Review: Pokemon Trozei (Nintendo DS)

Pokemon Trozei
Developer: Genius Sonority
Publisher: Nintendo
Genre: Puzzle
Release Date 3/8/2006

Ah yes, another Pokemon graces the Nintendo DS. It’s funny, but there has yet to be a Pokemon game released in the US in the RPG format that Pokemon usually comes in. Japan managed to get “Squirtle’s Mysterious Dungeon,” which I desperately want, but we here in North America have a strange racing game and now a puzzle game that involves lines of severed Pokemon heads that you need to connect in rows of various lengths.

For those of you unaware, this is actually the fourth Pokemon puzzle game released. We’ve had Pokemon Puzzle League, Pokemon Puzzle Challenge and Pokemon Puzzle on the Pokemon Mini, which I’m sure most of you don’t own. Alas.

Even though I’m probably the best known Pokemaniac in the world, I wasn’t planning to buy this title when it first came out. I STILL haven’t purchased Pokemon Snap. I dunno. The DS just hasn’t caught my interest the way it has the rest of the staff. But when Pokemoncenter.com offered a free bookbag and a 16 inch Stuffed Pikachu with Pokeball, well, I couldn’t resist. Those bastards. They know how to pull me back in!

And so here I am. Once again, I don my reviewer’s cap and sit down to pen my 105th review.

Let’s Review

1. Story

Yes, there is a story to a puzzle game, oddly enough. You play as Lucy Fleetfoot, a secret agent for the Secret Operations League. Professor P, leader of the SOL sends Lucy out with her Pokemon Aipom (my least favorite of all Pokemon BTW) and Manectric to thwart the schemes of the Phobos Battalion. Phobos, like Team Rocket before them, are all about stealing Pokemon for various reasons. But where Jessie and James can’t capture a single Pikachu, Phobos catches literally hundreds of Pokemon at once.

As you play through story mode, you battle through normal stages of clearing out playfields and making as many Trozei’s as you can before you catch the requisite number of Pokemon, or you die. There are also massive storage units where you have to clear out far more Pokemon than normal for a bigger challenge and often a chance at some rare Pokemon.

After so many stage and storage battles, you’ll unlock various boss fights that add new challenges to you battles such as turning the whole screen black so you have to go off silhouettes or dead balls that can only be cleared with the help of Ditto. Once you beat story mode, you unlock hard more, which really does live up to its name.

The story of Pokemon Trozei is cute, simple and harkens back to old school Pokemon nostalgia ala Red/Blue/Green/Yellow. The dialogue is snappy in parts, but stale and almost Engrish-y in others. There’s very little substance to it, and really the only time dialogue occurs is as the beginning or in boss fights. What’s there is nice, but ultimately it’s simply filler to connect the 20+ stages of the Story mode.

Story Rating: 5/10

2. Graphics

Visually, Trozei is unlike any other Pokemon game ever made. Its graphics have such a different look to them. I want to say it’s akin to the Batman: The Animated Series meets Dexter’s Laboratory visuals, but even that’s not quite right. I have a distinct feeling of deja vu when I look at Pokemon Trozei. It’s like I’ve seen the style before, and it’s grating on the back of my mind where I have, yet at the same time I know it’s wholly new and original to me. I love the character designs, the shading, the animation, all of it. Sadly though, all that I’ve mentioned is only found in story mode, and in very minute quantities. Still, what little is here is worth playing through. Especially each time you encounter a member of Phobos. I just adore the character designs of the bad guys here.

In the actual puzzle part of the game itself, there’s not much to talk about visually. You get severed heads of Pokemon filling up your screen. All are perfectly true to the original Pokemon designs from Game Freak, but they do nothing but wobble and so it’s hard to really rate the graphics aside from “They look like Pokemon heads.”

What it comes down to is Pokemon Trozei has small quantities of excellent when it comes to visuals. The cut scenes in story mode are fresh, original, and very well done. the problem is that if you add all their screen time together, you get about an hour of high quality graphics. Everything else is decent, but nothing great or that couldn’t be done on the GBA. It’s hard not to screw up practically stationary heads.

Graphics Rating: 6/10

3. Sound

There’s no voice acting in Pokemon Trozei, so this is going to simply be a look at the music and sound effects.

Like the graphics of Story mode, the music of Trozei is fresh, original, and very funky. It make me think of an updated or modernized beatnik feel. Of course, I can’t see Kerouac playing Pokemon if it was around in his day, but that’s still the impression I get. Again, we see Trozei going in a very different direction from all the other Pokemon games ever released, and that’s a good thing. Especially in the sound area.

Pokemon has always been the one franchise that manages to constantly try new directions before it gets stale in any one particular genre, but the music has always been variants of the same type of tunes, and often times are direct ports or remakes of the same songs. Not so here. Gone are the midi’s that get stuck in your head easily or the generic travel music. Pokemon Trozei gives us something a little hipper, snappier, faster, and jazzier. The downside is the music doesn’t stick in my head as easily, so I have to consider it far more forgettable. Check and balances though, no?

