Welcome to the Fiore region, a relaxed place where Pokémon are free from Poké Balls, able to roam around in the wild or stay as someone's pet if they've taken a liking to a particularly snug blanket. You are the newest recruit to the Rangers, a group of dedicated (but often dull) individuals who provide help to citizens or Pokémon in need. A third-generation spin-off from Hal Laboratory and Creatures, Inc., Pokémon Ranger is a stylus-based adventure that sees you drawing a "Capture Line" to catch Pokémon and making use of their abilities to help out on missions as you travel around, sorting out the mischief being caused by the Go-Rock Squad.
Whilst buttons can be used for movement and talking to individuals, the game can be controlled with just the stylus. This works well for movement as well as tapping on someone to talk to them, or on a sign to read. It's also the only control method available for combat, so you might as well stick with it rather than switching between touchscreen and buttons.
Walk into a Pokémon and the capture phase begins; here you simply draw a circle around the creature to capture them. It takes more than one loop, however; a number appears with your first loop and you keep circling to make it count down to zero. Creatures hop about the screen and even attack, should they pass through the line (or throw something at it) you must start again - this also causes damage to your "Capture Styler" so you must be careful where you're drawing. Difficulty increases as the game progresses, but you are essentially doing the same thing throughout the duration of your quest.
There's frustration early on in the game. Not through the controls or the difficulty, but from the game's desire to stop and explain how everything works to you. You may have quickly skimmed past the previous two paragraphs, but there's no fast way through the tutorial-focused opening. If a character wants to stop and tell you how to perform a water Poké Assist (even if you've just performed said assist), they will do. The game is straightforward to play which makes the constant barrage of "let me tell you…" incredibly frustrating. You should make use of save points (or just the Virtual Console restore point) frequently; the opening isn't difficult, but if you do slip up you don't want to have to sit through that a second time.
Pokémon Ranger is fairly well presented, despite some very basic sound effects. Music is a combination of chilled, breezy, exciting and adventurous - some of it is forgettable, but nothing annoys. During the game you'll keep bumping into the "Go-Rock Quads": a group of snazzily dressed siblings who insist on playing a catchy tune whenever they show up. Set across four different areas (with additional locations within) there's plenty of visual variety. Sometimes it can appear rather simple (lots of grass means lots of green), but other times the simplicity works well - such as Summerland's wooden walkways and huts atop the water.
Things gets steadily more difficult as you progress, with the attacks of Pokémon getting trickier to deal with and their numbers increasing, but it's always manageable. A single creature requiring a large number of loops can be easier to deal with than many small ones. That Charizard may be causing difficulty with all those flames, but it's just a matter of spying your opportunity; with several smaller foes there's lots of opportunity for things to go wrong. You level up as go, getting promotions after missions, allowing additional Pokémon to join your group and gaining the ability to use new assist moves too. You have a partner Pokémon (Minun or Plusle) that stays with you, but others join you on missions until you've used their abilities, swapped them out for someone else or just released them into the wild. Assist moves are something you'll use out of curiosity to begin with but later become genuinely helpful; the ability to stun several creatures in one place whilst you circle around and around is a welcome one.
The different Pokémon attack in a number of different ways, but as you are just drawing rings around them gameplay does get very samey. It doesn't help that not much happens between combat. There's little in the way of exploration as you finish one mission and then are quickly approached by someone else in need and off you go to the next one. On a mission there may be something obstructing your path, but rather than it being a puzzle that requires some thought to work out, you just wander off (a few screens) to find the Pokémon with the required move to help you.
Taking a different approach to things are the Capture Challenges; these are time-based challenges where you ride around on a creature (example: a Lapras in Summerland) capturing any Pokémon you bump into and attempting to accrue as many points as possible before the timer hits zero. It's a good mode and actually more enjoyable than the main missions.
The path to the end is straightfoward enough, but there's a lot of gameplay before you get to that end. There's not a great amount of replayability in the game, but there are some additional missions and if you like to "catch 'em all" your Capture Styler records the data of the Pokémon; with over 200 to track down that should keep you occupied for some time.
The game takes a while to get going and at times you'll feel like you are just walking from capture to capture, with little happening - gameplay wise - in between. The number of different Pokémon, their different attacks and figuring out when is best to draw those rings keeps things interesting, but it can get repetitive. Capture Challenges are enjoyable diversions and there's certainly entertainment to be had here, but ultimately Pokémon Ranger is a fun yet forgettable game.