Hands-On Preview: Bakugan Battle Brawlers (Nintendo Wii)

If you’re as old as I am, you may not have noticed, but Bakugan has become a pretty big thing. With an animated TV series, a collectible board game, toys and other such novelties around for kids to play with and collect, it’s become something of a massive phenomenon at this point. Therefore, it was inevitable that a video game would follow with so much interest and excitement surrounding the product. Activision has managed to scoop up the rights to develop and publish the game, which will be released October 20th, so fans of the franchise won’t have long to wait to try the game out for themselves. For those who have been wondering what, exactly, to expect from the upcoming Bakugan Battle Brawlers, however, I was recently given the opportunity to test out a pre-release copy of the game, as well as ask some important questions about the upcoming game, like “will there be online multiplayer?”, “how in-depth is this game going to be?”, and, of course, “what, exactly, is Bakugan?”

Because I’m old, you see.

The concept behind Bakugan is one part Yu-Gi-Oh and one part Pokemon, though the description doesn’t really do the game justice. As the television show depicts it, players use their Bakugan to fight one another, with the goal being to take control of Gate Cards they’ve placed on the map. Players toss their Bakugan out onto the Gate Cards, and the Bakugan themselves then match up their power totals based on elemental damage abilities, modifiers on the Gate Cards, and any additional bonuses, with the stronger Bakugan winning the fight. Once you take three Gate Cards, you win the match, and you can take the Gate Cards through fighting opponents or by landing two Bakugan on the same Gate Card, depending on the circumstances. Bakugan are tied to one of six different elements (Earth, Wind, Fire, Water, Light and Dark, basically), which influences the benefits they receive from Gate Cards, as said Gate Cards improve elemental power to different levels, and the player can also carry up to three Ability Cards at one time that they can use to further boost their Bakugan, if only temporarily. The game itself is fairly simple to understand but well designed enough to be strategically interesting, while the show makes the experience into a fantastic, vibrant battle between huge mythical beasts, so as you can expect, any video game associated with Bakugan is going to have its hands full trying to replicate the experience.

After a basic explanation of how the game worked and what the developers were going for, I was given control of the Wii version to test out a battle and see how things actually came together. The battle itself was pretty basic, as it was a tutorial battle against perennial punching bag Shuji in a fairly standard battle arena. The match started out with both players tossing out Gate Cards, then allowed me to choose one of my three Bakugan and toss it down. For the Wii version, the controls are motion sensitive, meaning that you’ll pick the Bakugan you want, then toss it with a flick of the Wiimote, either by tossing said Bakugan or outright throwing it. You can also steer your Bakugan after throwing it, to make sure it lands where you wanted it to, which was also simple enough to grasp. Once Shuji tossed down his Bakugan, the battle started for real and we were able to play our Ability cards on our Bakugan to beef them up.

In another interesting twist, however, Bakugan brawls start off with a mini-game that allows you to boost the stats of your Bakugan beyond what it gets from the Gate Card and your Ability cards. There are three mini-games I’m aware of that pop up during battles: a Dance Dance Revolution style rhythm game where you press one or multiple buttons as they scroll across the screen, a Wiimote shaking mini-game where you shake the Wiimote as the screen instructs to build up more power, and a shooting mini-game I didn’t get the chance to see. The difficulty of the Bakugan Battle will determine how hard these mini-games are, and they can mean the difference between success and defeat in close battles. The Tutorial Battle was fairly basic and I was able to pick up the controls and mechanics in minutes, though I was given a demonstration of some of the more involved battlegrounds that really showed how involved battles can become. One stage I was shown was a water stage that featured launching springs and ramps the Bakugan could roll around, complete with Ability cards and energy boosts to collect along the way. The opponent can shoot at your Bakugan as it rolls around the environment, however, which can knock you off course and deal damage to your Bakugan, and if you don’t land on the Gate Card, you essentially lose that turn and any power-ups you’ve collected, making the mechanic very risk-reward oriented.

The Story Mode takes place sometime during the second season of the show, meaning that you won’t be seeing anything from the Bakugan: New Vestroia season, but a significant amount of content from the first two seasons will be available to you. You start off the Story Mode by customizing your character, where you can change their face, hair, outfit, and starting element, among other things. The creation elements seemed involved enough, and other items will be unlocked as you play through the story. The story itself follows some sort of unspecified evil plot by big bad Hal-G that involves the Doom Dimension, though we’re only shown that something comes out of it in the intro, shortly before your character finds his own special Bakugan, who calls himself Leonidas, like the king of Sparta. Much like the Spartan king, Leonidas derives joy from battle and seems to have a bit of a competitive streak, but what role he will play in the story is a mystery at this point. One thing that IS for certain is that he is a brand-new Bakugan, never before seen in the series, though there will also be forty regular Bakugan, around two hundred Ability cards to use, and some additional characters to play as aside from the main cast, making the game a good bit more than a simple “YOU’RE IN THE STORY!” affair.

I was given a little tour of the Story Mode after the tutorial battle, and the different things the player will be able to do within it. There’s a Bakugan Shop where players can buy new Bakugan and improve the stats on those they already own. You can use Battle Points to upgrade and purchase Bakugan, among other things, and you can earn Battle Points by winning battles and tournaments. You can take on free battles at the park to earn points and practice strategies, which will be helpful when taking on tournament battles to advance the storyline, as they promise to be a challenge. I’m told that the main storyline will take around six hours to play through straight, but that players can spend hours upon hours upgrading Bakugan and unlocking Bakugan and cards, so most players will probably find a lot to do here.

The game also offers a versus mode to play against other players, though the play is restricted to offline play only. Up to four players can compete locally, however, in team or single battles, so there are plenty of options for players looking for some involved and exciting battles. You’ll be able to use characters from the story in the versus battles, as well as your custom characters, and the game will allow you to break out custom Bakugan sets prior to battles, so you’re not stuck using whatever the character comes equipped with by default.

It also is worth mentioning that pretty much everyone and their grandmother is offering up specialty pre-order packages for fans of the game; Toys-R-Us is offering up two special characters, Ravenoid and Manion, with their Wii and DS versions, Game Crazy is offering up a free pillow case, Best Buy is offering up an exclusive DVD with every version of the game, and Gamestop is offering up a free DS carrying case with, as you’d expect, the DS version. There’s also a special edition DS version that comes with a Naga Bakugan, for those who play the actual board game. Basically, Activision is seriously backing this game with all sorts of goodies, no matter where you pre-order it, so if you’re interested in the game even a little, you might want to consider said pre-ordering if you want any of the above mentioned goodies.

At this point, Bakugan Battle Brawlers is looking pretty solid, though there’s no way to know for certain until we see a finished copy in our hands. Hopefully, I’ll be seeing you in a few weeks with a review of the game and a positive verdict when it comes out on October 20th, but until then, all I can say is that what was shown to me was quite promising and should please fans of the series, as if the game delivers on the promises made, it stands to be an in-depth game with plenty of content for fans and gameplay simple enough for anyone to pick up. Let’s hope the final product is as good as this preview build was.

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