Pokémon Rumble U
Publisher: Nintendo of America
Genre: Beat ‘Em Up
Release Date: 08/29/2013
The Pokémon franchise has always been good about turning spin-offs into full length series. Pokémon Ranger, Pokémon Mystery Dungeon and Pokémon Stadium/Coliseum are all examples of the series breaking free from the same old “eight to ten year old becomes a Pokémon Trainer and travels their region in an attempt to collect badges and become the Pokémon Champion, all while stopping an international conspiracy,” plotline the series is known for. With the release of Pokémon Rumble U, the Pokémon Rumble series gets its third game, returns to console gaming AND takes a page out of the Skylanders and Disney Infinity book all at once.
Pokemon Rumble first debuted in 2009. A lot of guys on staff liked it for the mindless beat ’em up that it was, and it eventually won our award for 2009’s “Best Downloadable Game.” The next game in the series, Pokemon Rumble Blast was a 3DS release (the first Pokémon game for that system), and while another good game, it fell short come awards time. Pokémon Rumble U is the first Pokémon game for the Wii U, and sports a low cost of only $17.99, which is only three dollars more than the original game for the Wii when it was released four years ago. That’s a great price point when you think about it, but then you do have to remember the toy factor.
Yes, Pokémon Rumble U uses Pokémon toys, ala Skylanders and Disney Infinity. The good news is that you can get through Pokémon Rumble U without purchasing a single figure, unlike the other interactive toy games. The bad news is that the toy based Pokémon are a LOT better than their regular counterparts, and are the only ones that can use coins to make a Pokémon stronger, gain new moves or even change their Pokémon ability. This means a toy based Pokémon can help you get through the game far easier than the regularly earned Pokémon and are just superior in every way, so although you don’t need one, you will probably want to get at least one, with a maximum of four (since you can only have four Pokémon in your party at a time). To truly get everything out of the game, you do need a toy, and only the toy Pokémon will be truly dominant in the end, so again, the game never asks your or forces you to use a toy, but eventually you will be compelled to go to your local EB Games/Gamestop (as they are only sold there) to get one. Hell, I have NINE, although I got one for free by preordering the game (White Kyruem) and eight by trading in Splinter Cell: Blacklist. The toys are only $3.99 each, so you can get two and a half for the cost of a Skylanders or Disney Infinity figure, which is awesome and a far better deal for your wallet/pocketbook, but they come in Pokeballs and you won’t know what you get until your purchase one, meaning all draws are blind and you can end up with duplicates. Again, in my case, I didn’t draw a duplicate, and although there were three figures I wanted that I didn’t get (Lucario, Pikachu and Mew), I’m quite happy with the ones I DO have (Mewtwo, Celebi, Jirachi, Deoxys, Litwick, Genesect, Shaymin and Darkrai) although I really only use Kyruem, Mewtwo, Celebi and Jirachi. Like I said, you only need four figures at maximum, but there’s no telling what you will get. At least all the toys are equally good, so it just comes down to personal preference. With a price tag of four dollars per toy and the eighteen dollar price tag for the game, your maximum price should be $34, which is still less than the MSRP of the 3DS game in the series, and far less than other toy based video games. However, if you want to “catch them all” as we old timers used to say, you’re going to be looking at spending far, far more. That said, if anyone pulls Lucario, Pikachu or Mew, I’ll be happy to trade my Genesect and Litwick for any of those.
Okay, so enough about the toys, as you probably want to know about the video game, right? Well, it’s quite similar to the previous Pokémon Rumble games, but there are some very notable changes. For starters, there is the story. Basically a group of Pokémon toys are lost and swept down a river when the store clerk slips and falls on an oddly placed Pokémon toy capsule. Now the toys are trying to return to the store where they can find a good home with loving children. Along the way, they do battle with and recruit other stray toys, and also find some more of their missing friends. There does seem to be a nefarious Pokémon toy behind it all though… Yes, I know, it’s a bit weird to see the Pokémon toys anthropomorphized and treated as if they are living things ala “real” Pokémon, but this is a mainstay through the Pokémon Rumble series. The story is told through static images and dry text, but as long as you ignore the fact the game is about toys and not real Pokémon, it works a lot better. The end result is a cute but shallow explanation for the copious amounts of team based combat in the game.
Visually, Pokémon Rumble U isn’t that good. It’s not bad mind you, but the visuals are about on par with the Wii and/or 3DS version of the game. The Pokémon are super-deformed, which is part of the visual style of the game, but it also means there isn’t a lot of detail to the character models and the animation is mostly jerky wobbling for their movements. Again, this is on purpose, as they are toys without functioning legs, but the most animation you will see in the game really comes from the various attacks that are available or the destruction of the battle arenas that the game takes place in. What’s here is serviceable, especially for a budget game, but at least there isn’t any slowdown where there are forty or fifty Pokémon (+!) on the screen at once. I’ll take that over enhanced detail on the Pokémon toys any day.
