Trainer’s School: Empoleon Character Guide

This penguin is the Emperor of brutal attacks

This is part of a series of written guides on Pokkén Tournament Deluxe for Nintendo Switch. I’ve always loved this game and I’ve wanted to give back to the community and generate more interest in it. I’ll be creating more guides like this in the future and I hope this gets new players invested in the fighting game that taught me about fighting games. These character guides are meant as surface-level breakdowns of each of the playable Pokémon in the cast. If you would like to try out Pokkén Tournament Deluxe, and learn more information about the game, be sure to check out the community Discord! Access to the character-specific Discords will help you find any information that isn’t listed in this guide, and you can also ask the players there for specific advice.

The sixth character in our series of character guides is Empoleon, a Water/Steel type who originally appeared as the final evolution of Piplup in the generation four RPGs. Empoleon is the first Water-type starter to be added to the roster. He made his debut in Pokken in arcade-version patches after the Wii U home console port, but wasn’t actually made playable on a console release until DX. Empoleon’s kit makes use of several Hidden Machine moves, possibly in cheeky homage to the “HM slave” fan archetype that was especially prominent in earlier RPGs. The Emperor Pokémon uses these HM moves, along with his unique Slide mechanic, to close in on his opponent and pressure them with powerful moves.

Empoleon: Overview

Playstyle: A tanky bruiser who rushes down his opponent and excels at block pressure.

Values: 630 Hit Points, 720 Shield Health, 150cc Synergy Gauge

Poké Moves: Aqua Jet (Duel 5A, Field n.A,) Defog (Duel 4A, Field b.A,) Ice Beam (Duel 6A, Field f.A), Steel Wing (j.A,) Drill Peck (Duel only, 8A.) Empoleon has a series of followup Poké Moves that can only be performed by cancelling Defog, Drill Peck, or Aqua Jet into them: Surf (cancel into B,) Cut (cancel into Y,) Waterfall (cancel into X,) Rock Smash (cancel into A.) While in Sliding Stance only, Empoleon can use Hydro Cannon (SL.A)

High Stance: Charges Support Gauge at a halved rate.

Low Stance: Avoids high-hitting moves starting on frame 1.

Unique Features: Aqua Jet has three different stages, hereafter referred to as Levels 1, 2, and 3, each with different damage values and frame data based on how far they travel before landing on the opponent. Ice Beam and 2X/b.X can both be charged with a held button press (6[X] and b.[X]) which also allows him to Slide. Slide lets Empoleon… well, slide… and access certain moves. Slide will be hereafter referred to in notation with the abbreviation SL (ex. SL.Y.) Surf can also be cancelled with R as soon as Empoleon rides the wave, which allows him to use any of his aerial moves immediately out of Surf. When viewing Ice Beam in the ingame movelist, the game text alleges that Ice Beam can be cancelled with R. This is a translation error and should be ignored.

Remember as always to consult the frame data sheet for specific moves and their properties.

Empoleon has above average health and is one of three characters with 720 Shield HP, making him a very tough and tanky rushdown character. While his normal movement is very slow, Empoleon can use his Y projectiles and Ice Beam to harass from afar, and then use his Slide and Aqua Jet to close in. Defog is an especially powerful move that is the source of most of his gameplan- Empoleon can cancel it into several different options which all compound his incredibly dangerous block pressure. While mixups are very simple in Pokkén due to the engine, Empoleon has access to nearly every mixup option out of his cancelled Poké Moves: counter armor, aerials, counter pierces, anti-airs, and even his Burst Attack command grab while in Burst Mode. Of course, most of these options are also available after Aqua Jet and Drill Peck as well, making Empoleon’s up close pressure especially unpredictable.

Pause! Empoleon’s Poké Move Cancels

The moves that Empoleon can cancel into after using Defog, Aqua Jet, and Drill Peck are the most vital parts of his kit. It’s easy to see why after analyzing Empoleon’s frame data, but it’s also very easy to visualize just by playing the character- Defog, Aqua Jet, and Drill Peck all have either a very long windup, are incredibly unsafe, or both. Using Surf, Cut, and Rock Smash as a followup will make your initial move safer on block and will do a pretty good job of punishing your opponent if they mash. (Waterfall is a traditional dragon punch, so try not to abuse it against opponents on the ground.) Rock Smash in particular will probably be one of your favored moves on block or in an okizeme situation, since it’s an armored counter pierce that debuffs your opponent’s Defense. Steel Wing is also a counter pierce, and you can actually execute it out of Surf if you master the Surf Cancel. We’ll go over the more practical applications of using these moves in actual combo strings in the relevant sections, but for now, remember to use Defog into Rock Smash (or any relevant followup) at close ranges, Aqua Jet into Rock Smash at long ranges, and Drill Peck into Waterfall for anti-airs. Remember also that Defog’s main use, apart from beginning blockstrings, is to eradicate projectiles, making it a key move in both Phases.

