DS title Pokémon Link — known as Pokémon Trozei in North America — was a fine example of how Nintendo has been able to diversify and expand the franchise in different directions. This download-only sequel — once again developed by Genius Sonority — continues that trend, but has more monsters to catch, locations to explore and complexities to uncover.
If you've played many Match 3 puzzle titles over the past few years then you'll know roughly what to expect with Pokémon Link: Battle! (also known as Pokémon Battle Trozei in North America). Various Pokémon are arranged in your "Link Box" on the bottom screen of the 3DS, and using your stylus you can move them around to create matched lines. A line of three will cause the Pokémon to disappear and damage will be inflicted on the wild Pokémon which appears on the upper screen, but going for longer lines results in more damage, as well as other bonuses. For example, getting a link of five Pokémon instigates a "Scatter Attack", which deals out punishment to more than one wild Pokémon on the top display.
What makes Pokémon Link: Battle! slightly different from games like Puzzle & Dragons is that when you start a link you have a limited amount of time to add more Pokémon. Matching three starts the link, but if you're swift enough you can add a couple more before the process is complete. Furthermore, it's possible to create cascading links as more Pokémon fall into the Link Box to take the place of those which have been cleared. This can often result in considerable chain-reactions which increase the amount of damage you eventually administer.
It doesn't end there, however. Getting a link of four or more Pokémon opens up other possibilities — match three or more immediately afterwards and you'll trigger a "Link" (or "Trozei") chance. During these moments it's possible to create links with two Pokémon instead of the usual three, which means you can build up a massive combo if you're fast enough with the stylus; keen players will find that they can entirely empty the Link Box during these attacks. This mechanic makes Pokémon Link: Battle feel a lot more frantic than similar Match 3 titles; in other games, you only have to worry about scanning the playing area for your next move, but here you almost have to plan two or three moves in advance to ensure that the combo keeps on going.
As is the case in the core Pokémon series, each monster's attributes play a role and knowing all of the various strengths and weaknesses is definitely a bonus. Pitching a type which has an advantage against the enemy Pokémon will result in more effective damage, while taking the opposite approach will reduce the impact of your attack and potentially waste a combo. It's worth keeping in mind that the element type of your attack is determined by the very first link you make, which lends the game a welcome element of strategy — there's little point in racking up a massive combo if you know that your opening move isn't going to be effective against your opponent. Needless to say, a broad knowledge of the Pokémon universe is incredibly helpful, especially when you're facing a stern opponent and need to identify a suitable Pokémon type with which to fight back. Less experienced players who don't know their Chespin from their Magikarp may find the whole experience slightly bewildering, but knowledge comes with time.
Of course, during gameplay the enemy Pokémon don't simply sit there and absorb your attacks — they fight back, depleting your health and sometimes smashing through the barrier which surrounds the Link Box, thereby making it harder for you to create successful links. Thankfully it's possible to regain health by linking Chancey, and other Pokémon have special powers which can be called upon to level the playing field. You'll certainly need to use these whenever possible, as the stronger foes you face don't think twice about playing dirty — they have special powers that shuffle the order of your Link Box when you're in the middle of a combo, making it hard to build up an effective attack.
To counter such nefarious tactics you can pick any Pokémon you've successfully linked with as your partner, which means that they are certain to be added to the Link Box on each stage. If you know the type of Pokémon you're likely to face then you can select a partner which is strong against that type, giving some an advantage from the start. The more you use a Pokémon as a partner, the stronger the bond becomes between the two of you and this results in even deadlier attacks.
Pokémon Link: Battle's single player mode sees you moving around an island and fighting Pokémon in various locations, and it goes without saying that ensnaring all 718 Pokémon (that's every single one in the series so far, including those introduced in Pokémon X & Y) is going to take quite some time. When this challenge is eventually overcome the allure of multiplayer beckons, but sadly it's limited to local play only — being able to play against others online would have increased the longevity of the game even further.
Pokémon Link: Battle's surprise announcement hasn't given fans much time to get hyped up about its arrival, but it certainly deserves to find a large audience. The Match 3 puzzle action is well done, and the emphasis on building combo attacks makes it feel significantly different from other examples of this genre. There's also the appeal of collecting all of the 718 Pokémon in the game, and while the lack of online multiplayer feels like a missed opportunity, local co-op matches with friends fill the void to an extent. Like so many puzzle titles, repetition does become an issue over prolonged periods of time, but the portable nature of the host platform makes this ideal short-burst entertainment.