Two years ago, Nintendo released the surprisingly addictive Pokémon Rumble on WiiWare. It was a bizarre little title that took the various generations of Pokémon and reduced them to jittering clockwork toys haphazardly duking it out in chaotic Battle Royales. We liked it quite a lot, but it was difficult not to be boggled by its strangeness.
With the benefit of hindsight, it's easier to see what Nintendo was doing: Pokémon Rumble was a trial run. The relatively small WiiWare audience was essentially a focus group that would vote with its collective wallets as to whether or not Rumble deserved to become a sub-series of its own. Gamers and critics voted "yay," and Pokémon Rumble Blast is here to make good on Nintendo's end of the bargain.
Those who haven't played the WiiWare game would do well to read our Pokémon Rumble review, as nearly all of it holds true for the sequel. That's both a good and bad thing.
The core gameplay of Pokémon Rumble Blast is simple: you control a little clockwork Pokémon with the circle pad, and use a single button to attack. Eventually you can unlock attacks for a second button, but you can only ever hold two attacks per Pokémon at a time, and if you collect a third you'll have to lose one of the ones you started with.
The simplicity of the controls means there's very little in the way of strategy. The famous Pokémon weakness chain is in effect here, but beyond that the battles consist of simply attacking and retreating at the appropriate times. This might sound like a complaint, but it isn't: this very simplicity gave the WiiWare release so much of its charm, and it's a relief to find that it wasn't needlessly complicated here.
When you attack other clockwork Pokémon, you will either defeat them or "befriend" them. The ability to befriend is always based — at least a small amount — on luck, but there are ways within the game that you can increase your chances. Any befriended Pokémon are added to your roster and you can choose to control them at any time. Needless to say, befriending the giant bosses is always a good idea.
Areas are clearly delineated, and you enter them from a more cohesive overworld. Each area has a set number of Pokémon that you can befriend, and you'll see how many you have yet to befriend each time you enter.
Periodically, when your army is strong enough, you can enter your Pokémon soldiers in larger battles for prize money, but you can't befriend anybody that you beat in these situations.
So far, this all pretty much sounds like the WiiWare release. And, again, that's both a good and a bad thing. It's good because the WiiWare release was a smooth, enjoyable experience, and that's still the case here. It's less good, though that the full retail release didn't add much more variety to the game.
The areas are all pretty plain. There's some nice background activity here and there, but they're basically just differently-styled enemy pits, and that can get dull after a while. With WiiWare's limited file size, this was understandable; on a cartridge, it's hardly even forgivable. Even much of the WiiWare game's music was ported over without change, and that's sort of puzzling as it wasn't anything all that great to begin with.
The larger battles fare a bit better, as they're always frantic and busy enough to distract you from the repetition. In addition to the Battle Royale, as well, the game features Charge Battles and Team Battles, which shake up the rules somewhat but still deliver on the larger-scale anarchic fun.
There are also towns to visit that serve as resting points, and shades of a larger story which — thankfully — does not dominate the actual gameplay. But otherwise, you're not going to find much you didn't already find on WiiWare.
The 3D is absolutely a feature, as certain attacks and cut scenes take full advantage of the 3DS's visual capabilities, and there are also StreetPass features available that allow you to smack some strangers around. The two-player cooperative mode is certainly welcome and also a lot of fun, but Download Play is not supported and both players will need to own the cartridge.
We're not conflicted about whether or not we can recommend this game — we very easily can — but we are conflicted about how closely it hews to the original formula. Token attempts at variety are pencilled in here and there, but the game itself starts to feel a little too familiar a little too quickly.
For those who don't own the WiiWare version, Pokémon Rumble Blast is recommended. For those who do, ask yourself how much you want a portable version with 3D graphics. It's a fun game, but you'll know the answer to that question better than we will.
Pokémon Rumble Blast is a good game, but — let's face it — we've played it before. The 3DS gave Nintendo a wider palette to work with, but it seems like it was content to leave well enough alone. Because of that we feel comfortable recommending it, but we also feel compelled to remind you that a very similar game is already available through WiiWare, and it's less expensive as well. The choice is yours.