When I was young, Pokémon was all about three distinct mediums: the anime, on television; the game, on GameBoy; and the trading cards, in the playground. There was never much of a direct crossover between these, aside from the fact kids enjoyed all of them and they shared the same creatures.
Now, with Pokémon Rumble U, there’s a bit more of a crossover with real-world collectibles and virtual gameplay, as the game supports NFC figures much like Skylanders or Disney Infinity.
It’s a solid concept – the figures are sold blind in Pokéball capsules, so you never know what you’re going to get, whether that be a powerful legendary Pokémon such as Celebi or Mewtwo, or a starter such as Bulbasaur or Torchic, though all of these have relatively the same impact in-game.
The game is essentially a real-time action game, where you choose your ‘mon and head into battle against a specific set of creatures in an arena. It is, however, relatively uninspired and not much of an improvement on the poor 3DS entry in the series – the gameplay is perhaps even worse with no real structure to the levels, instead it’s just re-skinned octagonal arenas populated with different Pokémon from the 649 available.
You’re able to play with up to four players, but there’s barely any fun to be found with the game; it becomes repetitive after just minutes of playing, with poor graphics (despite the nicely designed figures) and a complete lack of charm or personality, that you’ll find with the main entries in the Pokémon series.
In fact, the only semi-decent part of the game is the way the figures are implemented. While it’s relatively simple in execution – as with the rest of the game – all that’s required is for you to place its base onto the bottom left section of the GamePad, and it’ll be transported into your game right before your eyes, disposing of enemies faster than the smaller creature you’re playing with ever could.
You can tune-up these Pokémon in-game by spending your earned coins, raising the level and changing their attacks, as well as being able to save your progress to them, before taking them to another Wii U system. That’s great for kids – harkening back to the days of taking memory cards and game cartridges to sleepovers – despite the low level of fun to be found in-game.
Quite interestingly, it uses the same technology as smart cards, so Oyster cards and such will also work, granting you a “helper” Pokémon in the midst of battle and saving you £4 on a figure, though you’re unable to tune these up and save your progress to them.
Nintendo really needs to learn to just stick to the main Pokémon franchise, rather than pushing out these charmless spin-offs, but there are some good ideas with the figures executed here. It’s at least a hint of what could come out of this NFC functionality, with perhaps more development time and some fresh ideas thrown into the mix.
I don’t think this particular game is going to replicate the success of the main series of Pokémon, nor other NFC enabled games such as Skylanders due to the actual game content being relatively poor, but the figures are a neatly implemented idea, considering all that they have to work with.