"A Great New Battle System for Pokemon... But Where's the Game?"
“Pokemon Rumble” is the latest spinoff title of Nintendo's beloved monster catching RPG. Whereas most “Pokemon” spin-offs take the franchise in horrible directions (such as “Pokemon Snap,” the “Pokemon Mystery Dungeon” games, and “Hey, You, Pikachu!”), the preview information I saw about “Pokemon Rumble” that portrayed it as an old-school beat-em-up was enough to pique my interest. While the price of 1500 Wii Points is a bit steep for an impulse buy, I took the plunge in the hopes of finally finding a good non-RPG Pokemon title.
“Pokemon Rumble” is not a pretty game. It is also not a particularly good-sounding game. The environmental graphics are the high point of the game's presentation. Each of the six levels is sculpted of simple polygons and covered by clean, colorful textures. Thus the levels look quite basic, but good. The character models for the pokemon themselves, on the other hand, are low-poly-count abominations that look more like parodies of pokemon (such as Machamps with four spikes protruding from their bodies instead of arms, and pokemon whose heads aren't actually connected to any kind of neck) than anything else. While the game's premise does help to explain why the pokemon look so super-deformed, it doesn't prevent them from being eyesores. Each pokemon move has a unique animation, some of which look pretty cool, others of which are incredibly unimpressive (which is actually suitable for some really weak moves).
The music is relatively benign stuff. Some of it is a bit catchy, but none of it really has any staying power or the ability to sell soundtracks. The sound effects are a mix of new sounds for attacks and recycled pokemon battlecries from the Game Boy titles. Would it kill Nintendo to update the pokemon sound effects a little?! We've been listening to the same screechy 8-bit noises since the beginning… yet all other pokemon-related media has the creatures' cries being their names. This dichotomy needs to be resolved… and soon.
While the main-line “Pokemon” games have a relatively weak and oft-recycled story about an anonymous, young pokemon trainer going on a coming-of-age journey to ‘become the very best' or ‘become a Pokemon Master,' “Pokemon Rumble” takes a completely different approach. The premise (I don't think it's accurate to call it a ‘story') is much like the premise of the original “Super Smash Bros.,” in which an unseen child is playing with toy pokemon on a big game board. Though it is presented from the perspective of the toys themselves, there is some mysterious figure that winds them up with ‘Wonder Keys' and sends them off into battle in order to recruit more powerful toys in the hopes of challenging the Battle Royale.
Aside from that premise, there is no story. The toy pokemon characters don't gain levels (obviously because they aren't real pokemon) so there is no chance for character development. Once a character is completely outclassed by his ‘friends,' he can be thrown away (‘released') to make a bit of money. At the beginning of each new rank, there is a still screen showing some ominous boss pokemon and a little bit of text, but it adds nothing to the overall experience of the game.
“Pokemon Rumble” introduces a great new way to conduct pokemon battles. Instead of turn-based, one-on-one (or two-on-two) affairs, “Pokemon Rumble” throws the player-controlled pokemon into a level where it must progress through waves of other, randomly-generated pokemon. Each pokemon can know up to two moves from its movelist at a time, which correspond to the 1 and 2 buttons. The controls are incredibly simple, with the player holding the Wiimote sideways (like an NES controller) and using the d-pad for movement and the buttons for attacks. The A button opens the pokemon menu and allows the player to switch to any of the other befriended pokemon available, but it does not pause the action, so it's entirely possible to be KO'd while frantically trying to switch out a badly-injured pokemon. Notably absent from “Pokemon Rumble's” control setup is any form of motion controls. The Wiimote's gyroscopes and IR pointer remain completely unused.
As previously mentioned, there is no experience system in the game. Toy pokemon don't gain, or even have, levels. Instead, each one possesses a power level that determines how much damage it can deal and receive. New pokemon can be befriended randomly during battles. Normally a KO'd pokemon turns into a coin, but sometimes they topple over and remain on the field. Touching a toppled pokemon adds it to the player's collection and it can be summoned immediately to battle.
Like all of the newest pokemon games, Shiny Pokemon appear randomly and add an extra gameplay aspect for Pokemaniacs of the ‘obsessive collector' variety. However, only a fraction of the pokemon in the Complete Pokedex are available in the game. From the beginning, only the original 150 pokemon are recruitable, but upon completing the game, the player can change to “Advance” mode in order to gain access to the newest pokemon introduced in the Diamond/Pearl/Platinum DS games (including multiple different forms of pokemon with mutable shapes).
The level designs themselves remind me, quite fondly, of old 2D “Zelda” games. Each area has a number of rooms though which the player must navigate, all viewed from a top-down perspective. The only problem with the levels is that there are only six of them. So the player is forced to trudge through these same six levels for each rank of the game while searching for strong enough pokemon allies to compete in that rank's Battle Royale (which takes place in a big square room with electrified sidewalls). The repetition can get tedious, especially considering that the levels are completely devoid of anything but other pokemon to fight. I would have liked to see some puzzles scattered throughout the levels, or at least a randomization in the layouts to break-up the monotony.
The levels are all connected by a hub area. In this area, in addition to the entrances to the six levels and Battle Royale, the player can find a variety of utility stations, including a place to ‘release' obsolete pokemon, a place to spend money to recruit rare-ish pokemon, a place to buy a random move for the currently-selected pokemon, a place to move pokemon to the Wiimote's internal storage to take on the go, a place to view the extremely-dumbed-down Pokedex, and a place to view not-so-exciting gameplay stats (such as total playtime, total money spent, etc.). I am not fond of the random number generator used to randomly teach skills, as I found that I was spending exorbitant amounts of money trying to get a specific skill on a pokemon that would become obsolete after a few rounds. The random number generator for pokemon recruitment was, in my experience, a bit better, but still annoying.
“Pokemon Rumble” is a fun little time-waster that Pokemaniacs won't want to miss. Even though it is more of a glorified tech demo (We sure see a lot of those on the Wii, don't we?) than a full game, I consider this WiiWare to be worth the price. Now, I shall look forward to a full “Pokemon” game that uses this battle system!
Overall (not an average): 7/10
Overall rating 3.5 - Better than average
Nelson is an experienced videogames reviewer, with over 287 reviews written across different platforms. If you enjoyed this review why not check out the rest of Nelson's writing over at Melted Joystick.