Are you a fan of Pokémon, but have perhaps never been able to get into the main games? You know the ones, the color-coded RPGs, such as Black and White Version, or HeartGold and SoulSilver?
Perhaps you have instead been exposed to the popular anime/cartoon show, or read a few issues of the manga, but could never get into the decidedly RPG-styled grinding and trading game around which Nintendo has made enough money to sink the Titanic– no iceberg needed. Or perhaps you’ve simply seen some of the toys based on the nifty elemental critters who populate this world.
If that last one struck a chord, then you’re in luck: Nintendo has just released Pokémon‘s first foray into the world of the Nintendo 3DS, Pokémon Rumble Blast. Well, second, if you count Pokédex 3D, but that was just a freebie, and so it doesn’t seem to count.
Just toying around
Pokémon Rumble Blast is quite different from your standard Pokémon fare: rather than taking on the role of a rookie Pokémon trainer who wants to be the very best (like no one ever was) and runs afoul of everyone from villainous organizations to that jerk who wants to pick a fight with you because the sky is blue, Pokémon Rumble Blast is all about the Pokémon themselves… well, all about Pokémon toys, that is.
The game establishes the setting inside a toy shop populated by Miis from your Nintendo 3DS’s memory, but that is where the human element pretty much ends. From there, you are taken to the world of Toy Land, where Pokémon toys like to do the same thing as any other Pokémon: fight, all nice and friendly-like.
You get a taste of what the game is about in the tutorial, where it’s all action. Rather than selecting moves and defeating enemies to grow and evolve your Pokémon toy (referred to from here on as “Pokémon” for simplicity’s sake), you simply run around the playing field, dodging attacks from other Pokémon while dishing out your own. In a way, it feels like some classic games, such as Gauntlet or Smash TV, though some have likened it to Diablo (but we can’t speak for that one).
Other Pokémon games have you build up your favorites to make them better able to stand against more formidable opponents, but in Pokémon Rumble Blast, you probably won’t want to get too attached to any particular Pokémon. Rather than building them up, you acquire new Pokémon at random by defeating them and collecting the fallen toy, and from there, you’ll want to start using your more powerful toys in sunsequent, more difficult battles, leaving the ones you began with to gather dust.
It’s kind of sad, really. Especially if you’re a sucker for movies like Toy Story. Sure, Woody and Buzz were eventually able to get along fine and both take a spot in Andy’s heart, but if they were Pokémon, Woody would be eaten alive before too long.
Are you ready to Rumble?
As you proceed through the game, collecting Pokémon all the while, you will have the opportunity to revisit areas you’ve already cleared, and in doing so, you may find some new Pokémon. And even if you encounter Pokémon you’ve already collected, they may not be the same– some will have different power levels, different attacks, or even both. And in some cases, you might even find versions who wield two attacks.
For the most part, attacks are all ranged, save for a few oddities like “Tackle.” Even kicks are essentially ranged attacks (and potent, at that). Different Pokémon will move and fire at different speeds, and the trajectory and range of their attacks may differ, but the core of the gameplay comes down to running, shooting, and hoping you don’t get cornered and attacked.
In most of the game’s areas, this isn’t a problem. In fact, you can run right past everything if you want to, and just make a beeline for the boss. Once in that enclosed arena, you must defeat the giant boss Pokémon in order to proceed… and if you’re lucky, add them to your team.
After acquiring Pokémon of sufficient power, you’ll be allowed to enter the Battle Royale, in which you are placed at the center of an every-Pokémon-for-themselves, last-Pokémon-standing brawl. As the game progresses, new rules get added to these Battle Royales: time limits become the norm, with some areas hosting multiple battles requiring you to only use Pokémon of a specific type, and others with back-to-back Battle Royales.
Fun, but fierce
Pokémon Rumble Blast may seem a bit simple– and really, it is– but it is also pretty challenging.
Things seem rather simple at first, but before you are even out of the first region, you’ll notice that the challenge ramps up a bit. Sometimes even your best Pokémon will get absolutely clobbered in battle, necessitating a return to previous areas to get stronger Pokémon. And even then, it might take a while.
There doesn’t seem to be any particular rhyme or reason to Pokémon deciding to join you, though it seems that elements such as speedy takedowns and taking minimal damage may play some part. Even then, we went after a certain boss Pokémon for quite a while before it was finally able to be caught, much to our frustration all the while. Prior to that, we seemed to encounter some sort of rage mode, where the boss would simply knock the crud out of our chosen Pokémon until it fell, and there seemed to be little means of avoiding it.
As in other Pokémon games, elements play some part, though it seems that sometimes sheer brute strength can be just as helpful as taking water to a fire type. It’s a weird mix which warrants some experimentation on the part of the players.
And then there are the Battle Royales and their changing rules. The worst part is perhaps the time limit, which is extended by collecting clocks from fallen Pokémon before they disappear. Unfortunately, to get those clocks requires you to get right into the line of fire, making strategizing a touch difficult.
By the time we reached the end of the first region, it felt like an endgame scenario. We managed to acquire some stronger Pokémon and continue trying, and eventually persevered. Following that? Things felt considerably easier, as though we were back at the start of the game, thus presenting something of a cycle of difficulty.
Fortunately, there is a two-player mode which allows players to team up over a local wireless connection, provided both have completed the areas in which they wish to team up. This not only makes laying the smack down on the little critters a bit easier, but also increases your odds of collecting new Pokémon.
But is it worth the money?
That is the big question. As you may already know, Pokémon Rumble Blast is a sort of sequel to a 2009 WiiWare game. The two are very similar, but that one went for $15 two years ago, whereas this one is now $34.99 at retail– over twice as much.
The game is fun to play, but a touch repetitive and simple. Even the graphics are on the simple side, using low-polygon models which could probably have been easily achieved on the original Nintendo DS, though with the benefit of higher resolution and the system’s 3D effect.
Despite being a bit repetitive, the game does have quite a bit for Pokémon fans, with over 600 of the little rascals to collect from throughout the series’ history.
Pokémon Rumble Blast basically boils down to being a good arcade-styled action affair, one which is probably more ideal for younger fans of the franchise who may or may not have a strong interest in the more traditional RPG entries. It is a difficult entry to recommend wholeheartedly due to its price; if possible, playing the WiiWare entry is perhaps more ideal, and if you love what is presented there and wish to have a whole lot more of it, then this is the game for you.
More simply put, it’s a pretty good game, but not quite “great.” If we could rate it three and a half stars, that is closer to the recommendation we would like to give it.
Pokémon Rumble Blast is now available for $34.99 on the Nintendo 3DS. A review copy was provided to us by Nintendo of Canada.