There was nothing wrong with the Wii U release of Pokémon fighting game Pokken Tournament that couldn’t be solved by Nintendo releasing an entirely new, more fully-realized platform for people to play it on. And here we are.
Originally published on 9/18/17.
Pokken Tournament is one of my favorite games on the Wii U. It was one of the few games released for the console in 2016 exciting enough to get me to dust off the game pad (one of two actually, the other being Tokyo Mirage Sessions).
I loved pitting my beloved Braixen against the 15 other Pokémon that made up the game’s small roster. I enjoyed dressing up my avatar with new clothing items unlocked through battle. I even got a kick out of playing online against other players, even if I didn’t spend much time winning—sharing the joy of battling pocket monsters in a Bandai Namco fighting game was reward enough.
What I hated, however, was how Nintendo treated the game. Though the arcade version in Japan was expanding its roster to 20 different characters, Nintendo had no intention of adding them to the version running on its floundering console. While the arcade edition grew and changed via regular updates and balance changes, the Wii U version stagnated, causing problems for the competitive scene.
In retrospect, it feels as if the game was released on the Wii U just to keep Nintendo owners going until something better came along. That something better is the Switch, and with this week’s release of Pokken Tournament DX, the game finally has a fighting chance.
Like Mario Kart DX, Pokken Tournament DX is the same game as the Wii U release with some extras thrown in. First off we get the four characters that have been added to the Japanese arcade version—Croagunk, Empoleon, Darkrai and Scizor—as well as Decidueye, a console-exclusive addition from Pokémon Sun and Moon.
Fresh meat is always nice, though none of them hold a candle to Braixen, my fit fighting fire fox. Still, there are new modes that offer incentive to try out some of the lesser choices. The Daily Challenge requires players to compete in battles featuring pre-set conditions. I had to win two of four battles as Machamp in the most recent. It wasn’t easy, but I have a new respect for my four-armed nemesis.
There’s also a new Team Battle mode. Here players assemble a team of three different Pokémon and pit then against an enemy team, King of Fighters style. It’s survival of the fittest, with health totals carried over between battles. It’s a nice addition, especially in solo offline battles, giving practicing players something a bit meatier to sink their teeth into.
There are a couple of other new features, like the ability to save and watch replays, both your own and those shared online via other players. But mostly it’s the same great game, now on a platform that’s in no danger of dying in the immediate future and presents some cool new ways to play.
For the first time in Nintendo console history, Pokken Tournament can be played by two players on the same screen. Yes, the Wii U version was that stupid. In order to play two player local on the Wii U, one player had to use the game pad, while the other could use an additional controller and the television. Doing so was not only mighty inconvenient, it also cut the game’s 60 frames per second in half, due to having to render the battle across two screens.
You can see single screen two-player in action in the video below. Or you can see me controlling two different characters on one screen. Close enough.
The Switch manages to get two players on the same screen without ruining the experience. The camera can get a little tricky during the free-roaming portion of battles (Pokken Tournement’s battle system has players swapping from free-roam to battling on a 2D plane), but it works just fine. Hook up a classic controller or two, maybe one of Hori’s official Pokken Tournament controllers, and you’ve got yourself a party.
Since the game’s controls are relatively simple, requiring four buttons, a directional pad/stick and two shoulder buttons, individual JoyCons can also be used to deliver a two-player experience.
Though I prefer a bigger controller for TV play, the JoyCons work amazingly well (given my huge hands) for tabletop mode. You know the commercials from the Switch launch, where everybody gathered around the tiny screen and doled out the JoyCons for some two-player gaming? Pokken Tournament feels as if it were custom-made for that experience. Taking the Switch to the bar and passing around the JoyCons made me feel like I was spreading the Pokken gospel. I can’t wait to run into another player with the game and console so I can try some of those two-Switch wireless battles.
Pokken Tournament is a game that deserves to be shared, and Pokken Tournament DX is the perfect way to share it. While I won’t be able to play online until we get closer to the game’s September 22 launch, I feel safe in saying it’s much better than the original console release. Well, that’s not quite right. It’s a more refined version of the original release, in a much better place.
Update 9/22: The game is live in North America, and the multiplayer battles are good. I’ve played a dozen or so matches without encountering any significant lag. There seem to be plenty of opponents online, and The Pokémon Company’s even got a couple of official beginner groups created using DX’s new group function. It’s a bright new day for Pokken Tournament.