Let's get one thing straight before we begin: we're going to go into this entire review without comparing Nexomon: Extinction to Pokémon. This is a very original RPG with items that have original names such as “Super Potion” and “Max Revive”…actually, who are we trying to kid? We will compare it to Pokémon, because it basically is Pokémon.

Nexomon wears its influences unapologetically on its sleeve. You’re a kid who becomes a Nexomon tamer (not trainer, that’s a different word, see?), you must travel the land going from town to town while catching and training (sorry, taming) more Nexomon, and of course eventually saving the world. It’s the same idea, same formula, and even has the same battle UI. But looking past all that, can Nexomon possibly use this formula to offer something Game Freak doesn’t?

Well, at first, the story doesn’t seem to deviate far from its inspirations; you’re a young kid ready to embark on your Nexomon journey but your trip into the woods to find a Wild Nexomon is quickly halted by the arrival of a violent Dragon Nexomon. The story quickly makes a statement that this won’t just be your usual Pokémon affair – a character that only you can see stops time and offers you one of 9 starter Nexomon. It doesn’t really matter which one you choose as, unlike Pokémon, these all commonly appear in the wild.

It’s a far less grounded tale than Pokémon usually aims for, but it certainly grabs your attention early on and more importantly it pushes you into your adventure without having to sit through waves of dialogue. Not only did we get our starter Nexomon within the opening minutes, but we were already out in the wild building up our party.

This refreshing change of pace is one of the key areas in which the game stands out over its inspiration; not only is the story brisk, but because it’s a 2D game, you don’t really have to wait around for anything to load. The transition between overworld and battle is near-instantaneous, battle animations are short and to the point, and even healing your Nexomon at a “not Pokémon centre, honest” is simplified to a quick flash of the screen rather than seeing each Poké Ball slowly entered one by one.

On the surface, it all looks very similar. You can only carry 6 Nexomon at a time, battles revolve around elemental properties, and you encounter wild Nexomon by walking into tall grass. However, there are some nuances to the otherwise identical systems, most importantly how battles work. In Pokémon, there’s very little to stop you from favouring one monster and relying on the same powerful move to get you through the game, and that’s the first thing Nexomon tries to remedy.

Instead of being able to use each move a select number of times, creatures now have an overall stamina gauge with the more powerful moves depleting the gauge faster. It doesn’t take long for it to run low, meaning you have to either sacrifice turns to rest or (more ideally) switch out for another Nexomon. On paper, this is a really good twist on Pokémon’s formula and legitimately goes a long way to giving Nexomon its own identity. It was extremely rare for us to get through a battle without wearing our team down and utilising every single one of them… but on the other hand, that can get quite exhausting after one single battle.

Nexomon certainly does a lot to speed up areas of Pokémon’s formula, but battles end up feeling slower than ever. "Super Effective" moves would be lucky to take off a third of an opponent’s health and most Tamer battles end with at least a few of your Nexomon falling in combat. Those who have been asking for a more challenging Pokémon outing may welcome this, but it doesn’t feel particularly respectful of your time – we often had to head back to the aforementioned “not Pokémon centre” after only a battle or two. The economy of the game is also far less generous than Pokémon, making it difficult to load up on healing items. There are some great ideas in here, but they just don’t feel balanced around the surrounding pillars of this design template.

We would often end up spending most of our money on Nexomon Traps (a less cosy name for Poké Balls). These are likewise in rather short supply, which is strange for a game that revolves around collecting over 380 of these monsters. We would occasionally encounter a design we really liked but had no means to catch it, which is as frustrating as it sounds.

With such a large roster of Nexomon, there are bound to be a few misses in the design department, but there are still some strikingly brilliant creatures on display here. A couple are a little over-designed, but the creatures that really succeed in this regard wouldn’t feel out of place in Game Freak’s own lineup, and you can't get higher praise than that. There's also some great personality in the writing, such as NPCs freaking out if you enter their house while you’re still an unknown Tamer. It certainly has a flavour of its own.

Routes end up being considerably larger than any Pokémon game, so much so that we actually got lost a few times and ended up travelling to towns we weren't supposed to come across until later in the story. You will still occasionally find roadblocks to stop you from going too far, but you’re mostly free to venture off the beaten path, which is great for the variety in team building.

One thing we weren't expecting, however, was for a Tamer we defeated a mere 30 minutes ago to be ready for an unavoidable rematch. It’s a cool idea to revisit random Tamers you’ve already defeated and see how their team has grown over the course of the game, but the rate at which this triggers can make overworld traversal a tiring chore. It’s yet another example of a perfectly good twist on the existing formula which is let down by messy execution.

Those who were let down by Sword and Shield’s visual presentation might find more to appreciate here. Nexomon may be a 2D game, but it ends up feeling remarkably expressive and full of life. During battle, every single Nexomon is beautifully animated and the hand-drawn backdrops look absolutely stunning. It brings us back to the days of Pokémon Black & White, which arguably has some of the best art direction in the entire series; it’s great to see that the torch has been passed on, spiritually at least.

Nexomon may be roughly a third of the price of Pokémon, but we were nonetheless disappointed to find that it lacks any multiplayer whatsoever. The added complexity of battles would have translated incredibly well to a competitive setting, but in its current state, all the training you put your party through is strictly used for single-player, which can feel like a bit of a waste. This doesn’t undermine the core story in any way, but it does leave you with considerably less to do in the post-game, and a lack of incentive to keep building your party beyond catching all the Nexomon. There are a lot of good ideas on show here, but the majority of them are countered by something holding them back.

Conclusion

Nexomon: Extinction does enough to make it somewhat distinct, but the unique elements can also be its undoing. It mostly succeeds in being a more deliberate and challenging take on Pokémon, but that difficulty can oftentimes come across as exhausting and artificial. If you felt let down by Sword and Shield there may be aspects of Nexomon you really enjoy, but we can't help but feel that the slow pace of battles and lack of multiplayer features prevent it from being a true rival; it's really more like a cheap alternative, but one that's arguably worth a look if you're a hardcore fan of Game Freak's famous franchise.