You’ve played a match-3 puzzler before, right? At this moment in time it’s probably the worlds most played game type, not withstanding various titles featuring poorly calibrated feathered creatures. With games like Bejewelled, along with [title removed due to trademarking issues] and their respective clones holding sway over smartphones and tablets everywhere, the question could be asked whether we really need another match-3 puzzler. The answer is probably, particularly if it has Pokémon in it.
Pokémon Link: Battle (or Battle Trozei, for our American readers), is the sequel to the DS title Pokémon Link which originally appeared all the way back in 2005. Rather than being made by the guys and gals at GameFreak, the games have been handled by Pokémon spin-off specialist Genius Sonority who also developed Pokémon Colosseum and the Gamecube title Pokémon XD. Rather than being a fully-fledged release Pokémon Link Battle is being brought exclusively to the 3DS eShop, which is a perfect fit for the title given that many people would question handing over £30 for a game with fairly similar dynamics to any number of 69p games.
Whilst matching three Pokémon on the horizontal or vertical is the fundamental dynamic, the game fortunately sports a number of nuances to invite deeper play. Your primary aim in each level is to capture various wild Pokémon that appear at the top of the screen and you do so by attacking them with the various types you have to match together. So if you’re presented with a Bulbasaur to capture you first have to look for a fire type Pokémon to match together and start your link chain. You can then merrily begin matching every other type you can get your hands on as it’s only the first match-up that sets your attack type, and your aim is to continue linking for as long as possible to maximise your attack and your score, and in turn your ranking as well.
In order to maximise your score the game relies on your ability to recognise Pokémon and their type, and given that the game includes all 718 creatures from the main series, that’s a lot of knowledge to bring to bear, particularly when you’re trying to react swiftly to set a chain going. You can get by on a certain amount of trial and error, though whilst this method will see you through a number of the levels you’ll never achieve ‘A” rankings on them without learning the specifics of each animal.
If you’re a Pokémaniac you’ll have an immediate advantage when playing, and there’s definitely a great sense of satisfaction when you chain all that knowledge together for a huge score. Conversely, newcomers will be at a distinct disadvantage, though it’s not impenetrable by any means. The likelihood is of course that gamers will have played at least one of the prior games in the series rather than starting with this spin off.
As you attack your target they’re also attacking you, with your health bar appearing either side of the touch screen. Along with attempting to reduce your health to zero, the attacking Pokémon are also capable of breaking through the link box itself and blocking your attempts to make chains. As you progress into the later zones the attackers become more aggressive, using moves of their own against you that mix up your Pokémon as you’re trying to link them. To be honest Pokémon Link: Battle lulls you into a false sense of security as the opening levels are a walkover, only to be taken by surprise as you advance past the fifth zone and onwards where you suddenly start to see the game over screen appearing more regularly as you fail.
Each section of the game is split into zones, with separate levels within them. Each level houses different Pokémon types to catch, much like running into different areas of tall grass in any of the main titles. As in the main games as well, some Pokémon will appear more often than others and it takes repeated play-throughs of each level in order to encounter them all. The benefit of catching them all, beyond of course that you’ve gotta, is that you can assign any of your caught Pokémon as your buddy and they will appear amongst the faces you have to match, giving you an advantage if you know you’re facing a certain type in a level.
From a presentation point of view, the game is bright and colourful, if a little simplistic, with recognisable faces appearing in both the link box and as attackers. As with many recent releases the game makes no use of the 3D technology whatsoever but in this case there’s not much it could have added to the experience. To a certain extent there’s a little much to take in on the two screens at times, looking at your attackers type, then whether your attack is weak or strong against it on the top screen, all whilst trying to chain links together on the bottom one. It returns though to your over-arching knowledge as these factors don’t require quite so much attention when you know what you’re doing.
Amongst all the recognisable faces I had to smile when Groudon appeared, bringing back memories of my red Pokémon GameBoy Advance SP that I got for my birthday years ago. There’s definitely a nice element of exploration and collection to be had, as befits a Pokémon game, and like all good puzzle games its mechanics are welcoming, with increasing levels of depth as you gain a better understanding. Admittedly it’s never going to set the world on fire, but it’s not intended to, offering instead a relatively cheap portable gaming experience that’s a perfect fit for the device and for a large proportion of its owners.