During the holiday season of 2006, the attention of gamers the world over was focused solely on the release of the Wii and Playstation 3, the latest consoles from Nintendo and Sony. As a result, quite a few gems for the Nintendo DS got lost in the marketing onslaught, most notably Elite Beat Agents and Pokémon Ranger. The former is often cited as one of the best rhythm games to ever grace any platform and one of the best DS games while the latter took the Pokémon franchise into new territory.
The follow-up to the original, Pokémon Ranger: Shadows of Almia, recently hit store shelves across North America. Since the release of the original game, the fourth generation of Pokémon have been introduced to the world allowing the developers to include even more monsters in the sequel. Only a little more than half of the four hundred plus Pokémon managed to snag a spot in the final version though.
It should be noted that Shadows of Almia isn't your typical "gotta catch 'em all" Pokémon game. It puts a unique, action-oriented spin on the franchise. If you have played the original, you are probably aware that the game put a large amount of emphasis on an item called a Capture Styler, a device that allows rangers to befriend Pokémon and use their field moves to overcome environmental problems. To do to this, players draw circles rapidly around a Pokémon using the DS stylus. Each of the many creatures desire a set number of rings drawn around them and when players finally meet that number, they lift up on the stylus, and voilà, they have befriended it.
Creatures, the developer of the Shadows of Almia, obviously thought that was too hard and has toned down the difficulty by quite a measure. The game now allows players to lift up their stylus' before the required number of loops are drawn while still being able to befriend the Pokémon. Players fill up a capture meter with every circle created. The meter, however, will go down if not continuously filled, but it does allow players to dodge attacks from their targets.
At the beginning of the game, players have the opportunity of selecting a partner from seventeen different Pokémon, each with their own special abilities. Before you acquire a partner though, you have to hunt them down in order to graduate from Ranger School which serves as the in-game tutorial.
Shadows of Almia takes place in the Almia region where players investigate mysterious machines being placed by the evil Team Dim Sun who are hypnotizing wild Pokémon. The main objective is to destroy the machines by using their Pokémon's skills. The game does a pretty decent job of telling the story but unfortunately it's very linear. The missions are very repetitive too as almost all of them involve destroying machines placed by the Dim Sun. There are a few side quests that are worth completing but they don't offer enough of a distraction to have a positive impact on the whole.
Elsewhere, the game allows players to connect to their Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection to acquire downloadable missions. In the previous Pokémon Ranger players were able to transport an egg (which contains the rare Manaphy) to two other games (Pokémon Diamond or Pearl) to hatch. Shadows of Almia also enables players to obtain Manaphy, but they also get the opportunity to acquire Riolu, which really isn't anything to write home about as it's easy to obtain in Diamond and Pearl.
Above all, Pokémon Ranger: Shadows of Almia feels more like Pokémon Ranger 1.5 rather than Pokémon Ranger 2.0. The lack of improvements severely hurts the game, as does the rehash in additional missions. There is little to no improvement or variation in sound and graphics either. If you liked the original, you will probably love this, but if it wasn't enough to win you over then Shadows of Almia probably won't either. If you are new to the series, give the game a try and see if you like it. It's not your typical Pokémon title but it's definitely worth a look.