Let me tell you a story about missed opportunity. Long ago, the kingdom of Nintendo created the mightiest army of games and merchandising to appeal to children. This was the army of Pokemon, and everyone played its games and bought its toys. It ruled over the markets for decades, but it always kept the games and toys separate. One day, the two powerful kingdoms of Disney and Activision rose up with their own mighty armies, combining their games and toys into the singular forces of Infinity and Skylanders, respectively. Each army was mightier than either prong of Nintendo’s Pokemon army, because they worked together. Nintendo decided to combine the Pokemon army’s halves of games and toys into a single force. It failed horribly.
This is the story of Pokemon Rumble U for the Nintendo Wii U. To shift metaphors, Nintendo looked at a mint it just purchased and used it to print photos of their pets instead of money. If Nintendo put effort into creating a combination game and toy experience akin to Activision’s Skylanders or Disney’s Infinity, it could have become a titanic force in children’s entertainment and made Pokemon even more powerful. Instead, it released a pitiful $17.99 (direct) brawler loosely tied into a series of mediocre trading figures.
At heart, Pokemon Rumble U is a simple beat-em-up, extremely similar to Pokemon Rumble Blast for the Nintendo DS. You control a small Pokemon toy and are followed around by a few more Pokemon toys as you fight off waves and waves of enemy Pokemon toys with different attacks. Each toy has its own power level, health, and up to two different attacks, and the elemental strengths and weaknesses of the main Pokemon games still apply. As a result, you can use some strategy depending on the enemies you’re going to fight. Pokemon Rumble Blast made this work on the DS thanks to lengthy, serpentine levels, a wide variety of environments, and extensive upgrading and trading options. Pokemon Rumble U has none of these things.
Each level in Pokemon Rumble U is a small arena, with no branches to explore or goals to find. You have to fight off a certain number of enemies and then a boss, and while the objectives and environments can vary slightly with forts you have to protect or poisoned tiles you have to avoid, you’re still just brawling in a big ring for Pokemon toys. As you fight, you can collect additional Pokemon toys and use stronger characters, but those characters remain static through the game and you’ll end up tossing them aside and using the newest, most powerful characters you pick up every match through the end. This occurs because Pokemon Rumble U lacks a toy upgrade system.
If you want to upgrade and become attached to your Pokemon toy, you need to physically buy it. In this case, it means you need to physically buy the blind pack figures and hope you get the Pokemon you want—if the Pokemon you want is one of the 18 figures per figure wave (series, usually marked by the box holding the capsules). This is fine if you want a Mewtwo or Evee or Genesect or Pikachu, but if you were hoping to carry your favorite Alakazam or Metagross through the game you’re out of luck until they’re turned into figures. If they’re ever turned into figures. Pokemon Rumble Blast let you upgrade any figure you collected in the game, but Pokemon Rumble U is focused on the toys, so you can only spend the coins you collect to boost the power or change the moves of a figure you physically bought.
The figures themselves aren’t the detailed rows of dozens of colorful Pokemon you can pick up in a toy store, though. They’re only the special Pokemon Rumble U figures offered in blind capsules in small retail boxes found next to cash registers. There are not big displays like Skylanders or Infinity for Pokemon Rumble U figures, only some faceless Pokeball-colored plastic capsules that might have the toy you want. The figures are faithfully based on their in-game designs, which ironically make them much less detailed than other Pokemon toys. They’re polygonal, minimalist renderings of Pokemon, mounted on black discs that hold the NFC chips that let them work with the Wii U.
The figure integration is seamless, thanks to the NFC sensor located right on the Nintendo Wii U GamePad. Just select NFC Figure in the game menu and put your figure over the NFC icon next to the GamePad screen to scan it in. From there you can upgrade the figure how you want. When you finalize the upgrades, put the figure on the NFC icon again to write those changes to the figure. When you want to use it in the game, put the figure on the icon when selecting your Pokemon figures before each level and it will pop up with an NFC icon over its head on the screen so you can easily find it.
None of these upgrades really matter, considering the game itself is really short. It consists of a single, mostly linear game board on which icons are placed to represent a series of fights in a slightly different arena. Besides background changes and tedious cut scenes showing a Kyurem Pokemon trying to get home, there’s little variety between them. Handfuls of levels are bunched together in colors to provide a sense of theme, but because the arenas are all shaped the same and there’s so little variety in the action they’re really just superficial changes that need at most minor tactical adjustments (like fighting near a fort you have to protect instead of running around, or staying in a certain part of an arena so you don’t get pulled onto a heated panel that damages you).
You can get through the campaign in about four hours, and you’ll get bored with it in half that time. After you beat the game, you can fight a few challenge battles or start over, but that’s it. There are no online features and there is no way to further explore anything in the game, so once you beat it there’s very little reason to go back to it. Nintendo could have combined Pokemon Rumble U with a Wii U version of its Pokedex 3D software and turned the game into an activity book and gallery of different Pokemon toys, but instead it’s just a series of fights and nothing else.
Activision’s Skylanders and Disney’s Infinity games have some measure of depth and variety, and both companies have clearly put an effort into promoting their respective properties to turn them into series and entire toy lines. Nintendo has done none of those things, and instead put out a Pokemon tie-in game that’s mediocre at best and integrates only loosely with a small series of figures that you’ll be lucky if you notice are sitting next to the cash register at Gamestop. If Nintendo put the slightest bit of effort into Pokemon Rumble U, it could have been a game changer based on brand recognition alone. Instead, it’s a boring, shallow game with no charm, depth, or variety of either other Pokemon games (including spin-off series like Mystery Dungeon) or of toy/game combination properties like Skylanders and Infinity. As a game, Pokemon Rumble U is a mediocre title with no lasting value. As a toy line, Pokemon Rumble U is a perplexing example of Nintendo actively avoiding the opportunity to print more money with Pikachu on it.
|Platform||Nintendo Wii U|
|ESRB Rating||E for Everybody|
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc