The great big battle beasts of Bakugan, alongside their pint-sized schoolkid handlers, have been doing the rounds on TV and in various video/card games since 2007's Bakugan: Battle Brawlers series. This latest outing sees developer Wayforward attempt to shoehorn this universe into a Pokémon: Let's Go-style monster collectathon aimed squarely at small kids but, even for youngsters, this is a surprisingly simplistic affair comprising a dull story, mind-numbing battle action, offensively basic side-missions and a truly barebones online offering slapped on for bad measure.
To be fair to Bakugan: Champions of Vestroia, things do get off to a reasonably decent start with players jumping into a character creation suite to magic themselves up a brawling hero before being introduced to a world that, initially, looks and sounds like its got some potential. This is a bright and colourful game with a crisp, clean art-style and some impressively big beasts to get collecting. However, things begin to fall apart quickly with a lacklustre opening cinematic failing to explain how or why schoolchildren are running around having enormous scraps with gigantic alien monsters and a setting that soon reveals itself to be completely devoid of life or fun side activities to bolster the game's core Bakugan-battling action.
And what about that battling? Well, for a game that's gonna live or die on the collectability of its roster of creatures and how fun they are to get into scraps with, Bakugan: Champions of Vestroia doesn't half shoot itself in the foot at almost every opportunity. Battles here see you work with a team of three Bakugan that you'll have collected mainly via side-missions and going up against an AI team, duking it out by activating one of your four chosen Bakugan abilities at a time to batter your opponent into submission. Abilities must be charged up before they can be used, and in order to do this you'll need to sprint around arenas picking up neon charges from the floor which are then automatically absorbed by your currently activated creature.
It's an odd setup that sees you with little else to actually do during combat other than run around in constant circles in a race to pick up charges before your opponent while your Bakugan stands around in the background, awkwardly waiting for you to activate one of its powers, sometimes having a half-hearted swipe at its foe in a failed attempt to look interested, or just simply staring into the distance awaiting the sweet release of death. The whole thing feels disjointed and awkward and soon becomes tedious to the point of actual irritation.
Taken on its own, the idea of having this little minigame mechanic of running around trying to grab charges is a fair one, however, it dies a death here because the moves you're trying to activate are dull, the tactics non-existent and the animations so repetitive that we actually backed out to the menu on several occasions desperately searching for a way to skip them. The fights here, even for the young audience they're aimed at, are nothing short of turgid once the novelty of the first hour or so wears off. They're also unbelievably long. A Bakugan brawl routinely runs for around ten or so minutes, an excruciating amount of time when all you're doing is running around in circles, activating the same handful of powers and sitting through the same animations ad-nauseum.
There's a real laziness to those animations too and once you've watched them a few times you'll begin to see it. Our Sairus Bakugan, for example, has a Bakubite move that plays out in exactly the same way as its Shatterfist attack, striking out — for a bite — by swiping its claw, meaning it either has a mouth and teeth hidden somewhere on its hands or Wayforward wasn't that bothered with creating unique animations for each ability. The abilities you're working with are also pretty lacklustre overall and you'll find little reason to switch them up as the tediously slow campaign progresses. You have a few different attacks per beast, health restorations and debuffs to apply to your foes but it's all pitifully simplistic stuff and can be ignored in favour of simply smashing your most powerful move repeatedly or charging all of your Bakugans to the max in order to unleash a team attack that doesn't even have its own bespoke animation.
Further to this, once you've levelled a Bakugan up to a certain point, you can hit a button in order to evolve them, something which should be exciting and perhaps lead to your chosen creature transforming into a super sexy version of itself. Except here that doesn't happen. Your Bakugan looks exactly the same after evolving, gaining some health and strength, yeah, but not changing in the slightest cosmetically. It reeks of corner-cutting, and it continues to rear its head in the quality and quantity of the Bakugan on offer here.
Split evenly between five elements — Darkus, Haos, Ventus, Aquos and Pyrus — it initially seems that there are around about eighty unique beasts to get a handle on, with sixteen monsters per each of these elemental groups. However, once you start unlocking the things you'll quickly realise that they are in fact all repeated within each group, giving you an actual total of just sixteen beasts. This rather large problem is then exacerbated by the fact that each creature within an elemental type can use each and every one of that elemental group's unlockable abilities — there's no unique negatives or positives fixed to a particular Bakugan within a group and therefore no reason to choose one over the other, further negating any point behind bothering to collect them all or to switch them around within your team.
It's initially quite difficult to comprehend why a game so entirely based on collecting monsters in order to fight with them would make such little effort to provide either engaging combat or a reasonably large or diverse roster of collectible creatures for players to get to grips with. But then you start to take into account the dire quality of the dialogue, the ludicrously basic side-missions, the empty, sterile world map composed of tiny repetitive areas which are absolutely devoid of life or atmosphere and you begin to realise that Bakugan: Champions of Vestroia is perhaps as cynical a tie-in as it's possible to put together.
The game's multiplayer component too, is one of the most slapdash, rushed and basic offerings we've come across in ages. Jumping into this side of things you're presented with the option of either fighting a quick battle against a stranger or facing off against a friend. There are no options to tweak, no mode variations, no choices whatsoever and, once a match starts, you'll find there isn't even basic balancing in operation. You'll take on complete beginners with Bakugan who have health bars four or five times smaller than yours in battles that have absolutely nothing in the way of tactics about them. Simply run around, collect charges and smash whatever ability you like until it's done. The strongest team on paper will always win.
On a more positive note, in terms of performance, this is a decent looking game with crisp and colourful visuals that translate well to the Switch's handheld screen. We did notice some minor framerate drops during attacks in docked mode but, overall, the one area in which Bakugan: Champions of Vestroia can hold its head high is in how smoothly it plays in both docked and portable modes here. Besides this, however — unless you're a massive Bakugan fan or simply want a game you can play while fast asleep — this is one Pokémon rip-off that should be avoided; a lazy and repetitive game that quite quickly reveals itself to be devoid of any longevity, tactics or charm.
Bakugan: Champions of Vestroia attempts to shoehorn the long-running franchise into a Pokémon Let's Go-style affair aimed at younger players but does so with absolutely zero care or charm. This is a lazy, repetitive, basic game that slowly erodes your patience and goodwill with sloppy mechanics, a tiny roster of samey monsters and a world that reveals itself to be entirely devoid of character or life. Avoid.