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With the growing interest in games like Skylanders SWAP Force and Disney Infinity, core gamers have learned to look a little harder at cartoony offerings before writing them off. There are plenty of clangers to avoid, but discerning the chaff from the wheat is becoming somewhat harder.

Beyblade Evolution on 3DS is coming this year and may well be the best game you’ve overlooked in 2013. Many will assume that this is really only for fans of the cartoons and spinning tops – young players, or those that were young when the Beyblade craze was rife. However, there is more here than meets the eye. We spent a week or so with the game to see what all the fuss was about, and when it came time to return it, we found ourselves pining for the coveted Beyblade collection we had spent so long crafting.

The game works around a central story where you progress through various Beyblade Tournaments and mini-games to get to the final Championship. Along the way you earn money and start building up your collection. Unlike many other games, you don’t finish it by completing the story. Instead, the design intends you to work through the tournaments a number of times. This not only allows you to improve your collection of Beyblades, but also pits you against different challengers. Essentially it’s different each time.

Lurking beneath this cartoon title is in fact a pretty nuanced RPG. But instead of characters in your party you develop a set of spinning tops. Get over the peculiarity of this — and let’s face it there are plenty of weird RPGs out there — and you realise that the real enjoyment is had in understanding how the hundreds of different Beyblade components interact with each other in battle. Those who missed the craze may not realise that the main novelty of Beyblades is that they can be mix and matched (much like Skylanders SWAP Force). Only rather than 256 combinations here there are literally tens of thousands.

Also, it’s the physical behaviour of each part that dictates how it will behave in battle. The tip specifies whether it will move around or stay still. A more aggressive set-up will include a fast tip that sees the Beyblade flinging itself around the arena in an effort to knock competitors out. A more defensive style will use a tip that keeps the spinning top still to try and avoid contact and conserve momentum. That momentum can be maximised by heavier ring components that are smooth to avoid jarring contact or it can be used in anger with rings that jut out to catch unsuspecting opponent’s tops and fling them from the arena.

The game simulates these real world physics in each enemy encounter. Before you fight, you pick the Beyblade with the stats to match both the arena and your opponent – defensive, balanced or attack. Then the battles themselves are in real time. You pull the 3DS towards you at just the right time to maximise your “rip”, putting energy into your spinning top. Then you can target and fire energy boosting Spirit attacks to help maintain momentum or increase attacks.

Once we got into it and started to understand how the different elements worked together in the battle simulations it became rather addictive. Furthermore, these battles play out largely as they do in the real world. This is not only a nice nod to fans of the physical toys, but also gives the game a sense of substance.

Like any video game or toy craze, when you hear someone talking about it in detail it sounds like another language, or perhaps that they have joined some strange cult. But again, look past this aspect and the intricacies start to make a real contribution to gameplay.
Beyond the story and battle mechanic, Beyblades Evolution offers local battles. Here too there is something of a difference. This uses an AR card to let two players pit their tops against each other in a virtual real world. Each player sees the action through their camera played out on the desktop and can apply the same ripping and spirit attack technique as in the main game. The experience is rather magical for the players (and quite funny to watch).

The final part of the puzzle is the special edition of the game that comes with a limited edition Beyblade. For collectors this is another reason to buy the game, and if you don’t want to pay extra you can just opt for the standard version. Beyblade Evolution may look like a kid’s cartoon game, but in fact is one of the most in depth role play experiences we've come across on the 3DS with an exquisitely balanced real world, real-time battle system.