The sound effects are typical of any puzzle game. Interchangeable and out of sight, out of mind like what you would hear in Columns, Tetris, and so on. Couple this with the fact the music of Trozei tends to drown out the sound effects, and you have to wonder why Bust a Move DS is one of the few games that allows you to adjust sound effects and music independently from each other. Trozei could have really used this feature.

In the end, there’s good music here, but with there only being the same songs repeated non stop, you find the catchiness and originality giving way to annoyance and apathy.

Sound Rating: 6/10

4. Control and Gameplay

Pokemon Trozei features very simplistic gameplay, all of which is controlled through the touch screen and the stylus. As the Pokemon begin to fall down the screen, it is your job to arrange them into possible Trozei’s. A Trozei starts off when you align 4 of the same Pokemon horizontally or vertically. Think Connect Four. From there, you have a limited amount of time in which you can are given a Trozei Chance. During this time you can make Trozei’s with three or more Pokemon. Make one with three and the Trozei chance allows you to make Trozei’s with only two or more Pokemon. You keep going until the chance ends or you clear the screen. Repeat until you have captured the goal amount of Pokemon in Story mode, or if you are in Unlimited mode, you keep playing until you die by the screen filling up and you are unable to make any matches in time.

If at any time you make a Trozei with more than the required Pokemon, you will earn a Ditto. A Ditto acts as a wild card which makes it easier for you to clear the screen, not to mention gaining the extra 10,000 points for achieving such a feat.

For the most part, the controls are excellent. You can slide Pokemon left to right, right to left, temporary raise a column (but it will fall back down), or push a column down and the Pokemon pushed off the bottom will fall off the screen and reappear at the top. The only real problem with the controls is that the more the screen is filled with Pokemon, the less responsive the controls become. This is not something purposely designed into the game either. I can’t tell you how many times where I was in the middle of a Trozei and the game decided I was dead. You can see the Pokemon lined up on the screen and yet there it is. Game over. I asked other people I knew with the game if this had happened to them, and was greeted by affirmatives. Affirmatives usually followed immediately with profanity mind you. Still, this is the only real flaw in the controls that I was able to find.

It’s almost too cliche to say, but Pokemon Trozei is exceptionally simple to learn, but takes quite a few games before you really master the game.

Control and Gameplay Rating: 8/10

5. Replayability

Pokemon Trozei offers several variations other than the already mentioned Endless and Story modes. You can have Trozei battle, which pits two players against each other. There’s also Pair Trozei in which two players team up to try and achieve the highest score possible. Finally, there’s the Agent Cafe, where your DS automatically tries to “tag” other players that might be on through the wireless internet connection that your DS has. When you encounter another player through this manner, you will switch agents cards with them. That’s really it. But at least it’s an extra and lets you remember who you’ve encountered and/or played against.

Couple this with the fact there’s over 300 Pokemon to catch in the game, which each stage having 2-3 rare and hard to get Pokemon, and you’ll be playing this game for a long time. And for those of you with OCD, you’ll be playing it long after you’ve become quite bored with it.

Replayability Rating: 7/10

6. Balance

Balance is a hard thing to judge in this game. Endless Mode is VERY easy, and you find yourself getting bored long before the game ends. Adventure Mode the first time through is super easy, but in the battles where you have to clear 500 or more Pokemon, you again find yourself in the realm of “Am I done yet?” The boss battles, especially the last one can be quite tough though, and going through the story mode on the hard setting definitely shows an increase on the difficulty scale.

The problem simply is that the difficulty is always ramped up artificially and you can feel it. The boss battles are tough only because the computer can replace a Pokemon with a jammer ball and it will constantly do so WHILE you are in the middle of a Trozei. Oh, five character Trozei involving an ultra rare Pokemon you can only get right here right now? Jammed. The game is not so much tough, as it is simply out to piss you off.

Again, the real problem here is that the game is either super easy, or is easy but goes out of it’s way to take out your one shot at rare Pokemon that you have to spend hours just trying to get a chance to SEE, much less catch. That in and of itself is sure to alienate gamers.
In the end, the game isn’t ever truly that hard. It’s never relenting. It’s never challenging. It’s either far too easy or it replaces the concept of hard with “annoying.” That’s never a good thing. Especially for a puzzle game.

Balance Rating: 5/10

7. Originality

I found myself referring to Trozei as “Pokemon Bejeweled” and “Pokemon Connect Four” a lot when describing the game to friends. The abrupt change in graphics and sound are a nice new spin on the Pokemon franchise, but that too felt to me like an homage to late 1990’s Cartoon Network.

Pokemon Trozei is the latest amongst several Pokemon Puzzle games. Pokemon Trozei is around the 30th Pokemon game made, and although there are things that are new and different in regards to the usual take on the franchise, they still mirror other familiar things enough that it nagged at me until I remembered exactly why this game gave me deja vu on so many levels.

Generally I can go on and on about how Pokemon is so amazingly innovative. Even Pokemon Dash, which got poor reviews, was yet another breath of fresh air in the series. But then game Emerald which was YET another remake built off of the same engine that powered RGBY. And now we have Trozei, which is an inferior game to both Pokemon Puzzle League and Pokemon Puzzle Challenge, and it just feels too much like so many games you can play on Yahoo for free.

