The DS has had its fair share of Pokémon games, from the launch title racer Pokémon Dash to puzzler Pokémon Link, to Pokémon Mysterious Dungeon. Fans have had to make do with another one until Diamond/Pearl come out later this month, but can Pokémon Ranger deliver a more satisfactory experience than the others in the meantime?
The popularity of Pokémon is overwhelming even now, leading to sales of beneficial figures to Nintendo – but of course, this does not always equate to a good game. The DS spin-offs mentioned above, for example, would be unlikely to make anybody’s lists of greatest games of all time by a fairly wide margin. However, despite all this it’s pleasing to see the emergence of Pokémon Ranger even though it is, without a doubt, yet another off-shoot of the franchise. See, this game appears to have actually had some time devoted to it and is filled with sparks of originality unseen in other non-main series games. In addition, it has been placed in the more-than-capable hands of HAL Laboratory.
Rather than putting you in the role of a trainer, or an arbitrary role as a Pokémon of some description, you’re put in all-new one: that of a Pokémon Ranger (if you guessed that from the title, you get a gold star). What this means is that you’re still a human character, but rather than running about cramming beasts into improbable balls and letting them out only to savage each other, your job is to look after the people, Pokémon and environment in whatever area you are in. Starting out as a rookie who has only been employed because the Ranger Leaders have gotten so sick of his begging letters turning up in the post every ten minutes, your task is to take your boy (or girl) to the top, thwarting the plans of the dastardly Go Rock Squad as you rise.
A Ranger’s aim is, as said, to aid, and this can range from gathering up lost Pokémon to calming down a raging wild creature, to rescuing beasts from the hands of unsuitable people, all with the help of a little tool called a Styler which is flung around Pokémon like a spinning top to capture them. Of course, you can’t do this without a little help from your friends, and so rather quickly you’re assigned a ‘partner Pokémon’ who will follow you about no matter what to do whatever you tell it – a mischievous Minun or a playful Plusle depending on the gender of your character. To get around the world, it’s essential that you gather up wild creatures on a strictly temporary basis to get you around obstacles – you can capture a number of these at a time depending upon your level, and they can each have a skill used once before they are released back into their habitat.
How does all this work, though? Well, when Nintendo asked HAL to make them a Pokémon spin-off, it seems Satoru Iwata’s former-development home took the phrasing a little too literally. To enter a ‘battle’ (though they are more tests of capturing ability than anything else), you simply walk into one of the Pokémon hopping about quite happily – or running away for the more timid creatures - on screen. Once you have made contact, the battle begins, with your sole task being to take the Pokémon/s into your custody. To do this, you literally spin around it, drawing circles around the monster repeatedly until it has been circled enough to become your temporal lap dog, then quickly removing the stylus from the screen once the last circle is completed; as you might expect, a low ranking beast such as a Wurmple will only take a circle or two, whereas a hefty Charizard will take far more.
This isn’t as easy as it sounds, though, thankfully, otherwise there would be no fun at all to be had. The Pokémon obviously aren’t too enthusiastic about being caught and so will do whatever is in their abilities to avoid it. If one runs into your capture line/circle, it will be broken. Similarly, Pokémon can launch attacks at your line, which not only breaks it but also chips some energy from your metre if your stylus is still pressed on the screen. Take enough damage and your stylus breaks, making you a failure at being a Ranger and at life. You can also use your partner Pokémon and any wild misfits you’ve gathered up to power up your Styler during battle: a bug Pokémon helper will allow you to shoot webs at the wild Pokémon to stick them to the spot temporarily, or a grass one might cause bushes to rapidly grow wherever your stylus might touch to disable easy get-aways. While there is a very evident danger of the circle mechanic getting boring, it somehow works because of the extra elements. Battles soon become a test of timing in knowing when to draw or swiftly remove your stylus to avoid damage, and when to unleash your current stock of beasts in the battle. They can become frustrating, but everything feels rewarding and worth it once you finally devise the best strategy for a difficult capture and pull it off, particularly in the latter stages of the game.
You can’t be tempted to use up all your creatures in battle, though, as the strategies of when to use Pokémon and which ones to grab are important also. Some Pokémon will be useful in battle while others do nothing, but some will be useful in the field while others do nothing (many have abilities both in and out of battle, it’s just the more unlucky/pathetic creatures that miss out on one or the other – though we won’t have anything said against the bugs and their lack of field moves, thanks to their in-battle move being so helpful). There are a variety of obstacles in the field that must be overcome before progress can be made. Bales of hay blocking your way? Pretend they don’t belong to a helpless farmer somewhere and raze them to the ground with the help of a passing Torchic. Each Pokémon also has a rank for their moves. More highly evolved creatures will allow a longer help time in battle, or will have a higher rating (out of three) in the power of their field moves. Obstacles also have a rating out of three as to how strong they are, so it’s not possible to chop down some level-three foliage with a Pokémon with a cut ability of just one. The action takes place on the touch screen, and your helper Pokémon all trot about after you on-screen at all times, meaning the process of asking for help is a case of clicking on the Pokémon you need, dragging them to obstacle and confirming what you plan to do. Once this is done, the creature will run at the obstacle full pace and dispatch it swiftly, then will skip off back to the wild, its job done. With everything happening on the touch screen, it’s also nice to see that movement of your character is done by simply touching the direction you want to go – a mechanic that works superbly, as anybody who has played Animal Crossing: Wild World and/or The Legend Of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass will most likely tell you. The controls in all aspects are pretty much spot on.