Field Phase

Once you’ve used your unique movement to get in on your opponent, you can set up strong pressure.

Empoleon’s Field Phase is mainly defined by him wanting to get in on his opponent as quickly as possible, and he has several tools that allow him to do so. Ice Beam has a fairly long windup, but it can stuff certain projectiles and the held version will put you immediately into Slide. From Slide, you can either approach in a safe manner with SL.Y or barrel in with Hydro Cannon. Remember that Hydro Cannon has two hitboxes: the Empoleon back-slam and the actual beam. This means that propelling yourself backwards out of Slide (probably out of b.[X]) with Hydro Cannon gives you a quirky zoning tool to cover your retreat. You can also Aqua Jet in and confirm into a Phase Shift or more block pressure, or just use s.YY to be a little bit more safe. While Empoleon doesn’t normally approach from the air- unless he’s exiting Surf Cancel- your aerials are still useful moves. J.Y will split off in three directions, J.X is devastating and only -4 on block, and Steel Wing will catch bad counters and CADC approaches.

Incidentally, Empoleon’s b.[X] is a perhaps unintentionally unique tool that very few other characters can compete with. This is specifically because b.[X] puts Empoleon low to the ground before he enters Slide, meaning he can low-profile moves that hit high in Field. Also, unlike Ice Beam, b.[X] lets Empoleon Slide backwards as well, which will let you use retreating SL.Y. Beyond Slide, Aqua Jet, and Hydro Cannon, most of your movement options are very slow. Your CADC and Homing Attack are still good options, but overreliance on them will make your approach predictable, and so they should be interspaced with your character mechanics. You can aim Ice Beam in forward-diagonal directions in Field, which will let you change the trajectory of the beam and your Slide. Also remember to use Defog to clear projectiles, followed up with Surf for a fast approach or Rock Smash for some grounded pressure. Rock Smash is also a good okizeme option, and the shattered rock that flies out after even have a hitbox.

Duel Phase

Empoleon can earn a Shift at any range, so there’s a lot of different options that he has to work around in Duel. At a far range, Empoleon has to essentially employ the same tactics as in Field, with the obvious exception that neither of you can sidestep each other’s options anymore. You can use Aqua Jet to immediately close the distance after a Shift and begin setting up your blockstring pressure with Rock Smash. Ice Beam’s windup can be punished, but being able to Slide in with Hydro Cannon is another way to mixup your approach, especially on oki. The 2[X] Slide can be used similarly, and retreating Slide j.Y or Slide into Steel Wing can punish your opponents as they chase you. Remember that Aqua Jet is most powerful (and safest) at Level 3, meaning that approaching with it at fullscreen is a very strong option. Once you’ve got in on your opponent, you can carry them to the wall with Surf and force them to fear your options with nowhere else to go.

Look at that red block! Empoleon is great at catching slippery opponents and making them scared.

At an up-close-and-personal range, Empoleon’s normal moves are actually fairly middling. 5X and your throw-crush 2Y are probably your fastest moves, with everything else being i19 and difficult to challenge faster close-ranged options with. Fortunately, since 2Y is special cancellable into Poké Moves and 5X will put your opponent into a stunned state on hit, they’re not entirely bad options to try out on opponents in close-quarters. 2[X] into Slide is also +8 and, as always, avoids highs, meaning you can set up block pressure or punish reckless swinging with Hydro Cannon. Empoleon is most effective once he can push his opponents into the corner and force them to block or make a panic guess that will lead them to eat a Defog Rock Smash combo. Mix it up a bit with Cut and Surf > Steel Wing, which will each have different impact timings and counter pierce properties so that your opponent doesn’t get used to the timing for Rock Smash and punish you with a grab or their own counter pierce.

Synergy Burst

Empoleon’s linear Burst Mode gameplan centers around him fishing for a Burst Attack confirm.

Empoleon’s Synergy Burst is on the weaker side compared to other Burst Modes in the game, but it allows Empoleon to continue his focus on what he does best: baring down on his opponents with forward momentum. Still, with a 150cc meter size and a 14 second duration, feel free to use it when you’re in a pinch or you need to counter your opponent’s own Burst. Empoleon gains the following properties while in Burst Mode:

-Aqua Jet will always be Level 3 regardless of the range. (Specifically, it will be i15 like Level 1, but be -8 on block.)

-Defog will have increased hitstun and be safer on block, up from -4 instead of -12.