Disappointing. And for me to be disappointed by Two Pokemon games in less than a year (or at all) means the Apocalypse is nigh. But then I look at the adorable stuffed Pikachu that came with my game and go “OMG! PIKACHU! YOU’RE SO CUTE WITH YOU BIG EARS AND FUZZY FACE WITH SWEAT MEATS IN IT! YOU GOTS THE SWEET MEETS IN YOU! YES YOU DO! WITH THOSE BIG RED CHEEKS AND FURRY BELLY!”

And then everyone breathes a sigh of relief and climbs out of their bomb shelter.

Originality Rating: 5/10

8. Addictiveness

I’m going to be honest. The first two-three times through unlimited was fun. The first half of story mode kept me glued. But then I became so bored with the game it became a chore for me to review it. Pokemon should not be a chore to me. Pokemon should be having me act like a seven year old girl who found a closet full of pixie stix. Even our head editor of Inside Pulse Music Gloomchen, who is almost as big a Pokemon addict as me, was bored with Trozei by the time she got to level 17 and was glad she had died finally by level 21. That’s not a good sign. We then spent 10 minutes talking about why Pokemon Puzzle Challenge was superior regarding both story mode and in its version of unlimited mode. It just comes down to the fact that Pokemon Trozei is too easy and offers little to no variety.

The DS is a haven for puzzle games. Tetris, Bust-A-Move, Meteos, and more. And Pokemon Trozei just isn’t up to the level of quality that’s already out for the system. Yes it’s cute and snazzy, but I bitch about Final Fantasy 7 about being all graphics and no substance till I’m blue in the face. I’d be a damned hypocrite if I didn’t say Pokemon Trozei was the FF7 of Puzzle games for the DS and/or the entire Pokemon Franchise.

Again, it’s just too lackluster and repetitive for my tastes. Give me Bust-A-Move with over 100 varieties of levels.

Addictiveness Rating: 4/10

9. Appeal Factor

Due to the growing idiocy amongst what passes for the average gamer in this day and age, some gamers won’t touch Trozei because it’s got Pokemon and god forbid they play a game that is cute or that kids might like when they can play something with gore or pixilated tits. Puzzle gamers and Pokemon fanatics will probably pick the game up, but put it down quickly because it’s not up to the level of quality one expects from the Pokemon franchise. Hell, fellow IP’er Alex Williams traded his copy in and he’s one of the biggest Pokemaniacs I know. The three biggest Pokemon fanboys I know (and I’m including myself in that) all went blah to this game. THAT’S NOT A GOOD SIGN PEOPLE!

Appeal Factor Rating: 4/10

10. Miscellaneous

One of the big saving graces of Pokemon Trozei is that you can send a demo version of the game to people over the DS wi-fi connection. You can even engage in versus and pair battles with them. Not only does this save an extra $35 for a second copy of the game, but it lets your friends test out the game without having to buy it or borrow your copy for an extended period of time. Considering how lackluster I found Trozei it’s a big risk for Genius Sonority to include this option, and one I have to give them props for doing. Letting people test out the product before paying full price is something we need for of in the industry.

However, for every good there is a bad. In Pokemon Trozei, my least favorite aspect of the game is ironically enough the “Gotta Catch ‘Em All” aspect. In the RPG’s and Pinball, the collecting aspects were pure perfection. Here it’s a complete annoyance. There are very few rare or nigh impossible to get Pokemon in the other games. In Pokemon Trozei you hit a brick wall at the 50% mark. In one game of unlimited, you can go from 0% to 25%. In one full story mode, you can catch half the Pokemon in the game. But then the other half are ultra rare Pokemon that only occur on certain levels on Unlimited or in certain stages of Story Mode. Even then, they are completely by chance and you might never see them. The Unlimited mode ones are the worse, because you will have to repeat that level constantly until you get the rare ones. That my friends, is the gateway to madness itself. The whole “collecting” aspect in Pokemon Trozei was so poorly done, ESPECIALLY in comparison to how the other Pokemon franchise games went at it, that it really takes a lot of the enjoyment out for the bigger Pokemon fans. When HALF the characters are as hard to get as the Legendary Trio in Silver/Crystal/Gold, and without the tracking trick to make it easier, the fun goes down the crapper.

So one really good thing to file under miscellaneous, and one really bad thing. Breaking even yet again.

Miscellaneous Rating: 5/10

The Scores
Story: 5
Graphics: 6
Sound: 6
Control/Gameplay: 8
Replayability: 7
Balance: 5
Originality: 5
Addictiveness: 4
Appeal Factor: 4
Miscellaneous: 5
Total Score: 55
Overall Score: 5.5

Short Attention Span Summary
Save your cash. Get Pokemon Puzzle Challenge for the GBC for a lot less cash and to have a lot more fun. All Trozei did was leave me with a deep rooted feeling of disappointment and annoyance that the biggest money maker we’ll ever see for the DS, Mysterious Dungeon, doesn’t even have a US release date yet. Come on Nintendo. Get it together already!

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