A point that can be construed as both positive and negative is the length of Pokémon Ranger. This is not a long title and can be polished off with a few hours of concentrated and dedicated play, as there are only ten or so missions until story mode is completed (though you can play through some extra missions once completed, and a more casual player might make it last for double the time or more). However, the short length also means that it does not become stale and means that the player does not have a substantial chance to get really sick of the battle system, which easily could have happened if the game had been much longer – as it is, you have basically learnt and mastered the battle system by the end, and pushing it any further in its current, somewhat simplistic, form would probably have been more irritating than anything else.
HAL’s approach to the Pokémon franchise is refreshing. Previously having worked on the Stadium games on Nintendo 64, they have not really had a chance to inject anything new up until this point, and so it must have been great for them to be able to change the graphical style a little (it actually looks better than Game Freak’s own Pokémon Diamond/Pearl in our opinion – in parts, at least). Delightfully, it also even reminded us of the graphical style of old point and click adventure games such as the first two Monkey Islands and, again, the first two Simon the Sorcerer titles, due to some brilliant animation – if you’ve played any of these four games and see the main bad guy laughing, you’ll see what we mean. The Go Rock Squad are an interesting diversion from the increasingly serious natures of the bad guy cults in the main series and also help to show off the game’s fantastic animation with the frequent musical ‘interludes’ (it’s just a shame it’s always the same tune). Ranger is also self-deprecating, self-aware and sarcastic in a way that the main series is not, and it’s all the better for it. In terms of quality, it’s easily up there with the main series and jostles with the other Pokémon spin-off that is often well-lauded, Pokémon Snap.
This was originally daubed with the subtitle ‘The Path To Diamond and Pearl’, and this feels fairly accurate to us. Comfortably making mention of trainers without veering into the territory of them, it is clearly separate from the main games, it serves as a helpful re-introduction of some of the creatures before Diamond/Pearl are released. Sneakily, Nintendo have included exclusive Diamond/Pearl legendary water Pokémon Manaphy within the game’s code, only unlockable once all story missions are completed and a code are input, so if you’re wanting to catch ‘em all and don’t have a very generous friend, getting hold of a copy of Ranger is essential, as only one Manaphy egg can be sent per game (whether this applies to cartridge or game save, we’re not certain). Really, though, Pokémon Ranger didn’t need the extra selling point – it’s a decent enough title and worth a place on your shelf in its own right.
Starts out feeling far too simplistic, but soon you need to start employing strategy and it all begins to feel more substantial.
Fantastic animation and the sprites look great. The effects could have been a little flashier and less pixelated, though.
Nothing too good – the same tunes are repeated over and over, and the sound effects aren’t up to much.
The main story mode is short, but there are some extra missions available, and the promise of Manaphy is worth it alone to some people we’re sure. This is one of those where too much playtime would have ruined it, so we can’t hold too much against it.
Pokémon Ranger succeeds where other spin-offs haven’t – it’s actually good. A mix of a new twist on the series, some totally different gameplay, humour and great controls, it’s very worthy of a playthrough to get you through until Pokémon Diamond/Pearl come out – and even after that, if you’re wanting to play something that’s Pokémon but isn’t in the main series, this should be a strong consideration. Or Pokémon Snap, of course.
Yeah it's a good game...You don't like it, tiamat? It's very different in style to D/P, so for those that want a change from the old formula it's a nice distraction.
I think I justified my reasons for giving it an 8. It's a good change of pace and FAR more interesting than the vast majority of Pokemon games that have been released. The battle system is a bit of a quibble, but it doesn't overstay its welcome thanks to the length of the game. I think HAL did a great job in offering a new side to the franchise in the same way they did with Pokemon Snap.
Diamond/Pearl is undoubtedly better, but this leads into it nicely.
Good review! I've got it (but nothing can replace Diamond :cry: & I thought it was really fun. That being said, I would have enjoyed it much more if I didn't have to press my DS buttons through my infinate waterfall of tears...
As I baxo a game of DS( Edited 17.02.2008 21:47 by itachi )