In terms of audio, there isn’t a lot to talk about. The Pokémon don’t talk ala their anime counterparts. Most of the noise comes from Pokémon using moves, but the good news is that the hundreds of moves in the game all have their unique noises and effects to go with them. There are random other sound effects, like a Pokémon capsule or item being obtained, but for the most part, everything is drowned out by sound of dozens of Pokémon doing combat at once. This included the background music for the game, which is quite nice, but it’s hard to pay attention to the track being played due to the aforementioned combat situations. Some of the tracks carry over from previous Pokémon Rumble games, which is fine as the tracks are cute and catchy, and it’s not like Nintendo releases don’t regularly recycle music tracks as it is, eh?
So now there is gameplay. At the core, Pokémon Rumble U is very similar to the previous Pokémon Rumble games. You have button mashing galore as you use Pokémon with set static power levels to do battle against other Pokémon toys. Each of your Pokémon toys can have up to two moves, and as you progress, you earn new (and hopefully stronger) Pokémon toys to aid in your progression through the game. Besides this though, everything else about the game is turned on its head, meaning that while Pokémon Rumble U FEELS familiar, it’s actually a very different beast the more you analyze the game. Whether or not you like the changes will be a matter of opinion, but at least we didn’t get a rehash of the same old game (I’m looking at you, core turn based RPG series for the franchise!).
So what are all the changes? Man, where to even begin? First of all, in the first two Pokémon Rumble games, you’d have to go through levels, winding your way around them ala a top-down action RPG like Diablo or Dark Alliance. Then you’d come to a giant boss, and if you beat it, the level would be done. You’d also have the option of engaging in an arena battle where copious amounts of Pokémon would fight to the last man standing. That’s all gone here. In Pokémon Rumble U, you only have arena style battles, where a ton of Pokémon are thrown at you constantly until the boss shows up. Kill the boss and all the other opposing Pokémon go down as well, so there are no levels to explore and battles take no more than two minutes.
Another big change is that in previous Pokémon Rumble games, you would select three Pokémon toys to go on the adventure and you could switch them out. Once a toy was KO’d, you could only use the remaining ones, and once all were gone, you lost that level or arena battle and had to start over. So you were basically dealing with a one on many situation with three lives. This is completely changed in Pokémon Rumble U. Now you have a team of four Pokémon at once doing battle for your side against the army of opposing cock fighting seizure monsters. You take control of one with the Wii U GamePad and the other three are either co-op players using Wiimotes held like an NES controller or are controlled by an extremely competent A.I. Seriously, there were times I missed certain level goals because of how crazy efficient the CPU allies can be. You can either specifically choose your computer controlled allies or let them be randomly selected. The CPU takes the three most powerful Pokémon if you let it choose for you. If one of your allies is knocked out, you can bring them back to life by hovering over them and healing them. If all your team is knocked out, it’s game over. This is one area where the physical toy Pokémon you can purchase from Gamestop come in so handy, as you can customize and power them up, while other Pokémon obtained in the game stay static.
Speaking of customization, that’s another area where things have changed. In previous Pokémon Rumble games, toys collected had a static power level that could not change, but you could use coins to change their moves. Not anymore. Moves are static as well, which means you could have a Magikarp at power level 2000, but with only Splash, making it useless and without any way to fix it. Only the purchasable toy Pokémon can change their moves, but holy crap do you get an overwhelming list of options. As well, you get to pick instead of having the new move be random, ensuring that your physical toy will always be awesome. You can also use in-game earned coins to change their Pokémon Ability and raise their power level, which is a new concept. So your physical toys start off between 200 and 225, but you can raise them to the max level in the game, which ensures they will always be useful, and a major piece of your team. Meanwhile, as with all other Pokémon Rumble games, those weaker toys just sit unloved and unused. In previous games, you could trade in those weaker toys for an evolved version of a figure. You can’t do that in Pokémon Rumble U. Instead, once you hit 400 toys, the weakest ones are automatically jettisoned from your collection. You have no manual control – it’s just done for you, so if you have a rare but exceptionally weak Pokémon, kiss it good bye.
