves cause phase shifts is an important part of making sure you’re always in your ideal phase and at your ideal range. It’s an interesting take on fighting games that’s somewhat similar to titles like Senko no Ronde; it’s also fairly accessible to new players given the lack of complicated controller motions.
This was already a decent-looking game on Wii U and the Switch version looks solid as well; the cartoon stylizing used throughout the game helps give Pokkén a lasting appeal. It even looks great in handheld mode, though more furry fighters like Suicune end up visibly aliased on the smaller resolution. One assumes that’s because antialiasing measures are reduced to keep the game running smoothly. Outside of this, though, it’s impressive to see something that looks like this running on a handheld device.
This is a pretty easy buying decision: did you enjoy the original Pokkén? If so, you probably want the DX version, while if you didn’t care for it then you can safely pass. Meanwhile, those who haven’t played Pokkén Tournament DX should certainly start with this version given the new characters and portability options. The Switch continues to prove itself as a pretty solid platform for all sorts of games – now fighting fans can add their favorite genre to the list of Things That Work On Nintendo Switch.