Super Pokemon Rumble
As far as slogans go, ‘Gotta catch ‘em all’ is pretty darn effective, nicely summing up the compulsive nature of the Pokemon games both in terms of gameplay and commercial aspirations. The latest instalment for the franchise, Super Pokemon Rumble (or, Pokemon Rumble Blast in the US) for the Nintendo 3DS, could quite easily have put its own spin on it, but ‘Gotta Beat ‘em All Up’ doesn’t roll off the tongue quite so nicely.
Super Pokemon Rumble could also have a disclaimer stating that ‘No real Pokemon were hurt in creation of this game’ seeing as those featured are wind-up toys rather than the blood, flesh and pixel pocket-sized monsters of previous games. Their clockwork nature doesn’t stop them having a hunger to fight that is every bit as strong as their ‘real’ counterparts though – and, fortunately for them, they don’t have to heed the every beck and call of an overbearing human trainer. Like the carnage that inevitably ensues when a school teacher leaves a room of rambunctious children to their own devices, the lack of a guiding hand gives the clock-work pokemon free reign – making this the most violent Pokemon yet.
This is very much a game of two halves. On the one side, you have a combat mechanic that (rather surprisingly) shares much in common with the scrolling beat ‘em ups of old; on the other is the task of collecting and levelling up the usual dizzying array of pocket monsters. It is in the former that Super Pokemon Rumble differentiates itself from the main entries in the series, as you take direct control of a single pokemon and negotiate a series of maps while beating up any and every other pokemon that crosses your path. Much like classic beat ‘em ups such as Final Fight and Streets of Rage, combat is very much a button mashing affair, which does make it very accessible but also rather monotonous. A degree of nuance is added through the ability to purchase and assign new moves as well as the ‘rock, paper, scissors’ effectiveness of specific moves against certain types of foes, but the combat mechanics themselves quickly wear thin.
This wouldn’t be quite so bad were the levels you face a little more interesting, but sadly they are bland in the extreme. The settings may change (think beaches, forests, caves…) but levels are devoid of any obstacles, puzzles or other distractions and are uniformly treks from A to B. Once you have made your way to the end of three such maps, you then face off against a larger boss character – always a pokemon that his been blown up to giant proportions. Again, there is little in the way of variety or challenge to these confrontations, with victory being grasped by the dodging of attacks and the mashing of the button which makes for an uninspired and largely uninteresting finale to each and every section.
Though you can change characters on the fly at any given time, should you lose three pokemon it’s game over; though this makes for a soupcon of challenge, we found the game over screen to be incredibly rare, which can make the repetitive nature of the game even more of a slog – it would really benefit from a more finely balanced sense of risk versus reward.
As you battle your way through levels you can collect fallen pokemon and add them to your roster and, once you have collected a pokemon of the required level, you are invited to enter that level’s ‘Battle Royale’ – last pokemon-standing affairs against a series of grunts and a collection of high powered foes. These should be bombastic, grandstanding battles but in reality merely crank the action a couple of notches above the monotony supplied by your journey to get there. Again, the Battle Royales smack of a title in desperate need of more mechanical variety.
Though the core gameplay may be lacking, die-hard Pokemon fans are relatively well serviced and should the compulsion to catch ‘em all return, there are hundreds of pokemon to collect and an impressive degree of possible customisation permutations, and it’s likely that it’s in this aspect that the game will find its audience. The series’ well established social aspects – namely the trading and sharing of pokemon – are also well covered, and the game also offers two-player games over wifi. The Toy Shop (in which the game is set) occasionally also receives customers (your Miis!) who spend points that are added to your account and can be spent on new skills and abilities.
Unfortunately for Super Pokemon Rumble, the disparity between the macro and micro make for a game that doesn’t gel. Though it’s attempts to ape the core mechanics of the main Pokemon games while adding its own action-focused spin could have worked, the combat simply isn’t interesting enough to hold your attention. The linear nature of the plot and paper thin characters also fail to deliver a significant carrot to pull you through the levels, making the whole affair rather aimless. It also sports some of the least inspiring uses of 3D that we’ve seen for some time, with the (admittedly) clean and colourful visuals looking curiously flat, even with the 3D slider on maximum.
Though Pokemon Rumble’s simplicity may have been easier to overlook when it was released as a Nintendo WiiWare title, this full price follow up should be seen as little more than a stop-gap that fails to advance the series in any meaningful way while delivering a gameplay experience that is forgettable as it is monotonous. Regardless of what that slogan says, you don’t have to catch ‘em all, and unless you’re the most committed pokemon fan out there, you might want to give this a miss.
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