What do you get when you take a fighting game and mash it in with a Pokémon? You get an arena brawler called Pokémon Rumble U.
Let's get started.
The story of Pokémon Rumble U goes like this, Toy Pokémon are accidentally spilled in their toy store and somehow find their way into a river. Thinking they are forever lost, the Pokémon wash up on shore and begin to make their way back to the toy store from which they originated. Along the way, they try to recruit other Toy Pokémon to join in them in their journey. The only caveat is that some of the Toy Pokémon have no interest in going home, so they fight them in hopes of 'encouraging' their cooperation.
It's a fun story that is as simple as the game.
Pokémon Rumble U is an all-out, button mashing brawler that doesn't reflect past Pokémon experiences that gamers are used to seeing. In fact, the only actual connection between other Pokémon games and Pokémon Rumble U is the inclusion of all 649 Pokémon characters. That's impressive, but sadly the connection doesn't get much deeper than that. Gone in the game are any chances (at least in the initial release) of upgrading, evolving or leveling up Pokémon characters. Instead, you simply put your Pokémon inside of an arena that, to its credit, does change once in awhile to spice the game up, to fight each other in a non-stop fight fest.
Once inside of the arena, players literally just button mash until all enemies are taken care of and put in their place. During the fights, players will run into a variety of different Pokémon to face, some bringing in some interesting ways to attack, while others just stand there and take it. Regretfully, that doesn't really matter in the scheme of things. Players will be restricted to limited attacks and the strategy to take down enemies will simply involve repetitively diving in and punching/kicking/attacking enemies. Once in a while you'll have to think things through, but just simply going in close and attacking will be the strategy for about 80 percent of the game.
Along the way, you'll have the opportunity to gather coins, candy and Poké Balls to add more Toy Pokémon to your collection. Is that enough motivation to keep playing the game? It depends on the type of gamer. For my son, who is five years old, he ate this game up for a couple of hours before moving on. For hardcore Pokémon fans, this probably will be the appetizer-appetizer-appetizer before the main entrée that is Pokémon X/Y. In other words, Pokémon fans probably won't be satisfied with this game at all, as it really doesn't add much value or enticement as the gamer moves forward with it.
I guess that's the downfall to the game, as the Pokémon series has always had that element of number crunching and character improving that generally drives more intelligent gamers to adore this title. There's no evolving, upgrading or leveling up in Pokémon Rumble U that keeps you moving forward. Every great strategy or role-playing title has this sort of 'improvement' factor, which adds a level of enticement to the game, and I could have seen where that would have lent well with Pokémon Rumble U. Sadly, it's excluded and the game becomes one-dimensional when it had the opportunity to do so much more.
Having said all this, Nintendo does add a little value to the entire scheme of things, as you can end up purchasing NFC figures (only $3.99 via GameStop) for the game and using the NFC feature of the Wii U Gamepad (you've been trying to push that non-button forever, right?) then you'll find a bit of depth, but not an incredible amount. Pokémon Rumble U tries to go that Skylanders/Disney Infinity route, and there is a lot of room for growth with that idea. As it stands, the game really doesn't do the idea justice, as there should be more for everyone up front with the game. You shouldn't have to depend on an NFC figure to make the game interesting, as it should be built interesting (and deep) in the first place. We were having a discussion at the DC offices last week about Disney Infinity versus Skylanders, and we were all in agreement that to succeed with a toy/video game idea, you must make the video game worth a darn. Again, that's where Pokémon Rumble U really falls short, as it is just a button mashing brawler that doesn't give the gamer any extra value up front without an NFC figure in the equation.
This leads into a missed opportunity by Nintendo, as the concept for building something better onto Pokémon Rumble U is right there in front of them. The mixture of toys and video games is a formula that can be proven successful (see Disney and Activision for details). The fact that Pokémon is one of the largest and most successful series in the Nintendo family means that selling a deep game that is mixed perfectly with Pokémon figures could turn out to be another lucrative source for the big N. For that to happen, Pokémon Rumble U has to have more substance to the game side of it to make that work.
As a ghostly voice in the movie Field of Dreams said, "If you build it, they will come."
Build it better, Nintendo, and they will certainly come and buy it.