Take everything you love about Pokémon and forget about it.
For all the Pokmon spin-off games that most of you readers likely habitually ignore, the dungeon-crawlers probably top the list. It’s a powerful franchise, to be sure, but most often these offshoots feel like the games intended for the masses of kids, merely excited about the prospects of toying with their Pokémon once again in a different setting (and rarely interested in the actual quality of the game in comparison to the mainline series).
Regardless, if there’s one thing you can’t fault Pokémon Rumble Blast for, it’s the scope of the game. It’s a huge adventure filled with every single traditional Pokémon available to date (all 649 of them), and that’s an impressive statistic. Well, toy Pokémon, more accurately—which you control one at a time in a dungeon-crawling, action/adventure romp through segmented arena battles in a variety of environments.
Here’s how it works: there are a number of worlds in the game, each divided into levels, Mario-style (e.g., 1-1, 1-2, and so on). Each level—or “field”, as the game refers to it—contains numerous areas scattered across a small navigable map. These areas are sort of like sub-levels in the levels, and each features its own theme (such as forest, beach, fire, etc.). Finally, each area is more or less a series of small arena rooms connected by springboards. The entire game is, thus, essentially a sequence of one arena battle after the next, with occasional exceptions and modifiers.
They aren't Pokémon; they're TOY Pokémon. Get it right.
In spite of the game’s monstrous scope, the gameplay itself is simple—considerably simpler than any of the heady traditional Pokémon RPGs. The A and B buttons are the only two attacks available to you for each Pokémon you control, and there isn’t a heck of a lot of strategy involved. The circle pad controls the movement of the currently-selected Pokémon through the live environments populated with opposing wild creatures, and, more or less, you run around and button-mash your way through the swarms of said creatures before moving onto the next room.
If a Pokémon faints, you simply choose another from the menu provided you have enough “keys” (read: lives) remaining, and life goes on. They can be revived at the next fountain you reach in a town someplace (and getting back to town is as easy as walking to the mole’s hole on the area map, so it’s no big deal).
There is some strategy involved in the type matchups as usual, but there isn’t even much point in wasting time planning who to bring along, as you can carry a ton of Pokémon in your party, ready for swapping into the action at the press of the menu button. As you mow down opposing Pokés, you’ll typically receive a plethora of money, but occasionally you’ll instead collect the Pokémon itself for your immediate use thereafter.
Every Pokémon carries a power rating that indicates (obviously) its strength, and they’re sorted by these ratings by default. In other words, you can collect multiples of the same type of Pokémon, but each one can have a completely different power rating. There are also special traits at play, some of which (for instance) increase the movement speed or allow your Pokémon to sap HP from its victims. Using the money you collect, you can purchase new moves at various vending machines scattered throughout the environments and customize your creatures.
This sounds familiar
That’s because it is. Remember that Gauntlet-esque mediocre Pokémon Rumble WiiWare game from way back in November 2009? Well, this is basically the same game except much larger, portable, and slightly expanded conceptually. Considering that the original WiiWare game was only 1,500 points, whether or not that makes this game’s $39 price tag reasonable is another question entirely.
Just take what you see here and multiply by several dozen hours.
Granted, there are some other additions to the template that provide some further complexity (and some of these weren’t present in Pokémon Rumble). Each area finishes with a short boss battle of sorts (basically a giant version of a particular Pokémon), and it’s not much to talk about. Battle Royales, on the other hand, are sort of like the gyms of Pokémon Rumble Blast. Special rules apply (you’re limited to the types of Pokémon chosen for that particular arena), and there is a time limit for victory. As you defeat Pokémon in the battle, they drop time clocks which add back precious seconds. It’s fun, but still not all that different.
There’s also Team Battles, where three of your Pokémon simultaneously vie to defeat a group of foes. There isn’t much else to these apart from the usual, though you can collect energy and unleash a powerful flurry of offense after killing enough baddies. Finally, there’s a so-called Charge Battle, which is truthfully nothing more than a bunch of button-mashing.
Finally, there’s the multiplayer. I was unfortunately unable to test this feature thanks to the fact that I only had one game card available for this review, but it’s straightforward enough anyway. First, there’s a basic StreetPass mode where players can battle other players’ Pokémon selectively with the reward of “borrowing” one of their creatures for help clearing the rest of the current area.
More interestingly, however, two players (each with their own copy of the game) can team up for cooperative play over local wireless through the game. For all its repetition, surely the game is more enjoyable under such circumstances (again, think Gauntlet). There’s also a heightened chance of collecting Pokémon when playing cooperatively, which is cool. While it’s appreciated (and almost expected) that this option’s included, it’s still completely puzzling why you can’t play over the internet. It’s too bad, because four-player co-op internet play could really add to the experience.
Rumble Blast inevitably suffers from a serious lack of depth extrapolated to an atoms-thick film overtop miles and miles of Pokémon collection. It’s repetitive, uninspired, and completely lacking the itch that defines the Pokémon franchise’s best offerings.