Review by striker64

Reviewed: 02/06/07

Proof that an addictive game isn't always good too.

Ever since I bought the game, I hadn't been able to put it down until I completed it. This is a Pokemon game, and Pokemon games are known for their sheer addictiveness of gameplay. I have always been a fan of the Pokemon games (aside from the stupid offshoot games like Snap, Pinball, Trozei, etc.) so I thought this would be fun as well. I was a bit wrong, I suppose.

The basis of the story is something like this. You are a beginner Pokemon Ranger. The purpose of Pokemon Rangers is to help people and Pokemon in need. In the opening sequence of the game, you choose whether to be male or female, and this determines what Pokemon you receive as a starter: Plusle for female, Minun for male. Okay, first thought: was it really necessary for the -weakest two Pokemon- from the Advance generation to be the only options for starters? I guess they have that "cuteness" factor that sells. It is refreshing though to see that the main character is older, possibly around 16 or 17, as opposed to the preteen - early teen characters of past games. So that all begins, yadda yadda. You learn that you will be assigned to certain missions that you must complete. As you complete missions, your Ranger rank increases.

When it's time to start playing, you are given a special Styler for capturing and manipulating Pokemon. When you capture them, though, things are a little different than before. You don't keep your Pokemon forever, like in past games. Your starter is the only one that you will always keep. And to capture other Pokemon, you have to draw circles around them with the DS stylus without lifting it from the screen. Each circle removes 1 HP from the Pokemon. Their HP number appears above them as you are making complete circles around them. When that number reaches 0, an orange number pops up indicating how much experience you have gained for this particular capture. At this point, you can lift your stylus and you have captured your Pokemon. You can now use your Pokemon for whatever you need. Capturing these Pokemon and using them to complete tasks is the basis for the entire game.

So what about those tasks? Well, for example, your very first task not 5 minutes into the actual game is to put out a small fire in a tree. Tapping the tree with your stylus indicates that it requires a Water power of 1 to douse the fire. Conveniently, there is a wild Mudkip nearby. Since it is a first-form Water Pokemon, it has just that power: Water 1. You initiate battle with the Mudkip. In the battle, you have a few options. You can start drawing circles around it if you want, and you should be able to capture it with relative ease. However, you'll notice that if the Pokemon itself makes contact with your circle that you're drawing, it will break and you have to start all over again, even if the number had turned orange and you just didn't have a chance to lift your stylus yet. If the wild Pokemon attacks the line, your styler loses HP.

Wait, what?

Yes. That is how this game works. Your styler is what has your HP, not your Pokemon. This means that your styler is also what gains experience. As it levels up, so does its HP meter grow. Leveling your styler also allows you to draw a longer line. What does that mean? Well, basically, you can only draw a relatively short circle around Pokemon at the beginning of the game before the end of your line starts to fade. It can only be a certain length. As the game progress and your styler level rises, the length of the line increases, allowing you to draw bigger, more oblong circles to make capture easier. If your styler is attacked too much and loses all of its HP, it breaks and you must restart from your last save point.

So back to the battle. You'll notice also in the lower right-hand corner of the screen a Pokemon symbol. Tap on it, and you'll see a screen with your starter. If you tap your starter, it will run out and shock Mudkip, temporarily paralyzing it and allowing you to circle it without disruption for a short time. This is called an Assist. Using your starters Assist completely drains the energy meter located below your styler's HP bar. It is refilled as you draw complete circles around Pokemon. Your starter is not the only one that can do Assists, either. Every Pokemon can, and these Assists depend entirely on the Pokemon's type. For example, Mudkip is a Water type. Using Mudkip's Assist during battle against another Pokemon allows you to create a bubble. If you are able, plant the bubble somewhere for the wild Pokemon you are trying to capture to run into, and it will be temporarily ensnared and unable to move. Different types of Pokemon cause different effects. Psychic Pokemon cause the opponent Pokemon to levitate. Fighting Pokemon cause every 1 circle you draw to drain 2 HP from your opponent Pokemon. This is VERY helpful for high HP opponents. You can also "stack" Assists, meaning that you are allowed to stun with your starter, then use a Fighting assist to capture your paralyzed opponent with half as many circles.

Now that you've caught Mudkip, you get to use its Field move, Water power 1. Mudkip sprays the tree and the fire goes out. Hooray, everyone is happy.

But wait.

Mudkip ran away.

But wait.

If you used Mudkip's bubble to help you capture another wild Pokemon, it ran away after that too.

That's what gives this game depth. You are allowed to use every Pokemon in any situation ONCE. It can either use a field move or assist you in battle. That's it. If you want another one, you'll have to find and capture another one. Many Pokemon have Field moves that are vital to continuing the game. Certain Grass Pokemon are able to cut down small wooden fences, opening a path for you. Mudkip is strong enough to douse a blazing tree, but when you come across a path covered by lava inside of a volcano, his puny water spout won't do the trick. You'll have to track down a much stronger Water Pokemon to cool the path.

