This Pokémon Needs More Meat on Its Bones
Nintendo has been rather ambitious this summer, openly announcing a ton of first-party titles slated for the rest of the year. Without a doubt, Nintendo intends for this boon of releases to spur sales of the Wii U, and fans of the venerable game maker are giddy with the prospect of so many of their favorite series coming soon to the newest home console.
However, the push for game releases happens often in the industry, with publishers cracking the deadline whip at developers to get something out the door. I can’t help but think that such is the case with Pokémon Rumble U , a beat ’em up, button-mashing game starring the wildly popular characters as your combatants. I’m puzzled because Nintendo typically maintains a credo of ensuring its products are complete before sending them off to retail, yet this eShop offering seems drastically unfinished. Whatever the case may be, Pokémon Rumble U is severely lacking in content and gameplay variety. It has plenty of potential, yet despite heavy criticisms of past games in the spin-off series of being too shallow, Rumble U strips the design even further. You may find small spurts of cooperative and competitive enjoyment when playing alongside friends and family, but with a lacking reward system, there’s little incentive to come back for more.
The story is a trivial aspect of a game that is basically arena battles against various Pokémon. Yet there is still an attempt to tie a linear progression in between bouts. In Rumble U , you play as toy versions of Pokémon, where disaster has struck during a massive shipment of the shiny, new toys. Boxes of Toy Pokémon are launched everywhere, and your initial squad of four Pokémon are swept down a river. The objective is to round up the stray Pokémon and make your way back to the toy store. The snag is that many Pokémon are reluctant to lose their freedom and will resist your attempts to play the Pied Piper of Hamelin.
After choosing a squad of four Pokémon, you are cast into an arena where waves of Pokémon attempt to beat you into submission. The action is frenetic to the point where you’ll oftentimes lose your bearings on the one Pokémon you are controlling. But since combat is limited to only one or two attack moves, simply button-mashing your way through a wall of enemies is a viable tactic. Actually, there is very little strategy to be found in Pokémon Rumble U . Choosing a team of Pokémon with element types that are strong against the final boss is a simple way to emerge victorious. Defeating Pokémon will sometimes return them to Pokéballs, thus befriending and adding them to your battalion to choose during subsequent matches. Each Pokémon also has a set Attack Power score–the higher the number, the stronger the Pokémon.
To add some challenge and replayability, matches have optional objectives that, when met, can unlock rare and Legendary Pokémon. Sometimes, Master Pokéballs will be dropped during a match, which can be picked up and thrown at Pokémon to instantly capture them (although tougher Pokémon may have to be defeated first). Also, yellow gems can be collected that fill a Super Attack bar. When fully charged, you can repeatedly tap the touch screen on the GamePad to attack every enemy on the battlefield. You will amass plenty coins (called Points in the game), which are used to purchase continues should you fall in battle.
The entire package is missing many simple features that should be included. For instance, you can collect all 649 known Pokémon, but your holding area can only store 400, after which the weakest members vanish when stronger Pokémon are befriended. You cannot dismiss or sell useless Pokémon manually, nor can you sort your roster. It is set from the highest Power Attack score to the lowest, so forget any ideas of grouping Pokémon types together. In single-player, though there are four Pokémon on your team, you only control the Player 1 slot; a rather tactically unintelligent AI controls the rest. You cannot switch between Pokémon during the match, which would have been a nice inclusion. Finally, the Pokémon cannot level up, learn new skills, or evolve, so don’t get comfortable with any favorites because they’ll quickly become useless.
The game does make use of a few cool features, though. The Near Field Communicator (NFC), found on the GamePad, constitutes one of these. The implementation of this Wii U function makes Pokémon Rumble U the first game on the system to utilize it. A small selection of Pokémon figurines can be purchased at GameStop stores, and when placed on the NFC, a marker will be uploaded into the game. These (and only these) Pokémon can be leveled up by spending coins to raise stats and purchase new skills. Additionally, the information is stored directly in the figurines, so you can bring your collection to a friend’s house and have all of your purchased abilities available.
Playing with friends is the ideal way to get enjoyment out of Pokémon Rumble U . Additional players make any match a breeze; plus, after you defeat the boss and the battlefield becomes littered with with coins, it’s every player for themselves as everyone rushes to grab the loot. The match is then tallied on a scoreboard, with extra points awarded for things like getting the last hit on the boss, defeating the most enemies, being hit the least, and other bonuses.
Pokémon Rumble U is the first game in the entire franchise displayed in HD, and the result is rather… disappointing. Yes, the color spectrum is full of vibrant hues, the animations are eye-popping and, for the most part, lag-free, and all the Pokémon toys have a glossy plastic coating, but the detailing is where the game falls short. Because of the manufactured finish of each Pokémon, there are no fur, scales, feathers, or other skin textures, nor do the Pokémon have fluid movements. And the arenas look like pop-up books with cardboard cutouts depicting three-dimensional objects.
The music also falls a little short. It’s nice that each Pokémon is given its signature call, but the entire audio feels decades old, full of synthesized tracks and scratchy sound effects.
Putting Pokémon Rumble U in the eShop rather than on retail shelves was a smart move for Nintendo, allowing the game to be bought for a significantly reduced price. That being said, you still won’t feel like you’re getting a good value for your purchase. If you have regular gaming buddies and drop some extra cash for figurines, then you may have spurts of fun, but any other scenario will have you moving on from this sadly lacking experience very quickly. It’s a shame because so much could have been done to make Pokémon Rumble U a really good game, but unfortunately, this mannequin was left naked.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 2.8 Graphics
There are plenty of colors to be happy about, but the lack of details makes this first HD Pokémon a weak herald. 3.0 Control
Moving and attacking are about as simple as they come. Anybody can play this game, and anyone can tire of the simplicity as well. 2.4 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Everything sounds like Pokémon, just Pokémon from over a decade ago. 2.5 Play Value
You can collect all the Pokémon ever created and battle with them; it’s just nowhere near as fun as it could have been. 2.7 Overall Rating – Average
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid
|2.5 – 2.9 = Average
|3.5 – 3.9 = Good
|4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor
|3.0 – 3.4 = Fair
|4.0 – 4.4 = Great
|5.0 = The Best