Review by Arkrex
"Do you have what it takes to be a Pokemon Ranger?"
Pokemon Ranger is refreshing like a spring breeze! I used to follow Pokemon back in my teenage years, but as time wore on the 'phenomenon' kept repeating the same material time after time again. After the lame Pokemon Dash, the lacking Pokemon Trozei, and the tedious Mystery Dungeon, finally a new Pokemon idea is surprisingly good for once! How would I describe this game? That's a tough one. Perhaps a "stylus-slasher" (as opposed to button-masher) would be the most appropriate genre. But it's not all just drawing circles as most have mistakenly picked up; there's a fair amount of strategy involved, skillful manoeuvring, and of course a whole host of Pokemon and their highly useful abilities to sort out.
Lasting Value 6
Pleasant to both your eyes and ears
Pokemon Ranger is presented wholly in 2D. This is by no means a bad thing as the game manages to successfully capture the visual essence of all the pokemon and the world of Fiore rather well. Colours are bright, vibrant, and in the battle/capture scenes the pokemon are well detailed and a show a nice range of animations; good to see that you can actually see the pokemon attack in whole now!
The sound quality is is very good and the tracks featured within are both pleasing to the ears and memorable to the mind. The composers have done a great job building on the Pokemon-style to bring us all-new pieces to accompany our adventure. Sound effects are just like they were in the Game Boy RPGs - minimal but they get the job done
What kind of pokemon (game) are you?
Pokemon Ranger is an action/RPG/slash'em up adventure. It is so many things at once, but it keeps every aspect simple. This is the beauty of the game as it is very easy to pick up and enjoy the whole way through.
You player as a titular, taciturn Pokemon Ranger who is just starting out in the land of Fiore. With the use of the styler (ie. your DS stylus) you are able to capture pokemon and gain their aid, both to help you solve the problems of local residents as well as to thwart the usual nefarious schemes.
Controls are possibly the best I've ever seen for any top-down action-RPG. You can opt to go fully with stylus control use, guiding your character ala Animal Crossing. But my preferred controls are using the d-pad to move around whilst having the stylus handy to talk to people (and you can do it from afar; you don't have to go right up to them now, just tap them to shout at them!), to activate and navigate menus, and to capture pokemon amongst other various uses. I do hope more games in the future follow this control scheme as it's highly intuitive and makes playing all the more easy-going.
The adventure is broken down into several missions. These start out rather short and simple, but once you get halfway through they do get more involving. You will be doing all sorts of tasks such as rescuing a little girl's Jigglypuff to escourting a bug-phobic mechanic through the woods in search of parts to fix a sub. As I mentioned earlier, you are able to capture pokemon temporarily to aid you in your journey. You will always have your Plusle/Minun on hand as your main companion who can be used to paralyse pokemon as you maintain his/her charge bar. The other pokemon you capture confer a wide range of abilities with many different uses, primarily split up into 2 categories.
Each pokemon has a type whether it be fire or wind or whatever. On the field you will encounter obstacles which will need to be passed, for example a rock blocking the way, a gaping chasm, or even a sleeping Steelix. By the use of the pokemon you have captured (up to a maximum of 7 as you progress through) you can pass these challenges (just like the HM-techniques in previous Pokemon RPGs but better). So say you saw a small plant growing on the ground, by 'watering' it you can make it grow into a vine which you can use to climb up to the hill. There a good amount of management required as you will to balance out your team with pokemon which can help you in these instances and those who can help you out in battle.
Enlist the help of all
The other use of pokemon are their assist abilities. By activating their use in battle, your stylus gains new powers. You can charge your styler with fighting element to make capturing faster, you can imbue the power of fire into it to create roaring flames that can impede pokemon movement, and you can shoot gusts of wind to temporarily stun pokemon afloat. Each element is well represented and having a good knowledge each types (since strengths and weaknesses do play a part too) is critical to success. Just like on the field, once a pokemon helps you, it is let go. Thus the challenge of planning what pokemon are most suitable to carry around with you at any one time.
Where are all the pokemon?
Now if you are expecting most of the the 450+ pokemon as of 2006, you will be sorely disappointed. Less than half that amount are featured, but each one is unique in its own way. When you are attempting to capture pokemon, each one will need to be tackled using different strategies and team aids. So while there is a lack of quantity, the quality is of very high standards. Pokemon Ranger does a very good job of using the source material to provide a new arc of gameplay with a very interesting new point of view.
The world of pokemon shown here is more like a side-story; the game moves along at a very brisk pace, and clocked in at 8 hours for myself; you are looking at a a sub-10 hour game here. There aren't many side quests to speak of, but upon completion there are some bonus missions to partake in which extend the game for a couple more hours at best.
The core part of the game, the stylus battles, have the main goal of capturing pokemon by drawing rings around them. But its not all mindless slashing as you will come to realise soon enough. Later battles are tough. You will be most surprised. It is wise to take the time to provoke pokemon first to see how they react before moving in for the capture. Some difficult ones will see you planning carefully and drawing slow and strategically in order to be successful. After drawing 1 complete circle, the stylus trail will disappear; by use of this knowledge you can to some extent control where it is that offending pokemon may be able to attack and break your attempt and move accordingly to avoid stylus damage. You really have to play it for yourself to fully grasp the concept. Yes you do draw lots of circles, but there is a lot of strategy involved too. It can be quite difficult for younger pokemon-fans to handle as well as the stylus-challenged, but if you've got the skills to dig it, then it is a heck of a lot of fun.
A new episode
As the story, it is full of your typical pokemon themes. You go about helping others and before you know it, you're full on into a grand plan for disaster. The dialogue is witty and some of the sequences will make you laugh sincerely. The new baddies come in the form of the Go-Rock Squad. They do a good job of pushing the story along and it really never does let down until the end. The Go-Rock Quad rock-band-style foursome are especially funny.
I loved playing Pokemon Ranger. It is definitely one of the best DS releases this year, and will probably be for many years to come. There is a slick interface with good use of the dual screens and touchscreen, and the pokemon world is brought to life in a whole new kind of game. It can be a tad hard in places (better make good use of saving frequently everyone!) and the main game isn't that long. But what can I say? I had a lot of fun, with nary a boring moment. You will have a lot of fun assuming that your stylus skills are adept. It's not your typical pokemon RPG, and in my opinion this is a GOOD thing (there are no random battles!) Pokemon Ranger is quality while it lasts. Don't miss this one.
8.5/10 - Excellent; highly recommended ~
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 11/03/06, Updated 11/20/07
Game Release: Pokemon Ranger (US, 10/30/06)
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