A Spin-off about circling. How ironic.
The fact that I love Pokémon as much as I do can be very much a curse as it is a gift. The traditional Pokémon RPGs have captured my heart from day one and have consumed my time for many hours since then. From replaying the original Red and Blue numerous times to logging 300+ hours into Gold/Silver/Crystal and spending the time to effort train my Pokémon in every previous iteration of the game, I’ve enjoyed these simplistic but extremely deep RPGs ever since grade school (and will continue to enjoy them with the release of Black & White and beyond). However, as Pokémon probably has a larger overall appeal to younger audiences (despite the fact that it is played by people of all ages), there are many other attempts to the series that may not have as wide of an appeal.
With a global franchise as huge as Pokémon, there obviously have been many other types of games branded with the Pokémon name and almost all of them have been highly successful (names such as Pokémon Stadium, Pokémon Snap, Pokémon Pinball, Pokémon Puzzle Leage/Trozei, Pokémon Mystery Dungeon, and Pokémon Ranger all come to mind as extremely successful spin-offs). But success doesn’t always translate to global appeal, and with a franchise that first and foremost appeals to kids, there are bound to be some games that someone such as myself don’t enjoy, despite my ongoing, passionate love affair with the traditional RPGs.
Take Pokémon Mystery Dungeon as an example. I enjoyed the first game in the series, as it was a nice change in format from old-school RPG to dungeon crawler, but all iterations beyond Red/Blue Rescue team don’t vary an already archaic formula. Now, there is no problem with this when selling to kids but for any Pokémon gamer 20 and above, the repetition may prevent them from playing through later iterations of the game.
As for Pokémon Ranger, yet another series derivative that was born in the last 4 years, there have now been 3 games created in the series, each about a 2 year span apart from one another. When the first title arrived, I actually enjoyed the innovative use of the DS’s controls and changeup in gameplay design that we were exposed to (despite how repetitive it eventually became). However, I found it tiresome scrolling through the excessive amounts of text that the storyline brought about as well as the rather dry narrative that most definitely appeals to children foremost. With the second iteration, Shadows of Almia, I realized that the experience was really just more of the same, as is the case with Mystery Dungeon, and the repetitiveness of circling Pokémon to befriend them began to wear on me a little more.
Now, with Pokémon Ranger: Guardian Signs, the third installment in the series, I knew that there was probably the same case of repetition present for this game as in previous ones. However, I could only hope that there would be enough solid editions to the formula, as well as a less wordier story, to help bring me back into the series. After all, the connectivity between these games and the classic RPGs has become more and more significant and in this version, you can now transfer the rare Shaymin, Heatran, and even a Deoxys to either Diamond, Pearl, Platinum, HeartGold, or SoulSilver. Has Creatures Inc. finally created the Pokémon Ranger sequel that will appeal to all ages?
This Pokémon Ranger begins differently than the other games by putting you immediately into the action. I wondered if this might mean the story would be less dragging than in previous experiences as you begin in hot pursuit of two ‘Pokémon Pinchers’, the evil force that is actively capturing and persecuting Pokémon for their own gain. By moving the stylus around the screen, you can guide your character through the sky, dodging the projectiles of your foes. Once they run out of ammunition, however, you move in the way of a projectile and save your partner Pokémon Guardian, thus causing you to plummet into the ocean below. Next, you realize your Pokémon Styler has fallen off into the ocean and you have to turn the DS sideways and double tap to swim quickly once your meter fills up. The action was a welcomed addition to the beginning sequence.
Unfortunately, however, after you acquire your Styler, the game immediately enters back into story mode and this is when the text begins its tirade of storytelling. Before long, you’ve tapped through a huge amount of text that cannot be sped up in any way (I couldn’t find an option to do so). After a flashback, you find yourself washed up on a beach and play resumes in the normal Pokémon Ranger format, where you move around using the stylus, encounter battles with wild Pokémon and circle them repeatedly with your stylus to befriend them.
Once you’ve befriended a Pokémon, you can add him to a temporary team of up to 7 Pokémon. These Pokémon follow you around and can be used in a few different ways. First of all, you’ll need to use Pokémon throughout the game in the over world to alter objects and allow you to progress. Thus, if there is a log in the way, you’ll need a Pokémon such as Bulbasaur to use Cut and sever the log before you can pass. Secondly, Pokémon can also be used within battle (but don’t have to be). Each Pokémon has a different move that either hurts the opponent or helps you out. Thus, an electric Pokémon such as Magnemite or Mareep can restore your styler energy (HP) within battle when used or a Pokémon with cut, strength, etc. can attack the opponent to help lower their HP. You can use as many Pokémon as you’d like in a battle but no battle can be completed without ultimately circling the Pokémon to appease/befriend them.
The rest of the story all feels a little generic to me. You encounter a Pichu with a Ukulele that is on a search to rescue his friends from the Pokémon Pinchers and you’ll travel from area to area finishing both necessary and side quests. Eventually, after chasing him around, he joins forces with you and serves as the one permanent helper in your group (it must be noted that you aren’t given a choice of helpers like in previous games, but rather are limited to Ukulele Pikachu solely to go along with any other come-and-go Pokémon you encounter).
Taking place in the vein of the Gold/Silver/Crystal generation, though, you’ll encounter Entei, Suicune, and Raikou along the way as well as Latios and Latias from the Ruby/Sapphire games. These serve a special purpose because they help to serve as a faster means of transportation, as you can ride their back to travel quickly through the air or land and as is with the title of the game, they can be summoned by forming the proper “guardian sign” with your stylus on the touch screen. Each different legendary is summoned with a different guardian sign that are found as you progress through the game and this use of the touch screen is a nice addition to the already diverse use of the touch controls that the Pokémon Ranger games utilize.
As was the case with the second game in the series, this game is much longer than the original game. With its numerous side quests (as well as extra quests once you finish the game). You can play this game for easily 20 hours or more and if you’re interested in getting those extra goodies to bring over to your traditional Pokémon games, you’ll have to do so (you won’t be able to bring over Shaymin or Heatran before you finish the game). There is also a multiplayer mode added to the game in which up to four players can play the game via wireless muiti-card gameplay. In these missions, players will experience a prequel to the single-player quest but will experience even more simplistic gameplay than the actual game brings forth. The catch, however, is that the game promotes this multi-card connectivity, as completing the missions leads to another one where you can catch and bring a Deoxys to your traditional Pokémon title.