With Pokémon Black and White releasing to rave reviews last year, as it successfully recaptured the magic of the original games despite using the exact same formula for its design, players were left wanting more indigenous wildlife to capture than a hungry hobo in a zoo.
But while players wait for Nintendo and Gamefreak to crank out another sequel in the franchise, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for a few spin-offs in the interim, which brings us to Rumble Blast, a more simplified take that takes Pokémon cock-fighting battling, and puts the actions of the creatures straight into the hands of players.
But can this more action-orientated take on the franchise stand up to the original formula, or is it merely a forgettable experiment while waiting for Pokemon: Ham and Bacon to be developed?
A sequel to the 2009 WiiWare game, Rumble blasts features a similar setup, trading actual Pokémon for toy versions who happen to also inhabit their own little world. The nefarious boss of this world, Cobalion has lost his sense of justice, stealing precious health-restoring gum-drops while attacking everyone else in an attempt to break the world, while I stare at my half-empty bottle of Johnny Walker and wonder if writing reviews while drunk is a great idea.
Ludicrous storyline aside, players will of course have to put a stop to these shenanigans, and that means collecting as many of the powerful little toys as possible for the all the battles. Thing start simple enough.
Players get their first Pokémon, venture into an arena and battle their way through, using actual attacks and collecting fallen enemies, before meeting up with a resident big bad version of one of the creatures, and proceed to attack it like a starved mosquito in a blood bank. Beat the boss, collect some credits and the stage is cleared, opening up the path for the next arena, rinse and repeat.
It’s a simple formula, and highly accessible for any age group from the beginning, with a hint of strategy, in the same way that a punch-drunk heavyweight boxer realises that using heavier punches on his opponent is conducive to winning.
Certain Pokémon and moves are more effective on enemies, while varying power-levels determine the exact strength of the attack, resulting in a simple numbers game that permeates throughout the title. In essence, the bigger the power-score, the more capable your little monster is of laying a smackdown on the opposition.
You’ll have to keep adjusting, releasing and upgrading your growing collection of toy Pokémon, choosing the best ones to take into battle with you, as losing three of them to the hordes of enemies boots players out to the beginning of the map.
But in its simplistic nature, lies the biggest problem with Rumble Blast, as the easy, accessible nature of the title also makes it a highly repetitive game. Its all about grinding your way through a forest/cave/beach/dungeon/tower, beating a boss and carrying on to a tournament area for a battle royal with swarms of opponents.
Sure, there are some varying modes scattered throughout, but they’re so rare and infrequent, that the game is forced to rely on its basic setup, quickly losing its charm within the first hour.
Sure, there are over 600 of the little buggers to collect, but that gets as exciting as collecting 600 different types genital warts, as the character models look like jagged recycled leftovers from Pokémon Ranch. Instead, you’ll want to face the challenges ahead with a friend, as multiplayer is where the strength of this title lies, much like in any Nintendo 3DS game, making the bland experience passable at least.
Visually, Rumble Blast does not have a whole lot going for it. Regurgitated character models, bland textures and environments that offer as much variety as the lyrical content of a Black Eyed Peas song do little to enhance the game, and the cutesy 3D pop graphics are nice for the first few minutes, but then easily dismissed in the swampy mediocre mire.
Rumble Blast isn’t a god-awful game, but it’s a boring idea that never really takes advantage of its source material, preferring to offer a bare-bones experience that does little to offer players something substantial.
It’s a solid idea, but one that sees very little done to enhance it. Provided you know your Pokémon types and are familiar with the hundreds of attacks, you’ll find the experience quite easy, and any areas which seem impassable at first, merely require a little more grinding to get through.
But its going to get real old, real quick.
Design and Presentation: 6/10
Adorable as they are, the Pokémon here show no real improvement on previous models, which is a shame considering that the majority of 3DS owners will have the 3D pokedex installed, which lovingly renders the pocket monsters in a smooth 3D modelled effect.
Compared to that, it’s like being promised a date with one of our ION girls that Geoff has chosen, and getting to spend the evening dining with a bewigged blow-up doll instead.
Provided that you suffer from an unprecedented level of OCD, there may be something here for the average player. Repetitive, sure, but there’s a ton of said content that loops throughout the game, so prepare for a long slog throughout the world of toy Pokémon. Playing with a friend provides for some relief, but not for too long.
Playing Pokémon Rumble Blast will give you a feeling that Nintendo not only missed out on a golden opportunity, but have squandered some potential that could have been used to really push the next official games in the Pokémon series even further.
This ain’t a super-effective game.