So here’s a can’t miss idea. Pokemon. On your 3DS. And it’s action based! Surely Nintendo couldn’t possibly get this wrong, right? Well, for a first party title centered around their most wildly successful portable franchise, Pokemon Rumble Blast is a bit of a disappointment. Those familiar with the WiiWare version of the game (sans “Blast”) may know what they’re getting into, but newcomers to the Rumble series will be scratching their heads at this offering.
The idea of Pokemon Rumble Blast is especially contrived, probably in order to change your expectations of the game compared to the typical Pokemon title. The pokemon in Rumble Blast aren’t real critters, but toys, powered by magical wind up keys. There’s no masters controlling them, but for some reason they are compelled to fight anyway. The pokemon toys heal themselves with glowdrops, but they are mysteriously stolen away and the aim of the story is to find out who did it and how to get them back .
Gameplay is incredibly simple, almost mindless. You control a toy pokemon with the circle pad through various themed linear stages (forests, beach, meadow, etc.), using the A and B buttons to attack with different moves, which have different ranges and effects you have to learn how to take best advantage of at least. Once you defeat an enemy pokemon, it either drops coins (used to purchase new moves) or faints, at which point you befriend it, which of course makes plenty of sense in the Pokemon universe I suppose. Since your pokemon do not actually level up like in the RPG, you will be collecting ever more powerful friends of different types in order to advance through the game. You can hit the X button to switch out for a new pokemon, which takes a bit of time and can be prevented if you’re attacked in the middle of a switch. This becomes a bit more important as the game becomes more challenging, as you only have 3 lives per instance (represented by the keys used to wind up the toys).
At the end of each stage there’s a big boss with more bruising attacks and higher hit points. Once you defeat and possibly befriend him and the little annoying minions around him the stage ends. Get through enough of these stages and you will typically have a powerful enough pokemon to get through the Battle Royale or fortress required to unlock the next area. It’s pretty much rinse and repeat from there on with very few twists. Since it has pokemon from all five generations of the game there’s literally hundreds to collect, and each stage will give a progress report so you can keep replaying to unlock more of them. Multiplayer mostly involves a co-op mode and being able to share pokemon and Miis with each other to earn more coins.
Pokemon Rumble Blast has very little to offer in the eye candy department unfortunately. The cynic in me figures they created the idea of toy pokemon in order to avoid having to put any real effort into the models, as they’re extremely crude and low in polygonal count, not to mention the weak texturing. Many of these guys are so tiny and similar looking that it really diminishes the point of catching them all. The cel shading effect is also pretty pointless given the minimal art style, and overall this is a very poor showcase of the 3D capabilities of the system. It’s pretty much a straight WiiWare port which makes it feel like a cheap download game, really.
The sound isn’t much to write home about either. Fortunately, the developers decided to forgo most of the annoying pokemon screeches and such, so it doesn’t grate on your ears either, despite the repetitive nature of the gameplay. The music isn’t terribly memorable but at least isn’t terribly out of place, either.
In conclusion, Pokemon Rumble Blast probably isn’t the game to tide you over if you’re strictly a fan of the main turn based series. While I think there is a need for a more action oriented game in the franchise, it concedes a little too much to the younger audience, who I admit may be far more forgiving of its simplicity than I am. All in all, this game wouldn’t have made a terrible eShop purchase at a far lower price, but asking full value for this is a bit insulting. Hopefully Nintendo will build more depth into this concept in the near future, both graphics and gameplay-wise.