By Kyle Emch / October 7th, 2013
|Title: Pokémon Rumble U
Release Date: August 29th, 2013
Genre: Action RPG
Platform: Wii U
Rating: ESRB E
Ambrella is not a good developer for Pokémon games. They’ve consistently proven that they cannot make a good game to save their lives. Yes, I know that anything with Pokémon in the name will sell like hotcakes regardless of its quality. So does Sonic the Hedgehog, and Sonic Team was able to stop sucking somewhere down the line. But hey, maybe this new game may prove me wrong. That’s what I thought when I first picked up the game. I should’ve known better.
The Pokémon Rumble series started out as a downloadable title on WiiWare several years ago. It was notable in that it was the first game made by Ambrella that was actually playable and wasn’t just some sort of glorified tech demo hastily made to make a few bucks (I’m looking at you, Pokémon Channel). That being said, it wasn’t really that great. Not bad per se, but not really all that good. Fast forward to 2013 and they’re somehow tasked with making another entry in the Pokémon Rumble franchise, this time for the Wii U.
The gameplay of Pokémon Rumble U consists of sending your Toy Pokémon out to smack around whatever gets in your way. The game utilizes the Wii U GamePad as its main method of playing the game, but you can also use a Wii Remote or a Classic Controller. You use the analog stick to move and A and B (1 and 2 for the Wii Remote) for your attacks. The GamePad has a unique feature where, after collecting enough energy, you can touch anywhere on the screen and use a large area-of-effect attack. The controls work fine, but I still wish that the Pokémon Rumble games would ditch the Wii Remotes and embrace the fact that they can use more than two buttons now.
The first change you’ll notice is that you just get plopped into a big arena instead of a linear hallway. This means that the levels are significantly shorter than in previous games. Though, considering how padded and samey the levels in previous games were, I’m not entirely sure if I’d consider this worse. The levels all have different optional goals that allow you to unlock a special Pokémon from the level that isn’t a boss. Some of the goals are pretty straightforward, but some of them are downright impossible without any additional players taking control of your AI partners.
That’s another noticeable change in Pokémon Rumble U. You don’t send the Toy Pokémon you pick out one at a time like in previous games. You send them out all at once for these big battles. I understand that this is to encourage a co-op campaign with friends, but in single player mode, this means you’ll have to occasionally try to direct your AI partners elsewhere or revive them when they’re knocked out. This becomes especially exasperating when the screen just gets filled with enemy Toy Pokémon resulting in what I call Castle Crashers Syndrome; where it becomes difficult to tell what character you’re controlling in a sea of enemies. The nadir of this comes from when I have a Master Capsule ready to catch a specific ‘mon, but something gets in my way and I miss.
Moves in Pokémon Rumble U work sort of like the moves in actual Pokémon games. They each have different types and a number of stars that indicate how strong they are. In previous Pokémon Rumble games, you could spend points to change which moves your Toy Pokémon had available to them. In Pokémon Rumble U, you can no longer do that for Toy Pokémon you acquire in-game. You’ll gain points, but you can’t spend them on new moves for your in-game Pokémon, like you could in previous games. Which moves your Pokémon have are more-or-less randomized, just like in previous games. You can have two Charizards that can have different movesets, for example. Also like in previous games, the Toy Pokémon you obtain cannot level up or evolve. They have a set power level that does not change. Even if you get a legendary Pokémon, you’ll quickly find yourself swapping it out quickly with stronger Pokémon you’d find in later areas.
That is, of course, unless you happened to get one of the NFC figures for the game. This is Pokémon Rumble U’s main gimmick. You can purchase special Pokémon figures that you can put into the game via the GamePad’s NFC reader. From there, you can use all of those points you earned in the game to increase your Pokémon’s power level and teach it new moves. Previous Pokémon Rumble games had this to some degree, so the idea of locking away features into these figures does kinda bother me.
Thankfully, the figures are 1) less than half as expensive as your average Skylanders toy at $3.99 and 2) completely optional, since you don’t need these NFC toys to beat the levels or to complete your Pokedex. However, since the figures are essential to getting any sort of enjoyment out of this game, you’re going to have to pick up at least one of them. Not so thankfully, you can only get them in blind purchases, so getting one that you want means either purchasing $4 capsules at GameStop until you get it or spending twice as much for a specific figure on eBay. Either way, you’re going to be spending a lot.
Like a lot of elements in Pokémon Rumble U, the music is mostly recycled from other Pokémon Rumble games. The tracks themselves are decently energetic. However, there isn’t a whole lot of variety with the selection we have. Since you’re going to spend a lot of time playing missions that are already padded out and samey (or grinding for points if you have an NFC figure), that means you’re going to be hearing the same tracks over and over again. Whatever charm the music has when you first listen to it will quickly erode as you keep playing.
There is a story that goes with the main campaign, but it’s practically non-existent. Something about an evil toy separating a bunch of Toy Pokémon from the toy store and them having to make their way back, Brave Little Toaster style. Or something like that. I honestly wasn’t paying attention. Then again, I guess I can’t complain too much since this game is obviously made for the 5-year old demographic with how simplistic the whole thing is. I beat the main campaign after about 5 hours or so with around 300 Pokémon having been collected. You can replay missions over and over, so if you really want to catch them all, be prepared to do some grinding.
Speaking of simplistic, I have to mention the graphics. This is the first Pokémon game to be made for an HD system. While the environments look relatively decent, the actual Toy Pokémon still have the same ugly models from the Wii and 3DS games, except shinier. I know they’re supposed to be toys and everything, but come on! I don’t care that much for graphics, but the jaggy, low-quality polygonal models were just hard to look at. This only becomes exacerbated since the NFC figures share the exact same design as their in-game counterparts. I can sort of understand it with the previous games being made on the previous systems, but there’s just no excuse here.
Pokémon Rumble U is a game of several firsts. It’s the first Pokémon game to have HD graphics. It’s the first download-only eShop title that Nintendo has made for the Wii U. It’s the first Wii U game to take advantage of the GamePad’s built-in NFC reader. That should not excuse it for being the same bland, monotonous game that I played before. There’s no form of multiplayer other than playing co-operatively, nor can you play with others online. The only other modes in here are for inputting passwords for Pokémon and for upgrading any of the aforementioned NFC figures you buy.
You’d have to be a die-hard Pokémon fan to find any enjoyment out of this game, but even then I hesitate to recommend it. It’s got every single Pokémon up to Generation V, so you can still catch them all if you really must. But with Pokémon X and Y just around the corner, you’re better off skipping this one.
Still, it’s better than Pokémon Channel. But then, I guess that isn’t saying a whole lot…
Game purchased by author for review purposes.
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