The land of Pokémon has always been awash with a river of games, ranging from the popular main-series titles which follow the classic battle-and-catch format we have always known, to spin offs of various formats and levels of success: some of the spin offs are quite the lovely bit of entertainment, whereas many aren’t far enough from being ashamed of their very existence, such is their lack of entertainment value that they provide (the lacklustre Pokémon Dash http://www.pokemon.com/us/pokemon-video-games/pokemon-dash/ comes to mind, and greatly saddens me as it does so).
None of these spin-offs have intrigued me quite so much as Pokemon Rumble Blast (entitled Pokémon Rumble Blast in the more star-spangled territories), the first Pokémon title to hit us up with some stereoscopic 3D action of the Pokémon kind for the 3DS. A title of the more light-hearted kind, Pokemon Rumble Blast takes some elements of the Pokémon battle and leaves the rest, resulting in a free-roaming adventure where you control the Pokémon themselves and face-off against multiple opponents at a time in a scenario where you are allowed to battle freely. Plus all the Pokémon come in toy form, making this title a little different from the usual spinoffs seen on the market.
Maintaining the catch-em-all sentiment but in a slightly altered format, Pokemon Rumble Blast allows you to take control of your very own toy Pokémon with view to wandering the surrounding environments, facing wave after wave of wild Pokémon which seem to be flagrantly loitering at every opportunity. Deviating from the usually strict adherence to the format of turn-based battle which is usually seen in the main-series games, this game puts you amidst a multitude of freely-roaming Pokémon, allowing you to face dozens of them at any one time in some challenging encounters that take place in real time. The format relies on the player exploring several discrete Pokémon-containing areas one section at a time, encountering increasingly difficult Pokémon and facing a boss-like Pokémon at the end of each stage that are larger in size and more difficult to defeat. The ‘catch-em-all’ sentiment so typical of Pokémon remains, but is more akin to ‘collect the strongest, discard the weakest’ whereby new Pokémon materialise after battles to be collected at your leisure. All this is tied together with an admittedly weak storyline which involves some very mean Pokémon stealing the healing ‘Glowdrops’ from Toy Town’s fountain.
More Details Please
Pokemon Rumble Blast boasts over 600 Pokémon, excluding only a few that weren’t yet revealed at the time of the game’s release, so there isn’t any shortage of variety in the game when it comes to being a Pokémon collector. Instead of investing your time into a few particular Pokémon (my Pokémon adventures are always wildly based on favouritism of the few with neglect of the rest), you can acquire Pokémon like loose change in seaside arcade, and you can release them just as quickly. In most areas, you can end up picking up several Pokémon at a time, often several identical Pokémon with slightly different moves or varying levels of power. Your Pokémon’s strength no longer relies on you training it up, but rather on the ‘power’ level it possesses when you pick it up. No more befriending of your Pokémon; if you find a superior model, it’s out with the old and in with the new. Sorry Oshawaott, you’re cute, but you’ve been replaced.
Thankfully, type matchups still form the basis of the relative damage you dish out and receive in the battles, which is a feature that has always been integral to Pokémon battles; without it, you simply couldn’t comfortably give it the ‘Pokémon’ label. Fire still devastates grass Pokémon, flying-types still fear electric, and water Pokémon will douse the joy out of a Fire Pokémon’s day almost instantaneously; you just can’t help but feel that in spite of these technical advantages, you’re still just mashing the ‘A’ button continuously and hoping for the best. In this manner, Pokemon Rumble Blast differs in only the most minor of ways to any beat-em-up title out there.
Your progression through the game is somewhat of a linear experience, particularly when compared to the main-series games. You do progress through a series of levels (of sorts), but I’m not convinced that what is on offer is enough to keep the player interested for a significant amount of time. Though there is a little variety in the areas that you visit (including the Lake, Beach, Forest, Tower and Glacier), the whole thing is still a relatively straightforward experience in that you simply play through a few mini-areas within each region, battling against various Pokémon, encountering bosses and collecting as many powerful creatures as you can in order to be successful in the ‘Battle Royale’, the completion of which will allow you passage to the next area. You can even battle with three Pokémon simultaneously in a ‘Team Battle’ or send an entire posse of your creatures in a ‘Charge Battle’ Sure, things get more challenging with Pokémon of increased difficulty (and occasionally a legendary Pokémon if the catapult transporter you step on is shimmering), but things remain altogether too basic and unchallenging to pose any real challenge.
Perhaps one of the most entertaining features of the game (and certainly one of its few qualities capable of redeeming its entertainment value in my mind) is the multiplayer feature where you can enter into wild battles either locally with a friend or via Streetpass. Connecting with a friend via Wi-Fi will allow you to enter into a co-operative venture to battle against the wild Pokémon, and Streetpass allows you to duel against other toys and view their Pokémon. The multiplayer functions simply take the most entertaining part of the game and give it a little bit of two-player spice and connectivity; they do not save the game entirely, but most definitely serve the purpose of making me view it in a more favourable light.
In spite of the moderate amount of fun I derived from roaming around and controlling a variety of Pokémon in an unrestricted environment (something that the turn-based battles of the main series don’t allow you to do), I still found Pokemon Rumble Blast lacking in any real depth or substance. Let’s just say the graphics aren’t brilliant, and I find myself constantly disappointed that in spite of this game being the first 3DS game for the Pokémon series, the creatures look extremely basic and lacking in refinement, with the menus and even the general feel of the game being best described as ‘raw’. The storyline is as lacking in substance as the graphics are in depth: the whole thing is based on the idea that the healing ‘Glowdrops’ are being stolen from the fountains, and merely seems like a platform (and a shaky one, at that) for launching various kinds of Pokémon your way. The gameplay itself is somewhat entertaining, and includes virtually every Pokémon in existence (minus a few), but this is barely attractive enough to keep me going for more than half an hour at a time. It therefore feels unlikely that many will even attempt to get close to encountering the whole collection of creatures.
Not Quite Pokémon
In all, most players would get a fair bit of enjoyment out of the game as a whole: you have a variety of levels in which you will encounter virtually the entire national Pokédex of Pokémon in a refreshing roaming-battle format where you fight in real time by controlling the movements of your Pokémon to the letter. I can’t help but feel that there are too many things that are missing, however. The usual training concept so intrinsic to Pokémon is scrapped, and perhaps it is better kept for the main-series games, but the training element is one of the key foundations of the Pokémon formula whose absence is very much felt in this instance. Taking away the challenge of capturing and training a Pokémon removes the personal aspect of the adventure and makes you feel like your team is simply a collection of expendable, interchangeable, faceless Pokémon as opposed to a carefully-selected team. Yes the type-matchups still apply, yes you get to battle in format that is new for Pokémon (this game’s predecessor excluded) but the graphics don’t adequately represent the Pokémon, the fighting seems like a rapid-tap cop-out and there simply isn’t enough longevity in this game to give it any long-lasting appeal. Pokemon Rumble Blast http://www.gamestop.com/nintendo-3ds/games/pokemon-rumble-blast/92656 is superior to the original but doesn’t deliver the goods to the kind of standard that I would expect from something with 'Pokémon' in the title and leaves much for improvement if a sequel to Pokemon Rumble Blast is to prove more of a success.