Ring around the Charmander.
Yes, boys and girls, it’s time once again for another Pokemon game! You know the Pokemon, don’t you? They’re those adorable little monsters that are so cute that you just want to squeeze them until their heads pop off. Yes, those same demonically cuddly creatures that have been simultaneously terrorizing us and making us vomit from an overdose of cute since the days of the original GameBoy. Yay, Pokemon!
In Pokemon Ranger
, you are the newest recruit of a global security force known as, yes, you guessed it, the Pokemon Rangers. You and your ranger buddies have signed a pledge to live in harmony with Pokemon, strive to protect nature every day, and selflessly go to the help of those in need. Yep, you’re one of the good guys
Unfortunately, as a rookie, your first few assignments are the equivalent of getting cats out of trees and helping old ladies across the street. But eventually, all of your Boy Scout good manners pay off, as you find yourself tangling toe-to-toe against the Go-Rock Squad, a twisted group of thugs who only want to use Pokemon for their own selfish interests. They also love that most corrupting influence, rock and roll music. As a defender of all that is good and right In the world (and possibly Perry Como tunes), it’s up to you and your Pokemon to stop these fiendish hipsters.
is something of a return to the classic style of Pokemon game after the universe-bending Pokemon Mystery Dungeon
, in which you actually played the game as one of them
. The difference is that, where in the past you spent a lot of time developing meaningful relationships with each of your Pokemon, and battling them against each other in the hopes that they would evolve into new and more powerful crickets or sea cucumbers, in Pokemon Ranger
, your relations with the Pokemon are a bit more, shall we say, casual.
While your one poke-partner sticks with you through thick and thin, the liaisons you have with the Pokemon you capture are much more, um, temporary. Each Pokemon you catch functions kind of like an inventory item, and is used up and discarded about as thoughtfully. Some, like Pikachu, can restore your health like a living, breathing health potion. Others work like power-ups to help you in battle, while still others can be used to get past obstacles in the game world, blowing up giant rocks or burning down trees. Once you’ve used them up, they’re out the door, heading back to the wild.
I’m pretty sure that the environmental lobby and the animal rights people finally got to the makers of this game, because the Pokemon Rangers treat their disposable little captives as reverently as if they were endangered spotted owls. Each time you use a Pokemon, you thank it gratefully and then release it carefully into its natural habitat. In fact, you can’t take Pokemon from one part of the world to another, for fear of disrupting the natural balance of things. Heck, you’ve got to make sure you establish an emotional connection
with the sea creature before it will ferry you across the water!
When did this series get all hippie on us? If I wasn’t fighting against the rock musicians, I’d think we were at a Phish concert! Give me the good old days of Pokemon, where you could cram a dragon into a tiny ball, and then force it to do your bidding by only letting it out to fight against its own kind. That’s my kind of relationship with nature!
At least using the stylus to move around, interact with your environment, and access menus is fluid and easy. Very rarely do you ever need to switch back to using the buttons. Even better, they’ve built the gameplay around the strengths and unique capabilities of the stylus. The best example of this is in capturing.
When you engage in battle with a Pokemon, your prey appears meandering about by itself on the lower screen. To capture it, you have to touch your stylus to the screen and draw enough circles around it to match the critter’s level. If you pick up your pen too soon, or your endearing little victim manages to attack your line, he breaks free and lives to fight another day. Play is surprisingly strategic, even if it makes you look like a deranged cartoonist as you madly scribble your way through the game. It’s harder than it sounds, as the runty buggers are always shooting fireballs, jumping at your lines, attacking you in groups, or otherwise making it difficult to draw your precious, precious circles.
Because if there’s one thing you don’t want to do, it’s die. The save points in this game are a little too thinly spread for my tastes, and heaven help you if you face a difficult fight right after one of the seemingly endless conversations with your Ranger colleagues or your rivals. I ended up having to watch one particularly long exposition FOUR TIMES because I kept getting my line broken by the evil little rock creatures that came right after them. Of course, you can run away from a fight if you manage to stun your enemy. But even then, you’re miles from the nearest town, and unless you can find another Pikachu before something nasty finds you, you’re still sunk.
Putting all this touchy-feeliness aside for a moment, I have to admit that my first impression of Pokemon Ranger
was not a good one. From a sensory perspective, this game seems a few steps behind the curve. Now we all know that the DS doesn’t exactly rival the PS3 for awesome graphics or surround sound or anything, but this game looks and sounds like it’s still on the GameBoy Advance! Maybe Pokemon fans go crazy for tinny music
and flat-looking graphics, but I expect more, dang it.
Ultimately, Pokemon Ranger’s positive qualities outweigh its flaws, but only barely. It’s good to see Nintendo keep trying new things to refresh an aging title, and taking advantage of the unique opportunities the DS offers. But by putting a little bit more thought into the music and graphics, they could have made a pretty good game, instead of one that is merely okay.