REVIEW: Pocket Rumble

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Pocket Rumble
Title Pocket Rumble
Developer Cardboard Robot Games
Publisher Chucklefish Games
Release Date July 5th, 2018
Genre 2D Fighter
Platform PC, Switch
Age Rating Teen
Official Website

At last, Pocket Rumble has arrived. One of the most intriguing early indie announcements for Nintendo Switch suffered multiple delays and took from February 2017 to July 2018 to launch on the platform. Pocket Rumble takes direct inspiration from the classic fighting games from SNK’s Neo Geo Pocket Color handheld from the late-90s, a promising prospect for a retro-alike fighter. With that kind of wait comes many expectations. Can developer Cardboard Robot Games deliver on its goals for such a modest-looking 2D fighter? Thankfully, the answer is “yes”.

Pocket Rumble

As with Neo Geo Pocket Color classics like SNK vs. Capcom: The Match of the Millennium and King of Fighters R-2 , Pocket Rumble limits control input to a control stick/D-Pad and two face buttons. Despite imposing such limitations, there’s a lot of tactical depth to the moves. Each button ties to either a kick or punch, and the strength of them depends on the control pad’s direction and how long you hold down the buttons. You can grapple and throw opponents, hit ’em low and high, and execute special moves from a meter with a variety of single and combined inputs. The controls are fairly easy to learn, but it will certainly take a lot of practice to master the more complex maneuvers and advanced techniques.

Despite using so few controls, Pocket Rumble is surprisingly, deceptively difficult. The savage AI in the single player modes will shows no clemency or mercy towards beginners. Your opening minutes in Pocket Rumble should be spent in Training and Practice modes. The former lets you practice freely with a heaping helping of options from hitboxes to slow-motion triggers, while Practice walks you through every character’s regular and special moves, advanced techniques, and defensive strategies. With 31 lessons to clear, you’ll see how deep and complex the combat really is.

Pocket Rumble

For a cast of fighters eight-strong, it’s fortunate that each one feels distinct and comes with their own feel and style in battle. To name a few, Tenchi is the game’s “standard” starter character, a veritable Ryu. Tenchi works in both close and far combat, using projectile fireballs in the same fashion as Ryu. Hector deals with a powerful slicing blade that in turn can slightly damage himself. Quinn emphasizes grappling and can transform into a werewolf for a time, whereas novelty character Parker is a businessman who can set up electrifying lightning orbs. Meanwhile, Subject 11 distinctly has no special attacks, but can hit from a distance with powerful, giant fists. My personal main is June, who can produce goth and horror-themed projectiles like sawblades, drills, and floating skulls to keep opponents at a distance. With their huge variety of movement and attack styles, there is certainly a fighter for every kind of player.

At launch, Pocket Rumble‘s character roster is as small as the roster from, well, the original Street Fighter II back in 1991.  Chucklefish promises five additional characters as downloadable content for the future, which bodes well to filling out the meager roster.

Pocket Rumble

The standard single-player arcade mode has no story or mythology, but it doesn’t mess around. The enemy AI will kill you, slay you, and knock you dead from the first round. Besides Training, Arcade mode pits you against all eight fighters in succession. Clearing Arcade mode gives you no reward or unlockable other than pure bragging rights, but you can amass rank points in the more progression-driven Career mode. You can also take on the CPU in its own Vs mode, oddly the one place in single-player where you can select the difficulty.

As for multiplayer, besides the default local battles for two players, online battles are a major focal point. Cardboard Robot implemented Good Game Peace Out (GGPO) net code to keep lag minimal and ensure fast ranked match ups with live players. In testing for this review, finding another player took no time and lag was virtually non-existent. Opponents online are pretty fierce too, ensuring a wide range of worthy players to practice against.

Pocket Rumble

Pocket Rumble does everything possible to not only look the part, but feel the part of a Neo Geo Pocket Color fighter. It hews closely to the visual and audio limitations of the portable, using a limited color pallet to create a vivid look and orchestrate some catchy chiptunes. There’s even an optional screen filter that mimics the look of the Neo Geo Pocket Color’s LCD screen for added authenticity (the original platform’s resolution was 160×152, by the way). Being on a much higher-resolution screen than the NGPC, Pocket Rumble‘s artwork has some understated upgrades over the portable, including more detailed backgrounds and more animated sprite work. In both its control set-up and looks, it recreates the bygone platform’s style perfectly.

Besides the aesthetic presentation, everything else in Pocket Rumble is lean, mean, and clean. Menus are big, chunky, and easy to navigate. A wide variety of controllers is supported for every fighting player’s needs, from single Joy-Con to the Joy-Con Grip and Pro Controller. If you feel like it, you can also make use of any number of wired controller for even more efficient play (I used the USB Pokkén Tournament controller in much of my play, and it works perfectly here). If two buttons is too little for you, you can further customize the controls to map the more complex shortcuts to the extra buttons. On Switch, HD Rumble and Video Capture are also implemented.

Pocket Rumble

Nintendo Switch has been good for fighting game fans, steadily building up a library of fun, diverse brawlers including Pokkén Tournament DX, Street Fighter Anniversary Collection, BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle, and soon, Super Smash Bros. UltimatePocket Rumble hangs well with that company. Its controls are both accessible and challenging, the roster of characters are diverse and distinct, and the presentation honors a very specific platform in a loving homage. And with an affordable $10 price tag, it’s not a hard pill to swallow.

The only part of Pocket Rumble that might frustrate is the unexpected level of cruelty for newcomers out of the gate. The smooth online play should be varied and level at least. With a friend, Pocket Rumble makes for quick, accessible fun and another feather in the Switch’s giant cap of local multiplayer games. Cardboard Robot has constructed a fighting game as simple and advanced as players want it to be. After an agonizing year-and-a-half wait from announcement to release, Pocket Rumble‘s belated arrival on Switch was worth waiting for.

Review Score

Review Copy Purchased by Author

About Alex Irish

When he's not writing about games, Alex Irish is an illustrator and animation expert. His favorite gaming franchise is Pokémon, full-stop, but his favorite game of all time is Resident Evil 4. He attended the first-ever IGN House Party and is a five-time attendee of the Ottowa International Animation Festival.