The buffs that Empoleon gains in Burst are mainly designed to make it easier for him to confirm into his Burst Attack, Deep Blue Monarch. Empoleon’s Burst Attack is unique in that it is a command grab, which connects on i31 and is invincible on frame 26, right before impact. Having a slow impact, poor invincibility, and being a grab means that it can actually be crushed just like any regular grab. This means that you essentially only want to use it to punish block or held counter-armor frames, or as a followup after Aqua Jet, Defog, or a grounded hit of Drill Peck.

Strengths and Weaknesses

Empoleon is a tankier character who plays a fairly linear rushdown, but his gameplan is still different compared to a character like Blaziken. In short, Empoleon has a fast but grounded approach with no armored movement besides CADC, whereas Blaziken has good aerial movement and red armored approaches but is very fragile. Empoleon also at least has decent ranged options such as Ice Beam and j.Y, and can eradicate projectiles with Defog to make zoning more difficult. However, since Empoleon’s movement is highly committal, he has to choose whether to approach slowly and evade zoning or approach quickly and potentially get blown up by zoning. Characters like Gardevoir, Scizor and Mewtwo who are exceptional at controlling space and neutral or can otherwise punish Empoleon’s approach options will make the penguin Pokémon’s life rough in nearly every situation. On the other hand, while matchups like Aegislash and Shadow Mewtwo are volatile, Empoleon can scare these characters and exploit their fragility with his insane block pressure should he actually manage to get in. Overall, since most characters simply have access to more options in the neutral than Empoleon, it puts the character towards the lower end of the tier spectrum.

Support and Cheer Pairings

Empoleon usually picks Supports that can further enhance his block pressure. Dragonite, Ninetales, Yveltal, and Latios are all very good tools to make blocking a very place to be, especially against the wall. Stat-enhancing Supports like Eevee and Victini can always help Empoleon compete with opponents’ Bursts without having to rely on his own relatively mediocre Burst, or to simply make his pressure more powerful. The Snivy-Lapras set is also a very powerful set that can level the playing field in neutral. Snivy is an armored antiair that is more reliable than Drill Peck and Waterfall, and both Supports can eradicate projectiles and move forward in neutral to clear the way for Empoleon. Standard and Special are probably the best Cheers for Empoleon in order to guarantee a healthy balance of meter gain.

Target Combos

These are some easy combos that you can get started with right away- they are bread-and-butter combos, not necessarily the most difficult or the most optimal. If you want to learn more about what your character has to offer, I suggest exploring the longer combo guides found in the Pokkén character Discords, as they will often be the most up-to-date with the current version of the game. The sample combos in the tutorial mode are also very good at helping you figure out your character’s combo theory.

Since most of your time will be spent Sliding around the field or searching for Aqua Jet, it’s helpful to know these shorter confirms:

5X 6[A]A or CA 5X 6[A]A

2Y 5AA (for Defense Debuff and knockdown) or 5AB (for corner carry) or 5AX (for pure damage) or 5AY for (knockdown or wallsplat combos.)

If you’re trying to practice wallsplat combos, pick the Training Gym stage and push the dummy over to the red icon on the floor.

Many of Empoleon’s more damaging combos are done against the wall after wallsplatting. The ingame combo tutorial teaches you some of the basic concepts of juggling your opponents with a launcher or a wallsplat, using 4X and Surf as some examples. Since starting a combo off 4X and Drill Peck is a bit impractical, I’ll provide a shorter bread-and-butter that works off 2Y or Aqua Jet Cut, and then a longer combo that will make use of Surf Cancelling. The tighter parts of these combos that you will need to practice will be the Surf Cancel into j.Y and the 2[X] into the immediate single SL.Y.

2Y 5AY W! 8Y 8AX

2Y 5AY W! 2[X] SL.Y 4ABR j.Y 4AX


Empoleon is a fearsome character with a kit focused around making that fear known and demanding your opponent’s respect. His gameplan in both Phases involves rushing down with a plethora of innate traversal options in order to pressure his opponent and deal major damage. Defog can clear projectiles in fullscreen situations, Ice Beam and 2X allow Empoleon to Slide around the stage, and Aqua Jet will put him in the other player’s face immediately. Once he’s there, he can continue the pressure with more Defog and Drill Peck into a wide variety of options that are all incredibly threatening, especially Surf, Steel Wing, and Rock Smash. Burst Empoleon is very lowkey, but adds the Deep Blue Monarch command grab to the long list of mixup tools. Bring Supports that can hold down the neutral and make your approach safer while also limiting your opponent’s offensive options.

The next guide in the Trainer’s School series will focus on the legendary manmade Pokémon, number 150- the Genetic Pokémon, Mewtwo!

I leave you with a clip of the first ragequit that I’ve ever earned while trying to film footage for the Trainer’s School guides. (It is not, I assure you, my first RQ ever.)

Nathan “Lite the Iron Man” Dhami can be found on Twitter (@LiteTheIronMan,) on Twitch (,) and at your local.

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