If you’re shopping for someone who’s never heard of Bakugan, or for someone who’s old enough to drive (even with a learner’s permit), you can stop reading now. The card-collecting and cartoon franchise has a lot of young, hardcore fans, but anyone outside that group probably won’t find much to like in the brand’s Wii outing.
Those fans, though, will have a blast. Bakugan: Battle Brawlers offers Bakugan nerds the opportunity to build and obsess over their decks, and it spruces up the battles with platforming and mini-game challenges. Developer Now Production certainly could have handled a few things better, but this game deserves a lot of credit for its enthusiastic fan service.
First, a primer. Bakugan are tiny creatures who fight in arenas, and each has one of six different “attributes” (blue Bakugan are Aquos, black ones are Darkus, etc.). In the real-life game, the Bakugan are represented by marbles that pop open to form creatures magnetically; in the video game, they’re spheres that transform into detailed monsters.
At the beginning of a game, players put down magnetized “gate cards” in the middle of the arena and take turns tossing their Bakugan. If one player gets two Bakugan to pop open on the same card, the card is his (or he can choose to move one to another card). If opposing players’ Bakugan land on the same card, the Bakugan fight for it.
The winner of the fight is determined by several factors. One, each Bakugan starts with a certain number of hit points. Two, each gate card gives bonus HP to creatures with certain attributes and features. Three, as the fight begins, each player can use ability cards to boost his character’s strength.
Some additional sources of HP are unique to the video game. Scattered throughout each arena are various power-ups, and each battle features an HP-enhancing mini-game. Also, players earn money by winning matches, and they can use their earnings to (among other things) upgrade Bakugan to make them stronger. A match ends when one player wins three gate cards. The card game is two-player-only (according to the official rules), but the video game is playable one-on-one, in two teams of two, or as a free-for-all.
These nuances make the video game more than a simple cash-in on the card game and cartoon. Take, for example, the power-ups. Thanks to them, the developers had a reason to make the arenas into huge and complicated 3-D pinball machines, with all sorts of odd contraptions that propel your Bakugan in various directions. Even after you aim your Bakugan and throw it, you can steer it and even use its own power to propel it forward, and other players can shoot at it to knock it off course. If you spend too much energy and momentum chasing power-ups, you won’t be able to get back to a gate card, meaning that you lose everything you found, plus your turn. This adds both a platforming element and a sense of risk and reward to what would otherwise be a dull marbles game.
Fortunately, the controls work well. You select a Bakugan by grabbing it with the A and B buttons, and toss it by miming a throw with the Wii-mote. You can choose between normal and hard throws; if you throw hard and smack your Bakugan into an opponent’s, you perform a Sphere Attack, knocking off some HP before the battle even starts. Tilting the Wii-mote steers, and the A button makes your Bakugan roll on its own when you run out of momentum.
Once you get into a battle, you compete in one of three mini-games to increase your HP. Two of the available games are surprisingly engaging. In one, the symbols for Bakugan attributes flash on the screen, and you have to shoot the ones that represent your Bakugan. You have to think fast and aim accurately, especially if your opponent started with more HP. The other is a rhythm game played by hitting the A and B buttons and shaking the Wii-mote at the right times, which gets complicated and demanding as the game wears on. The third just asks you to shake the Wii-mote as quickly as possible, which is lame.
The currency system is the game’s most tedious element, but fans of the card game will like it. When you earn money, you can upgrade your Bakugan (adding not only HP but also things like jump height and steering ability), buy new Bakugan, and add cards to your collection. Some Bakugan are better suited for certain arenas, so when you unlock a new battleground, you’ll often have to build a whole new fighting force and supporting deck to use there.
You can play games alone or with up to three friends (local only), but the main focus here is the story mode, which starts with you designing your character. From there it’s just a chain of matches for the most part (some are official tournaments, while others are friendly battles in the park), with some cutscenes thrown in. The story is that Bakugan started falling from the sky, and kids, not realizing their powers, started playing a game with them. As you progress, the story unfolds and new arenas, difficulty levels, tournaments, and park opponents unlock. Before each match, you can adjust your opponent’s skill level, so if things get too hard toward the end, you can tone it down.
The cel-shaded anime graphics are impressive, giving the game a look very similar to that of the TV show. The Bakugan are surprisingly detailed, especially in the final cutscene of each battle, when the winner viciously attacks the loser. These cutscenes don’t change from battle to battle, but that’s another matter. The arenas are dazzling in their color and complexity.
The game’s biggest flaw is that there are way too many animations and snippets of dialogue. To be fair, you can skip the awful story cutscenes, but it’s simply annoying that every time you go to a different menu, your character feels the need to babble about your options. Not to mention that every single character has to say a cheesy line after every battle. You can turn off the voices from the main menu, but this game still could have used an option to automatically skip all the non-gameplay screens. Then again, maybe children will like the constant yapping more than this curmudgeonly adult reviewer did.
We have some smaller complaints as well. For one, the Japanese dance-pop music is obnoxious. For another, the facial animations look like they come from South Park.
To be sure, this game is aimed at a niche audience of kids who already like Bakugan, and it has its share of flaws. On the whole, though, it gives those kids exactly what they want: A reasonably deep deck-building and card-collecting system, coupled with some simple, engaging platforming and mini-game challenges. For the right child, these features make Bakugan: Battle Brawlers a perfect gift.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.1 Graphics
The game looks just like the TV show. 4.7 Control
Throwing and steering your Bakugan is a breeze. 1.2 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The voice work and dance music are extremely obnoxious, though the schoolchildren this game is meant for may disagree. 3.5
This game offers card collecting, platforming, and mini-games, and it’s more than just a cash-in on a popular license.
3.6 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.