Every Pokemon has a certain task it can perform, by either using an Assist to make capture easier or using a Field move to clear a path for you in some way. You are limited at first to only 4 Pokemon to bring with you, forcing you to think about which Pokemon to bring with you as you progress through your missions.

I mentioned earlier that your Ranger rank increases as you complete missions. There are a couple of added bonuses to increasing your rank. First and foremost is that every few rank increases, you are able to carry one more Pokemon with you at a time. Secondly, your starter's energy meter will rise every few ranks as well. The higher it rises, the stronger his electrical attack will be at full strength, leading to a longer paralysis time.

So that's enough about the gameplay. How complicated is all of this? Well, missions are fairly straightforward. You progress in your mission. You come to a point where you need a Field move to get through. You find a Pokemon with said Field move (in later missions, only 1 Pokemon has this Field move and there is only 1 of them in the entire area). You return to said point, use Field move, and progress. At the end of the mission, you face some powered up Pokemon, either wild or belonging to another person, and capture it to calm it down. This completes your mission. In short, missions are very easy, but there is a certain addictivenss factor to it as well. This game is extremely difficult to put down as your progressing through missions. Generally, figuring out how to accomplish your task is adequate enough to keep you entertained throughout the game.

Capturing Pokemon are either easy or frustrating. No middle ground. Most Pokemon are incredibly easy to capture. They generally have only one attack. Once you figure out their pattern, it becomes just a matter of drawing the smallest circles as quickly as possible around it until you capture it. Obviously, later on in the game you encounter stronger Pokemon whose attacks tend to take up the entire screen. This means that no matter how wide your circle can be, their attacks will always break it and damage your styler. But they always follow a pattern. Once you figure out the pattern, it's just a matter of timing your drawing to complete the capture. These are the easy Pokemon. The frustrating ones are the fast ones that zip around the screen. This is a problem because very often, you will be drawing your circles, and the Pokemon will suddenly zip across the screen. If you remember, if you make any contact with the Pokemon, your line breaks and you have to start all over. With slower Pokemon, it's usually possible to just follow their movements as you draw circles. With faster Pokemon... well, that's what you have Assists for.

Of course, you've also got your inherent evil organization you have to stop at one point too.

The sound in the game is cute and charming, just like in past Pokemon games. Completely unlike past Pokemon games, they are entirely forgettable. Other games had music that got stuck in your head and you hummed along to. Pokemon Ranger has music that makes you want to turn the sound off. The sound effects are your standard bleeps and crashes, nothing out of the ordinary.

The control is absolutely top notch for the DS. You can either walk with the stylus by placing it in front of your character and sliding it in the direction you want to move, or by using the D-pad. I found using the stylus to walk to be a bit awkward when trying to enter a door, so I generally used the D-pad. Drawing circles with the stylus comes quickly and smoothly, with no recognition problems that seemed to plague past DS games.

Graphics are top notch for the DS as well. It's a welcome addition to finally see complete, moving, full-color Pokemon with updated drawings. All of the areas are lush and easy on the eyes. There is no slowdown throughout the game, even when there are 10 or more characters on-screen at once. Roughly 200+ Pokemon are also available in the game.

Now, for the bad. Just what garnered this game a lower score?

One of the things I always loved about the past Pokemon games was the variety they offered. You could make your game more interesting and more difficult by choosing certain Pokemon over others, or you could make it much easier by choosing the most powerful to progress through the game. There is absolutely no variety to this game. It is entirely linear. You must use certain Pokemon to progress through areas. No others work. This leaves no reason to ever play the game again after you've beaten it except to go back and capture all of the Pokemon.

Some of the captures are just unbelievably frustrating. Later in the game when up against a "boss" Pokemon, there will be several other lesser Pokemon in the battle with you. All of these Pokemon at once cause your styler to constantly drain down. You are never really able to mount any sort of offense, and generally, the only way to capture them is to have certain Pokemon use their Assists. If you don't have these Pokemon, good luck to you.

Despite certain Pokemon being incredibly frustrating, the game itself is incredibly easy. You can always just tap on whatever is blocking your path to see exactly what Field move you need. Then you can go out and tap on wild Pokemon before even battling them to determine if they have what you need. The game is constantly taking you by the hand and telling you where to go.

And why couldn't more Pokemon have been included? The game really isn't that long, and DS cartridges can hold more data than old Game Boy and Game Boy Advance cartridges, so one would think you could include many more, if not all of them, for at least a little variety.

Even if you are a self-proclaimed Pokemaniac, this game may not be for you. Rent it first if you can. You'll find it so addictive and so easy that you'll likely finish it by the time it needs to be returned. And please, up against the more frustrating captures, try not to fling your DS against the wall. Your DS didn't do it. The game did. >_>

Rating:   3.0 - Fair

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