Review: Pokémon Rumble (WiiWare)

Rumble or fumble?

One thing we've learned time and again (sometimes painfully) is that when it comes to WiiWare there's no necessary correlation between quality and cost. Of the most expensive games available, for instance, one of them is arguably the best game on the service, and another is ...not.

And so when a new release scurries into view dragging a 1500 Point price tag behind it, reluctance is understandable. It could go either way: it could prove itself to be one of the stronger titles, or it could be the sort of thing you sit thinking about on a cold night in the tub, sobbing as you imagine your hard-earned $15 swirling away with the bathwater.

Pokémon Rumble, thankfully, is very much the former.

The game itself is almost surprisingly simple, considering the fact that there are hundreds of variations of Pokémon and a maximum army size of one thousand(!). Yet the entire game can be controlled quite comfortably with a horizontal Wii Remote, and though Classic Controller and Game Cube configurations are available, Pokémon Rumble feels most naturally designed for the simplest control option available.

You begin the game as a wimpy Rattata, a furry purple pipsqueak delusional enough to believe he can survive a Battle Royale, in which hordes of Pokémon ten times his strength will rain down upon him en masse. Of course he cannot survive, and that's where you come in. After such a fierce (and humorously unexpected) humiliation, you guide Rattata through six different areas, meeting various other Pokémon, attacking them, and sometimes befriending them. (Befriending is accomplished, oddly enough, by killing them really, really hard.) Each Pokémon you befriend will be added to your reserves, and you can switch between them at will at any point in a level, but the action doesn't stop as you make the change, so try not to do it while you're under attack! Each time you befriend a Pokémon that's more powerful than you, you inch your way closer to your goal of successfully completing a Battle Royale. (Oh, and you can forget about Rattata at this point. He sucks and you'll never use him again.)

Each Pokémon that you befriend comes pre-loaded with at least one special ability, and they're not uniform among species; befriend two Squirtles, for instance, and they may well have different attacks. You can upgrade your Pokémon via an in-game lottery system, where you'll spend credits that you've earned during battle for the chance of winning a better attack. However these are expensive, there's no guarantee that your new attack won't be a downgrade, and each Pokémon can only wield two attacks at a time. So much for relying on one or two Renaissance Pokémon...

This limitation actually serves to make gameplay more interesting. You'll find yourself switching between Pokemon frequently: sometimes you'll need a ranged attack, sometimes you'll want to lower an enemy's defence, and sometimes you'll want to sap some HP. Each time, you'll need to switch to a Pokémon who can handle the job at hand, so even if you decide you want to play the entire game as Charmander, you'll find yourself switching between many Charmanders to make the best use of whichever particular skills each one has. By maxing you out at two abilities per creature, it forces you to use and manage your army more evenly, rather than relying on one powerhouse supersoldier.

One unfortunate side effect of such a simple control scheme is the repetitiveness of the action. The game does, however, allow for a pretty meaty selection of attack types, so ultimately it's as varied as you want it to be. You could work your way through the whole game with melee attacks - yes, that would be pretty dull - but with so many other possibilities at your disposal, the only limitations are the ones you place upon yourself.

The music is quite good (if not particularly memorable) and the visuals are simple and crisp. In fact, the presentation of the entire game is quite solid, with unnoticeable loading times and only minor, intermittent slowdown when the screen is swamped with enemies and projectiles.

The replay value for this game is high, especially if you have an interest in collecting a few of every Pokémon. Not every species appears in every trip through each level, requiring several playthroughs to even see them all, let alone befriend them. And even if you're not attempting to be the Pokémon Noah, the multitude of special abilities to try out and the giddy clash of the Battle Royale (which gets even more difficult to survive each time you advance in rank) are likely to keep you coming back for more.

A multiplayer mode is available as well, in which up to four players can select characters from the lead player's army and duke it out side by side. It can get a bit hectic with multiple players overlapping each other and shooting lightning everywhere (and unfortunately any time the Switch Pokémon window is opened it's bound to inconvenience the other players) but it's a great deal of fun, and an excellent way of getting a friend or family member involved. The simple concept and controls mean that anybody can just hop on and play, and the addictiveness of the battles means they probably won't want to stop.

Conclusion

It's difficult to find much wrong with Pokémon Rumble: everything it does is done quite well, and one can really only take issue with the things the game doesn't do. The gameplay might be limited, but it's a solid and fun gameplay experience, and what it lacks in depth it makes up for in accessibility, frantic action, and an excellent multiplayer mode. As one of the longer, more-replayable titles on the WiiWare service, Pokémon Rumble comes recommended.