Pokémon Rumble Rush is the fifth in the Pokémon Rumble series and the first to enter the mobile fray. This game takes the mechanics of the series to new levels by providing another Pokémon “Game as a Service” Experience, and unlike the previous Pokémon Rumble games, there’s not much of a story to this game. You get sent out to explore some islands and beat the bosses of the island – that’s really all there is to it. The game includes access to all seven generations of Pokémon presently in the game, but with a catch: the entire game is an 'event'.
Basically, after the tutorial, you gain access to an island, which contains a few dozen Pokémon and loads of areas to explore. However, the area will rotate out every two weeks meaning you’ll need to keep coming back to get more Pokémon. This is a very interesting way of keeping people invested in the game as there are 809 available Pokémon, and this number is set to rise when Sword and Shield drops; this means there could be a year’s worth of content for this title, if not more. However, with each island, you have to start anew with fresh Pokémon as you can’t take the Pokémon with you to an island they weren’t found in.
The gameplay is fairly simple, even more so than previous Pokémon Rumble games. When you go into a stage, the Pokémon will automatically move forward towards an enemy. It will also auto-attack opponents, but you can take over to increase the number of attacks or dodge incoming blows. At the end of each level is a larger, more powerful boss that requires more hits to take out. There are also two dozen Super Bosses that are even stronger and require a lot more strategy. The setup is fairly simple but it does feel somewhat rewarding when you manage to defeat a strong boss; it’s quintessentially a mobile game in that regard. Pokémon are also dropped randomly, with random stats and moves, but the stats generally get higher as you progress through the island.
You can even improve the Pokémon with various Gears you obtain when you refine Ores. Ores are rare drops at the end of stages and come in three varieties. Each takes a certain amount of time to refine, from 30 minutes up to 10 hours (yes, this is a mobile game alright). Each Pokémon can have up to two slots for Gears to improve their stats, as well as a slot for Summon Gear. Summon Gears bring another Pokémon in to unleash a powerful move. This actually turns out to be very necessary as you progress through the stages towards the end, as CP requirements for getting to Super Bosses exceed the CP range you can obtain.
Getting to the stages themselves is another matter. To do so, you get Guide Feathers that you can place on a map which can take you to a stage based on the co-ordinates of the map. To do this, you simply touch the screen, but this can be frustrating inaccurate on your typical smartphone display. Each area has a specific set of co-ordinates, and you're able to discover areas yourself or find areas other players have discovered by sharing the coordinates with your friends; however, we lost count of the number of times we accidentally missed and selected a different stage; the UI in this part of the game really doesn't do the player any favours. Thankfully, the last two to three stages you played are saved and can be accessed at any time, and you can even bookmark a stage so it doesn’t get knocked off the list. You can even see hints of general locations that other people have found stages of certain Pokémon.
There is no cool-down with the stages so you can go through them repeatedly without having to purchase anything, but you do need to collect Guide Feathers in order to find a new location. This is a random drop at the end of a stage which means that, along with trying to get a good Pokémon, you’ll be going through stages repeatedly just in the hope of getting a Guide Feather. Due to the imprecise nature of the map screen, you may not find the one you want, which makes it quite frustrating having to grind to get a feather and then have to repeat it because you didn’t succeed in picking the island you desired. A method which allows you to input the coordinates for an island when looking for a specific Pokémon would be welcome, even if it’s only unlocked when you’ve beaten all the Super Bosses of the island.
The game's microtransactions come in the form of Poké Diamonds which are used to speed up the refinement of ore. You can easily play the game without these, but as Gear and Coins come from Ore and are needed to boost your Pokémon up, you will definitely find yourself struggling if you’re playing without spending any cash. There are also a few bonuses that come from buying bundles, including getting more Pokémon for three days, and another slot for refining Ore for three days. This does feel a bit exploitative in that it’s only a limited time boost, rather than an unlocked feature.
Graphically, the game looks exactly like the previous Pokémon Rumble games. It uses the same models that have been in place since the series began, with new Pokémon being adapted into this style. As the game is based on Toy Pokémon this simplicity is forgivable, but the 'mon don’t look their best and there aren’t that many improvements over the 3DS Rumble games, other than resolution. The overall presentation otherwise is still fairly decent. The music is catchy and the sound effects and move animations are solid.
Overall, Pokémon Rumble Rush is a charming game, and fun for those who like collecting things. However, the awkward map feature and the requirement of refining ore to get gears to boost the Pokémon mean it can be a needlessly frustrating grind, and the inclusion of a two-week deadline between area swaps, there's the perhaps some unwelcome added pressure thrown into the mix as well. As we all perhaps expected, this free-to-play Pokémon outing doesn't set the world on fire, but the truly dedicated fans who have followed the Rumble series this far will enjoy it all the same.