Review by horror_spooky
"This game isn't very mighty morphin'..."
The idea behind Pokemon Ranger is a pretty interesting one. Instead of just throwing Pokeballs at Pokemon when you try to capture them, why not leave it up to the player's skill to see whether they can catch the Pokemon or not? While this is indeed a very neat idea, it is unfortunately brought down by forcefully by a combination of things that definitely ruin the title. Sure, it was never destined to be great, but the developers had a chance to make this good, and they blew it.
This game is very different from its counterparts for a number of reasons, but let's just start with the manner in which you capture Pokemon. Instead of random battles taking place when you walk around in the wild grass, the Pokemon are visible on the screen at all times, and battles are engaged when you walk into them or they run into you. In order to capture these Pokemon, you don't have to cripple their HP with Pokemon in your party. On the contrary, all you do is draw circles around them, hope they don't attack, and when you've drawn enough circles, the Pokemon is considered captured.
Actually, you don't even have a Pokemon party. No, Pokemon Ranger is an oddity in the Pokemon universe as there is really only one Pokemon that sticks with you throughout the entire game, and that Pokemon is a little electric mouse (not Pikachu) whose form is dependant on what gender you choose. After you capture Pokemon, they will follow you around until you use them, whether that be during the process of trying to capture another Pokemon or using their abilities to alter something in the environment in order to continue.
If that already doesn't suck enough, you aren't even doing cool things. The typical obstacles consist of trees or rocks that you have to destroy, with a very laughable attempt at a puzzle element thrown in as you can really discover what you need to do by a short process of trial and error. When in a battle and you use a Pokemon, the effects are a little different. For example, a Pokemon that would usually simply break something can now do a minor attack that can temporarily stun the Pokemon, or you can get a bonus on your circles, meaning that it takes fewer circles in order to capture a Pokemon.
There has to be some explanation as to why you're drawing circles around wild Pokemon, and don't worry, there is. You are a Pokemon Ranger, people tasked with simply borrowing the services of wild Pokemon in order to better the world. In case you didn't catch that, you are a part of an organization whose purpose is to enslave Pokemon via mind control to make them do menial tasks. You do this by using your styler, a device that only Pokemon Rangers have. You die when your styler is destroyed, which happens when a Pokemon attacks your circles and you run out of hit points.
Surprisingly, you will find yourself in the dying situation quite often. While there is the option to flee battles and you can use some Pokemon that you have following you around to your advantage in some situations, you will become so unbelievably bored with the process of drawing circles around these little critters that you'll become reckless; you will keep drawing circles in order to capture the damn thing without even thinking. You could wait and go at this strategically, but since you won't be having any fun, why would anyone even bother with this?
Yes, Pokemon Ranger is an RPG, so you can gain experience points and level up. Doing so, obviously, increases your stats. This is actually a brighter side to Pokemon Ranger because as you level up and gain more health, the frustrating battles become a little bit less frustrating and you also earn the right to have more Pokemon following you around, giving you the sense of a small army made up of Pokemon.
Another nice thing is that Pokemon Ranger is a little more organized than most RPGs. A lot of times, RPGs will simply throw you into this large world and you will often find out what to do based solely on luck. Pokemon Ranger instead separates out the progression of the game by Missions. This way, you always have an idea of what you need to do and you won't ever get stuck or lost in the game.
While the touch screen makes minor improvements like being able to simply click on a save machine to save instead of having to walk up to it like most games, it also becomes kind of an annoyance. Pokemon Ranger will get your DS scratched up pretty bad, ruining the game's kind of nice visuals. There is also a problem with the save machines in general because while they are pretty plentiful, the game unfortunately only allows one save, meaning that you could accidentally save at a point where you are low on health and have to start your entire game over. I don't know why Pokemon games insist on letting you only have one save, but it's nigh time Nintendo rectifies this annoyance. On top of that, there is no checkpoint system, meaning that every time you die, you are set back to where you last saved.
There are some mini-games and side-quests sprinkled throughout the land of Fiore (the only region in the Pokemon world that seems to have these Ranger folks thank God for that). A rather interesting mini-game lets you ride around on a Doduo as you engage in battles with random Pokemon, hoping to beat the high score. It was pretty cool controlling a Pokemon and let you ride around on one for once, and it would be nice if the game focused more on moments like these instead of trying to hard to be a generic RPG with Pokemon elements loosely sprinkled on top.
While Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Blue Rescue Team (that OTHER Pokemon spin-off on the DS) benefited from an anime-style story progression that, while slow at first, led to a pretty decent pay-off, Pokemon Ranger starts out slow and stays slow throughout the entire adventure. The basic plot revolves around you going up in the ranks as a Pokemon Ranger and battling evil organizations who are brainwashing Pokemon (just like you are; how hypocritical) for evil purposes. Sound familiar? Well, change the brainwashing aspect into kidnapping, and you have Team Rocket. Seriously, they couldn't even attempt at making a somewhat original plotline to go along with this game? I felt like I was playing the original games all over again. In this day and age, there is no excuse for an RPG to have a lackluster plot. No excuse at all.
Another thing that disappointed me a little was the graphics. While the majority of the graphical presentation was pretty good, the environments could have easily been done on the SNES. However, the animations are great, and the fire effects are brilliant for the DS. I was really impressed with this, and it's also great that there are practically zero glitches. While the character models could have used a little work, the overall graphics were pretty damn good.
Pokemon Ranger doesn't have the classic Pokemon tunes to its name. That's not to say that its audio presentation is absolutely terrible, it just doesn't match up to the other Pokemon games. Hell, it doesn't even come close. Some of the sound effects are annoying and such, but the soundtrack is at the very least decent, so there isn't too much to hate nor too much to love.
Being an RPG, Pokemon Ranger is actually a pretty long title. While that's all fine and good and you will get a lot to do for your hard-earned dollar, it is a real shame that the game isn't really all that fun. Sure, there's a lot to do, but are you really going to have the ambition to do it all? Besides that, there is an unlockable mode, which surprised me, and that should give the Pokenuts something else to obsess over as I'm sure they will love this game no matter how bad it is.
Pokemon Ranger is one of those games that had the potential to be good. There are some interesting ideas and concepts implemented into this title, but they are either under utilized or simply fall short of what they could have been. The graphics are pretty great, but the environments could use some work. The audio presentation is decent, but it could benefit if some of the classic Pokemon tunes were implemented somehow. The overall gameplay throughout gets stale and repetitive quickly, so the only conceivable way I can think of that would make this game likeable would be if most of it were totally revamped and if it were given a story that actually meant something. If you're a diehard Pokemon fan, you're going to buy this regardless of what I think, but if you're a gamer just looking for a good RPG on the DS, please refer to Pokemon Diamond or Pearl for your RPG/Pokemon fix.
Reviewer's Rating: 3.0 - Fair
Originally Posted: 10/22/08
Game Release: Pokemon Ranger (US, 10/30/06)
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