|System: DS||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: HAL Labs||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Nintendo||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Nov. 10, 2008||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Everyone||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Amanda L. Kondolojy
Although the Pokémon franchise has been around for more than ten years, one thing that fans of the series can agree on is that most of the series appeal can be attributed to the fun RPG battle aspects of the first Red and Blue games. These strategy-based battles were tons of fun and the format of the early Pokémon titles really established the franchise and helped build it into the gaming powerhouse it is today.
However, the Pokémon franchise has evolved into more than a few sub-series over the years, and the most striking of these has to be the Pokémon Ranger series. While most traditional Pokémon titles focus on battling other Pokémon, the first Ranger title allowed you to step into the shoes of a Ranger cadet whose main goal was to save and befriend vulnerable Pokémon rather than catch and train them. It was quite a departure from the handheld series at-large, but for the most part it was an enjoyable title. This year sees a new addition to the Pokémon Ranger sub-series: Shadows of Almia. While this title changes the location and adds some new Pokémon to befriend, on the whole this title is far too similar to last years title, and even for series newcomers, Shadows of Almia feels far too repetitive.
For those who are new to the Pokémon Ranger sub-series, this title is all about puzzle-style action. You play as either a male or female ranger, and it is your job to use a special tool, known as a Styler to form friendships with Pokémon and help save them from bad situations that can range from being chased by little kids to falling into the clutches of an evil mastermind. As you may have guessed, the Styler is activated by using the stylus, and you are able to prove your undying friendship for these downtrodden Pokémon by drawing circles around them after establishing contact with them. One key difference in the actual Styler mechanic is the presence of a new friendship bar that you can fill by drawing circles to completely befriend the Pokémon. This is different from the previous entry, in which your capture success depended on sustained circle drawing.
In Shadows of Almia, a dastardly plot has been uncovered that involved hypnotized and manipulated Pokémon. These Pokémon attack at will and may mistakenly hurt those around them. It will be up to you to go on various missions with your friends to save all these influenced Pokémon. The game has a linear progression system, which has you accepting certain missions, much like in the Pokémon Mystery Dungeon series. However, these missions lack a lot of the variation of the aforementioned series, and the gameplay gets very repetitive after a while, especially when you consider that the main mechanic involves circling Pokémon with a stylus.
However, there are a few sources of variation in the game, one of which is the different environments. Shadows of Almia does a great job of creating some lush environments. The land of Almia is a very diverse place where you can go on missions in lush green meadows or in deep undersea areas. The level design itself is also done very well, and there are plenty of puzzle aspects to each mission to tide you over until the inevitable circling can begin.
One thing that Pokémon fans will definitely appreciate about this title is the new Pokémon. This is the first Pokémon Ranger game to feature all-new Pokémon from the Diamond and Pearl series and has a much larger Pokédex than previous titles. You are also able to choose your companion Pokémon this time (instead of just having one assigned.) Pokémon that you can choose as your companion include Muchlax, Kricketot, Starly, as well as fifteen other Pokémon.