Pokkén Tournament DX is a great Switch port that can't solve the game's core contradiction

Rock, paper, Scizor.

By Martin Robinson. Published 18 September 2017

One of my favourite stories to arise from Pokkén Tournament's short life - a second-hand tale, I'm afraid, though I've no doubt it's true - comes from one of its early competitive showings. There, in the relatively family-friendly environment of a Pokémon Tournament, the air was turned briefly blue as the serious business of having Pokémon knock the crap out of each other in Bandai Namco's brawler was conducted on-stage. Parents cupped their children's ears, quickly ushering them out of the auditorium in a scene of mild chaos.

I love that story, not because swearing is big, clever and funny (though it definitely is ) but because it brilliantly illustrates the weird contradiction that is Pokkén Tournament, a curious game that's struggled to find its niche since its release a couple of years back - failing to ignite the passions of the fighting game community and failing to speak to the broader Pokémon audience. I've spent the past couple of days touring the various arcades of Tokyo - not a bad way to spend a September weekend - and every cabinet I've come across has sat unplayed. It's struggled to find traction closer to home, too. I work in an office full of Pokémon fanatics, and not one of them has played or ever expressed an interesting in playing Pokkén .

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All this at a time when Pokémon's star has never been higher. This week marks the release of the Switch's first Pokémon game - albeit a spin-off, of course - and I doubt it'll register much, with fighting fans finding Pokkén's take on Tekken's crunchy combat not to their taste and Pokemon fans finding it lacks the breadth and sheer number of characters that they thirst for. Who, exactly, is Pokken Tournament for then? Maybe it's for me - a casual in regards to both camps, and someone who had an awful lot of fun with Pokken Tournament when it first came to Wii U last March.

And I've been having an awful amount of fun with Pokkén Tournament DX, which folds a fair amount of improvements and extras into that 2016 game and comes with the added boon of being truly portable. The fundamentals haven't been touched - and, for what it's worth, I find myself in agreement with Chris Schilling's positive take on it for us when he reviewed it last year - but it's been built out to include five new characters. Four of them have been available for a while in the arcades, while another - generation seven's grass-type Decidueye - is entirely new.

It's Decidueye I've been mostly drawn to (though trident-crown sporting mega penguin Empoleon is running it close), perhaps because he speaks to what I really enjoy about Pokkén . A quick-winged owl with a quill of arrows to hand, Decidueye is a furious blast to play, mixing ranged attacks with close-quarters flurries and beautifully straddling the two different phases that define Pokken Tournament's battles. Honestly, though, I just like pounding the bejesus out of other Pokemon with an owl, because owls are kind of cool, right?

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There's something gloriously absurd about Pokémon, a facet which Pokkén Tournament rises to with real flair. Want to see a poisonous frog face off against a chandelier? Of course you do, and Pokkén Tournament's real achievement is not only making sense of it all but making it an upbeat, energetic treat too. There's a zest to Pokkén Tournament that I find kind of infectious - and it's not just about working through the Ferrum League to unlock new items to dress up my avatar in. (Okay, it's mostly about that but still...)

DX makes it all a bit more approachable, unlocking all the characters and supports from the off and introducing a new 3v3 mode that's cute if hardly essential. A more profound addition, oddly enough, is the Daily Challenge that's been added, tasking you with taking to battle with different Pokémon. It's a neat way to get you out of your comfort zone, and to familiarise yourself with a bit more of the roster. Online has also been tightened up with better matchmaking and ranked play - though it's hardly a revolution, and none of which will likely win Pokkén any new fans.

It was never likely to, really, because Pokkén Tournament can't fix the contradiction at its core in a mere update like this. This is still a fighting game too shallow and too flawed for the hardcore, and a Pokémon game too narrow in its scope for that fanbase. All I hope is that with this Switch version, maybe enough people like myself might be introduced to Pokkén and learn that in that contradiction there's something with a charm of its own.

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