Finally, we have some core gameplay changes. You can now get items in the arena battles, such as HP restore, growth items and even a Master Ball to guarantee the next toy you KO will be caught. As well, the method for obtaining new Pokémon toys to add to your army has changed. Previously, it was completely random, and KO’d Pokémon would sometimes simply fall over instead of disappearing. If you touched them, you would collect them, and they would join you. You would see who and what you are getting immediately. Now, in Pokémon Rumble U, you will get capsules that appear in the stage as you knock over obstacles or KO certain Pokémon. A Pokeball looking capsule nets you a common Pokémon, a gold capsule gets you an uncommon Pokémon and a white crystal capsule contains a rare Pokémon. Crystal capsules are obtained by defeating a boss (these randomly appear) or by completing all the challenges for a level. Some challenges are stated, like collecting an x number of coins, using a super-effective move, or bringing in a Pokémon of a certain Type to the battle. Others are hidden. Some hidden challenges are revealed after you complete the revealed ones, and some are never revealed until after you complete them, so it’s hard to say at times what exactly you need to do to earn the crystal capsule. It becomes a somewhat frustrating series of trial and error. Don’t let that discourage you though, as replaying levels to get those crystal capsules is part of the fun, as you earn more coins for your physical toy Pokémon and come ever closer to completing your collection of figures.
There’s a lot of replay value to Pokémon Rumble U. The fact you can have up to four player simultaneous co-op is nothing to sneeze at, and your friends can bring over their physical toy Pokémon to your game, and they will keep their saved stats from their own version of the game and earn coins playing co-op in yours. So Pokémon Rumble U really helps to bring back that co-op feel of yesteryear, when you would gather at one friend’s house to play games instead of just playing online. I rather like that, and I also enjoy the fact you can carry you figures around and their stats are saved on the toy ala Skylanders.
Balance-wise, Pokémon Rumble U varies based on if you have any physical toy Pokémon or not. If you don’t, you’re stuck with random Pokémon with random movesets and power levels. This has always been the case for the previous games, but at least you had some control over the moves or could trade in say, five Charmanders for a single powerful Charmeleon. Now, you pretty much have to replay levels until you get a powerhouse capable of taking on the most current level and their strong Pokémon. If you have physical toy Pokémon, the game is SO much easier, as you use the coins earned in the game to customize them and power them up. You’ll have access to the best moves (and move combos) and you can raise their power level to where everything is a one-hit cakewalk. By the time I was at power level 400+ missions in the game, my Mewtwo was at a power level of 1100, so you can only imagine how crazy awesome he was. If you do find the game to be a bit too hard for you, or that you’re just not getting powerful Pokémon in your pulls, you can always go to Pokemonrumble.com and take a password from that site. There you’ll have access to a few Pokémon, like Rotom, Snorlax, Charizard and more – all of which will have a power level between 1000 and 1300, making them very useful for a good portion of the game. See, Ambrella did try to make the game somewhat accommodating to those without access to the physical toys, and I think we all appreciate that. Meanwhile Skylanders and Disney Infinity literally need the toys to function, and I definitely prefer this version of an interactive toy game to, say, having a sixty dollar disc I can’t use if the toys get broken, lost or stolen.
So as we can see from all that has come before this paragraph, Pokémon Rumble U is very different from the previous Pokémon Rumble games, while still holding true to the core trappings of the series. It definitely puts a new and better twist on the interactive toy games, as 1) it’s a much cheaper option than Disney Infinity and Skylanders 2) it sells the toys for less than half of other games, and most importantly c) it lets you play the game without purchasing a single physical toy. In my opinion, that makes Pokémon Rumble U the best interactive toy game yet. Sure, I don’t like that the purchases are blind, but each box of eighteen figures lacks any duplicates (You get one of each figure), so if you see an unopened box and you want to “catch them all,” you can for roughly seventy-two dollars. It sounds like a lot, but remember, you don’t need to buy any figures, and one to four is all you’ll ever actually use. As well, that seventy-two dollars would only buy you seven regular sized Skylander figures or four and a half giants. Factor in that this game is only a fraction of the cost, before adding in the cost of the physical add-ons, and it’s easy to see why Pokémon Rumble U is the best option available and also blows the competition away. Man, I feel like a shill saying that, but it’s true. Pokémon Rumble U is a lot of fun, and with all the different challenges, the co-op gameplay, the interactive toys and all 693 Pokémon to collect in the game, you can spend far more time with this budget game than with a lot of full length RPGs. That’s pretty awesome when you think about it.
Short Attention Span Summary
Pokémon Rumble U is a fine addition to the Pokémon Rumble series. It stays true to the core gameplay while providing a very different experience thanks to new options like four player co-op at every stage of the game. The graphics are a bit lackluster and the story is weak, but it’s still a fun game that is hard to put down. Some detractors might poo-poo the inclusion of interactive toys for the game, but the toys are half the cost of those for Skylanders or Disney Infinity and they are optional. Plus, the core game is roughly a fourth of the cost of the other options out there in the interactive toy market. Hands down, Pokémon Rumble U blows the competition away in terms of cost and replay value, but if you already have the Wii and/or 3DS versions, you might not need to experience this unless you love all things Pokémon.