Pokémon Rumble Blast was neither the game I had in mind when I (repeatedly) begged Nintendo for original 3DS content across the breadth of my last few portable gaming reviews, nor was it the proper Pokémon title I assumed would mark the property’s maiden voyage into the unique space of the 3D portable. It is, however, a game I seem unable to put down.
Eschewing the level grinding and turn-based battles of the core Pokémon experience, Pokémon Rumble Blast is instead a button-masher featuring those ultra-cute Pocket Monsters. Scratch that; it’s actually a button-masher featuring ridiculously adorable toy analogs of those ultra-cute Pocket Monsters. There is a distinct difference.
Taking place across a whimsical series of segmented worlds (that are themselves, apparently, located within a virtual Mii-staffed Pokémon toy store), Rumble Blast challenges players to catch ’em all by getting your Poké-hands dirty. Rather than take the role of an ambitious trainer, you instead directly control an ever-growing roster of creatures in individual martial combat.
The gameplay could not be more straightforward: select a Pokémon and proceed through the linear levels. Along the way you’ll face swarms of enemies and the occasional super-sized boss using the circle pad to move and the A and B buttons to attack. Defeated enemies drop coins, which can be used to buy new attacks and combat abilities, but occasionally these enemies fall to the ground as wind-up miniature versions of themselves that can be recruited into your ragtag team. When the active character’s HP falls too low, just hit the X button to swap it out for a new, more formidable recruit and repeat.
There are vague notions of a plot within Pokémon Rumble Blast – something concerning sinister forces that are draining the game world’s health-replenishing fountains – but the player’s primary motivation is simply to fight his way through the progressing stages and collect enough powerful allies to enter each world’s Battle Royale, a timed free-for-all combat contest against an arena full of stronger opponents. The game walks a line between this straight-up brawler mechanic and some rudimentary dungeon crawler leanings, as many defeated Pokémon (which drop like loot) possess special moves and type powers that can certainly aid in these more frenzied sequences. This straight-ahead simplicity and element of randomness gives the game its charm, but it also proves its greatest drawback.
Despite the fact that, as with most other offshoots of the original series, Rumble Blast includes the strengths/weaknesses mechanic of the classic type system, you won’t likely need a Tepig to burn your way through all those plant Pokémon. Instead the title’s primary focus seems to be on recruiting more and progressively stronger creatures. This means that your roster quickly becomes littered with outmoded fighters, and, though the Switch Menu allows you to flag your favorites, you’re much better off just sorting by power level and selecting the creature with the highest number.
Though Pokémon Rumble Blast tries to dress it up with things like multiplayer and StreetPass support, the game really is a one-trick pony, and if that one trick – mashing frantically on a pair of attack buttons as you carve your way through an enemy onslaught – doesn’t appeal to you then the title has little to offer aside from its good looks. Yes, though not as high-profile as the recent Zelda or Star Fox N64 remakes, Rumble Blast, itself a sequel to a WiiWare title, is every bit as visually polished. The blocky, minimalist design of the Poké-toys might not seem like much to look at, but the game’s whimsical world positively pops in 3D.
Pokémon Rumble Blast is in no way a universal recommendation, but I’ve found it a fun diversion that’s certainly worth a look to all but the biggest of Poké-haters. If you’re craving a little straight-up action in a handsome package, give the game a look. If, however, you’re expecting a deep RPG experience on par with the original series, you’d do best to look elsewhere.
WIRED: handsome graphics, clever art direction, uncomplicated gameplay, fun and frenetic battles, Pokémon-y goodness
TIRED: incredibly repetitive
Review materials provided by: Nintendo of America