If you played the original Pokkén Tournament on Wii U, there’s not going to be a whole lot that’s new to you in the Pokkén Tournament DX demo. The demo still takes place in the tournament-standard Ferrum Stadium locale despite the additions of new stages, and the two playable returning characters of Charizard and Pikachu are nearly identical to their Wii U counterparts. Virtually all changes for both of them come in the forms of new stance and special cancels that we’ve known about since the 1.5 arcade patch. Even my least-favorite mechanic in Pokkén Tournament, invincible exhaust frames, has made a return, although it “feels” like the invincibility window isn’t quite as long as it used to be.
Frankly, for an idea of new features in Pokkén Tournament DX, you’d do better by just visiting any Nintendo promo video.
The real meat of this demo is the opportunity to try out the previously arcade-exclusive Empoleon. This new Standard-Type fighter brings a really fresh and different style of combat to the Pokkén Tournament universe that I think might just fit some players that couldn’t find a main in the original version. Namely: Empoleon is an offensive-minded stance character.
Empoleon might just have the game’s worst walk speed, but that doesn’t mean he lacks mobility. Far from it: thanks to moves like Aqua Jet (5A), Empoleon can zip across the field quickly, and immediately transition into what I will forever refer to as his “HM Stance,” since the game doesn’t give the transition a specific name. Every move from it is named after a Hidden Machine from the main RPG series. HM Stance has:
- Cut – A fast, safe combo ender used to score a knockdown or wall-splat. Useful for staying in Duel Phase, and has decent pushout on block.
- Waterfall – Unsafe, high-damage combo ender that will almost always cause a phase shift in juggles.
- Rock Smash – has Counter Attack property, counter pierces. Also gives a defense debuff.
- Surf – Jump Cancellable, can also wall splat, throw breaks.
Because of Aqua Jet’s range and incredible speed, it is a powerful whiff punisher that allows Empoleon to play some terrifying footsies against non-zoner type characters. It also has a “Level” system, in the sense that there’s three versions of Aqua Jet: the further away you are from the opponent, the stronger the damage and the more hit/block stun you get from the move. The longer range Aqua Jets even allow you to combo into the slower Rock Smash/Surf options, which have their own mixup utility.
Arcade player punishing a jump back attempt with Aqua Jet > Surf, which gives him great wall carry and a setup for his other stance, “Slide.”
Aqua Jet has a great synergy with Empoleon’s other stance, “Slide.” By doing his Ice Beam, Jump X, Duel Phase 2[X], or Field Phase back [X], Empoleon freezes the floor and slides in a direction of the player’s choosing. From here he has the following options:
- Jump Cancel – Useful as Empoleon can either shoot air projectiles with Jump Y, use his counter piercing Jump A attack, or continue pressure with another Jump [X]
- Slide Attack – Limited use sliding attack.
- Slide Projectile – Shoots multiple water bullets at the enemy. Somewhat slow moving, good zoning tool in Duel.
- Hydro Cannon – The cornerstone of Empoleon’s wakeup game. This move does a gigantic amount of chip and normal damage, wall splats, shoots a giant projectile, and is +0 on block, allowing for pressure situations. Bonus: it has an amusing animation interrupt if you propel Empoleon into a wall.
Mastery of Slide and HM Stance is going to be key to Empoleon’s neutral game. It’s complex, interesting, and different from any of the other game’s characters. It’s also a pretty unique way to balance out the intentional slow pace of other aspects of his game — namely, his walk speed and his incredibly slow jab speed.
Lest you fear that Empoleon is nothing but a close-range fighter, he also comes equipped with some light zoning options. The aforementioned Ice Beam and Jump Y projectiles eat up a ton of space from full screen, and will likely define matchups where he may want to be more conservative with going in — the Machamp and Blaziken matchups immediately come to mind. It’s not quite enough to classify him as a zoning type character: he still probably wants to get in versus the likes of Chandelure and Braxien. But it does make him well rounded and versatile, appropriate for a Standard-Type.
If there’s any deficiency in Empoleon’s game, it’s his defensive options and his grab game. His grab in both phases does pitiful damage, but both Field and Duel Phase grabs do give him setups for pressure. He’s also fairly limited when he’s not the one in control. Empoleon will rely a lot on Blocking, Counter Attack, and Drill Peck — the latter of which is a low crushing, short range attack that can lead into HM Stance and serves as one of his fastest panic buttons. Empoleon does have an anti-projectile move in Defog, but its slow startup makes its use a little tricky. It does have a HM Stance transition, though, which potentially means you could Surf forward afterwards.
All-in-all, if Empoleon is completely distasteful to you but you’re already sold on Pokkén Tournament, the demo probably isn’t worth a try. If you haven’t played Pokkén before now and want to try out a wide variety of play, then the quick-moving Pikachu, grappler Charizard and heavy-hitter Empoleon should be a diverse enough cast to give you an informed opinion for your purchase. If all the new characters have the interest and complexity of Empoleon (and from what we know of the arcade version, they do!) then DX has many interesting future battles for the community already surrounding the game.
Pokkén Tournament DX releases on September 22nd.