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Monster battling continues to thrive, with the latest craze coming in the form of Bakugan. Though some gamers may not be quite familiar with its brand of card strategy, most folks probably know someone with a little brother who’s invested heavily into the franchise. With that in mind, we hop into the ring and get ready to brawl in this latest adventure from Activision.
Would you believe it? The story in Bakugan revolves around winning tournaments in order to become “the very best.” Like Pokémon, Dragon Quest Monsters, and Yu-Gi-Oh before it, you’ll take on the role of a spunky kid with grand aspirations that get sidetracked by an evil plot. The story here is completely generic, but young Bakugan fans will likely eat it up.
Though you’re only given the option of playing as a boy character, you will be able to customize your Bakugan brawler to a certain extent. Options include skin color, eye type and hair, as well as shoes, shirt, and pants. The selection is fairly limited, but you can go to your house at any time between brawls in order to change out your character’s look.
Rather than being given an overworld to roam, you’ll progress through the story via a basic hub. The selection of menu options include your house, a store, the park, and tournament events. Bits of story are routinely tossed in between tournaments or when making visits to the park, and though the presentation feels tight overall, it’s a pretty barebones production.
In spite of first impressions, Bakugan: Battle Brawlers offers a somewhat unique combination of gameplay elements that separate it from the pack of other monster battlers. In order to get an idea of how Battle Brawlers works, imagine taking the card gameplay of the Yu-Gi-Oh series, tossing in a pinball mechanic, and then mixing those elements with a handful of stylus-based mini-games. It’s not an especially challenging game, but there’s definitely some solid entertainment here, especially for younger gamers looking to get their feet wet with the whole card-battling thing.
Keeping the entire process fairly simple, your arsenal consists of a deck comprised of three Gate cards, three Bakugan, and three Ability cards. You’ll be battling in a variety of arenas based on specific elemental attributes, and choosing the right cards and Bakugan for the job is usually essential to winning brawls.
The first order of business when entering the arena is to choose a Gate card to throw down onto the field, which your Bakugan will have to land on in order to battle an opponent. The ultimate object of each match is to win three Gate cards, either by defeating an enemy’s Bakugan or by successfully landing two of your own Bakugan on the same card. It’s not a complicated formula, but when pieced together with the other gameplay components, Battle Brawlers manages to be good fun.
When your turn comes up, you can opt to toss another Gate card onto the field and/or lob a Bakugan into the fray. Bakugan make their entrance in ball form when tossed, allowing them to roll around arenas, hitting boosters and bumpers and picking up power-ups before attempting to land on a Gate card. Tossing is executed by swiping upward on the touch screen, and the game measures the force with which you throw your Bakugan. You can nudge your monster ball with additional swipes, as well as blow into the DS’ microphone in order to jump. The microphone seems to be particularly sensitive, however, and often our Bakugan would jump without having actually blown into the mic.
Meeting up with an opponent’s Bakugan on a Gate card will take you into an actual monster battle. Gate cards also have an elemental alignment, as well as various effects that can power up a particular type of Bakugan. Each monster has a base Gate Power (GP), and if a card’s alignment is in your favor, you’ll get a nice bonus added onto your GP before the battle mini-game begins. Some cards will offer a double GP bonus for a certain Bakugan, while other cards might prohibit the use of Ability cards during the battle. It’s an element of the game that offers just enough strategy without setting the learning curve too high.
Actual battles consist of playing through simple mini-games that range from scratching the touch screen rapidly, to tracing an icon as it loops around the screen. It’s not the most compelling portion of the gameplay, but it fits alongside Battle Brawler’s other components in a way that feels fun.
The last key feature of battles is the use of Ability cards. You can bring up to three of these cards with you into matches, and they’ll help give you an edge during individual battles. Whereas one type of Ability card might nullify an opponent’s GP bonus, another card might temporarily disable them.
There are a handful of other considerations, such as Bakugan stats and special abilities that play into the strategy of Battle Brawlers, and the game does a good job of instructing the player along the way. Unfortunately, the overall adventure is fairly shallow. You’ll compete in a tournament, do a bit of shopping, go to your house to tweak your deck, and maybe stop by the park for an extra match. But the game stays on one set track the entire way through.
Visually, Battle Brawlers is pretty impressive, though the stakes have gone up considerably on DS over the years. Aside from the main hub, the game is fully rendered in 3D, and the character models are especially attractive. The anime style is represented nicely on the dual screen, but the variety is pretty sparse. There are only eight arenas to unlock for Battle Arena mode, and most of the story takes place inside one set of corridors. Still, it’s a good-looking game with a fair amount of polish.
The music is a mix of heavy metal and hip-hop, all of which make a decent fit for the game’s premise and intended audience. Each of the characters has an utterance or two you’ll hear during interactions, but that’s about the extent of the voice work. The sound effects could have been a bit stronger, considering the pinball elements of Bakugan tossing. A few punchy pings and whistles go a long way when banging bumpers and such.
Bakugan: Battle Brawlers for DS is a surprisingly respectable showing by Activision. With so many publishers putting little effort into titles aimed at the younger gaming audience, it’s refreshing to see fans of this license get something worth playing. In the end, though, the lack of variety and stale pacing make this a game that’s only really fun in very small doses. You can pick it up for a match or two, but most players will likely find the repetition tiresome.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.0 Graphics
There’s not a whole lot of variety in terms of visuals, but it’s an attractive, anime-inspired game overall. 3.5 Control
No particular aspect of the game’s controls or mechanics are great, but the smaller bits come together to make for an enjoyable gaming experience. 3.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The fidelity isn’t outstanding, but the selection of themes matches the whole Bakugan thing fairly well. Sound effects get the job done but could have been more impactful. 3.2
Battle Brawlers is a really tight package; it just isn’t a very deep package. The story is short, and the gameplay is repetitive. The local-multiplayer component might prove to be a particularly valuable addition if you can find a friend or two with a copy of the game.
3.4 Overall Rating – Fair
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.