It’s been over a year since Pokémon Ranch released on WiiWare, so it’s a safe bet starved fans will appreciate the latest side dish Nintendo has served up for the platform. Pokémon Rumble doesn’t offer traditional RPG gameplay like the main series of Pokémon games, but it does contain most of the key elements Pokémon aficionados find so alluring.
Like Nintendo’s other mammoth license, Mario, there’s never been a heavy requirement for story in a Pokémon game. Keeping with tradition, the player is given merely the basics about the Pokémon toys they’ll be controlling, along with a goal of becoming the Battle Royale champion. Oddly enough, it’s all the excuse you’ll need to progress through the game, since collecting ’em all is still the focus here.
Yup, you’re not actually controlling Pokémon, but rather wind-up Pokémon toys. You’ll begin the game by taking control of a Rattata, and by battling through a series of dungeons, you’ll befriend new Pokémon toys, as well as earn Poké money. There are four ranked areas, each with six dungeons to explore. The actual gameplay is simple and repetitive, yet there’s some hidden depth here that gives the game a surprising amount of weight.
The actual gameplay in Pokémon Rumble is sort of a simplified hybrid of Diablo and a typical beat’em-up – a crawl and brawl, if you will. Combat is simple, yet the variety of Poké powers helps to keep things interesting as you stroll along straightforward paths, fighting horde after horde of enemy Pokémon toys. As you defeat the other Pokémon, they turn into Poké money, which you can then spend on various things back at the terminal.
Occasionally, you’ll knock a Pokémon toy out, and this will allow you to walk up to it and befriend it, adding it to your roster of playable Pokémon toys. It isn’t difficult to see where Nintendo’s going with all this. The entire process of entering a dungeon, collecting Poké money, befriending Pokémon, defeating a boss, and then heading back to the terminal to buy new powers and/or recruit new toys to your roster is every bit as addictive as any diehard Pokémon fan could hope for.
The dungeons are very plain, and that’s probably the biggest issue with the game. Though the combat is repetitive, collecting Poké money, befriending new Pokémon toys, and the variety of attacks are all very satisfying. But secret items and areas hidden within each dungeon would have been nice, and multiple paths, along with generally more interesting areas to explore, would have added so much to the adventure. There are only six dungeon types total in the game. Each time you move up to a new rank, there are new Pokémon to encounter, but for the most part, there’s not much new to see.
Once you’ve completed all six dungeons for a particular ranked area – or befriend a powerful enough Pokémon – you can head into the Battle Royale. You’re pitted against a slew of other toys at once, and you’ll have to defeat specified Pokémon before time runs out. Win the competition, and you move on to the next rank. Upon completing the game, you’ll unlock an Advanced mode, which offers the same gameplay and dungeons, but with new Pokémon and a stiffer challenge.
The real value of Pokémon Rumble is in how all its little bits come together to make for a cohesive collecting experience. There are seven buildings located back at the terminal. An information booth keeps track of everything from the amount of time you’ve logged in with the game to the number of Pokémon you’ve defeated – 11 total pages of stuff to mull over. Next is the training building, where you pay to spin a canister that will randomly choose a new power for your currently selected Pokémon. You can only have two powers per Pokémon at a time, so you’ll either have to replace one of its current powers or choose to discard what you’ve been given.
There is, of course, an area where you can view your collection of Pokémon toys. Toys that are fully colored represent Pokémon you currently possess, grayed out Pokémon are the ones you’ve seen in the wild but haven’t yet befriended, and question marks signify Pokémon you’ve yet to discover.
The Release Point building is where you can get rid of Pokémon you no longer need. Once you let a Pokémon go, it will leave you a gift. You can recruit new Pokémon with money or by using tickets randomly received when releasing Pokémon, as well as using passwords that Nintendo intends to reveal from time to time.
Lastly, you’ve got the Wii Remote Pokémon building and Multiplayer. You can play with up to four people locally, and by visiting the Wii Remote Pokémon building, you can store Pokémon in your controller and bring them with you to a friend’s house and such. Both are really cool additions, but again, we’re perplexed by the lack of online multiplayer. Trading Pokémon is also absent from the game, and with such a large variety of special Pokémon to be found, both options are sorely missed.
Control using just the Wii Remote turned sideways feels great; it’s easy to pick up and learn, and the menu system is straightforward and polished. You can sort Pokémon in any number of ways, and for a downloadable game, Nintendo did an impressive job with the presentation.
The visuals are definitely one of the highlights of Pokémon Rumble, as having 150 uniquely designed Pokémon in a WiiWare game ain’t too shabby. Not all of the Pokémon look great up close, but when dungeon crawling, they’re adorable to look at. The Pokémon have a cel-shaded outline, and everything about the game’s graphics is very polished. Again, we’re disappointed by the lack of dungeon variety, but the texture work, lighting, and effects are all really topnotch. There are occasional bouts of slowdown, but the framerate is otherwise smooth.
The music is playful and ramps up any time enemies approach, and it’s about what you’d expect from a downloadable game – solid but not terribly ambitious. Pokémon still make those weird mechanical sounds we’ve been hearing for years, but at this point, it’s all fan service. Folks who lust after loot, however, will love hearing the clickety-clack that accompanies picking up Poké money – those sounds never get old.
Pokémon Rumble isn’t great, but it could have been. More dungeon variety, along with more interesting dungeon design would have been a good start, and not to sound like a broken record, but come on already, Nintendo, with the whole online thing. The real problem with the game, though, is its price. With what it currently has to offer, Pokémon Rumble would be a hard sell at 1000 Wii Points; at 1500, the price is borderline obscene. There’s definitely fun to be had here, but it just doesn’t feel like you’re getting your money’s worth.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.3 Graphics
Though the variety is sparse, the visuals are still very impressive. The Pokémon look cute, and the texture work and lighting are topnotch. 4.0 Control
The simple Wii Remote-turned-sideways approach works great, and the interface is easy to navigate. 3.9 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The music isn’t memorable, but it works. Sound effects are really satisfying, and the Pokémon garble will probably “do it” for most fans. 2.4
The core gameplay is basic, yet all of Pokémon Rumble’s component parts come together to make for a really great mixture of fun. The presentation is polished, but it’s all just smoke and mirrors to try and hide the fact that you’re not getting much for the whopping 1500 Wii Points being asked for this game.
3.5 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.