Pokemon Rumble U Review
After the runaway success of Activision's Skylanders game/toy hybrid, it is no wonder that others are jumping on that bandwagon. Disney just released Disney Infinity (which, I might add only seems to have Pixar and live action characters - where the hell are the actual Disney animated characters? Robin Hood? Merlin? Steamboat Willie? Beast? Simba?) and Nintendo has followed suit with Pokemon Rumble U for Wii U. Though this game can't match the ambition or scope of the Skylanders franchise, it does provide a low cost distraction and, better yet, a new game to play on Nintendo's starved-for-games new console. Just don't expect much or risk being sorely disappointed.
Pokemon Rumble U is the third game in the series, with Pokemon Rumble on the Wii and Pokemon Rumble Blast on the 3DS preceding it. The games are all essentially the same: Pokemon toys come to life to wail on one another for some reason. You collect stronger and stronger toys and either clear all the levels or continue playing until you've completed the Pokedex. It's pretty simple stuff, but there is an undeniable charm to the property and the gameplay that keeps people playing.
This new one has the hook of physical Pokemon toys, which store your progress and level up alongside the toys in the game. The toys are relatively cheap (about $4, compared to $9-$11 for a single Skylander or upwards of $15-$20 for a single Disney Infinity toy) and not necessary to enjoy the game or complete it to 100%. They are just a cute little gimmick that will draw in players who may have otherwise not had much interest in a third, slightly shallow Pokemon beat-em-up. Their coolest feature is how they are scanned into the game. Placing a toy on the lower left side of the Wii U Gamepad scans it through near-field communication (NFC) and - pow! - your toy is in the game. If the toys have a fault, its that they come in blind packs, meaning you won't know which Pokemon toy you are buying until you get it home and open it. With 18 to collect, this could mean wasted money and/or eBay auctions, and not knowing what you are buying has never sat right with me, even when it came to the Marvel cards of my youth.
Even with the cool toys, Pokemon Rumble U feels like a step backwards for the series. In the previous Rumble game, Blast on 3DS, players had areas to explore and a simple story to follow. All that is gone in this installment, with each battle becoming an arena fight against a few opponents before a larger boss appears. Each stage is identical to the last, with the only change being the Pokemon you can first obliterate, then befriend. To the game's credit, you can befriend all 649 current species, but that's a lofty and time-consuming goal for a game that is essentially a "mash attack and try not to die" experience. Even for huge Pokefans like myself, the grind gets tiring after a few hours and even sweet action figures can't hold this one together.
Before we wrap up, here's a little secret: If you do decide to purchase Pokemon Rumble U, try placing a Skylander on the Wii U Gamepad's NFC area. The result is unexpected and actually pretty awesome.
As nice as it may be to have a reason to pick up my Wii U Gamepad again, Pokemon Rumble U just doesn't hold up. The toys are neat and the price is right for both them and the digital game download, but the action is just too shallow to hold my attention for very long. By dropping the storyline and level structure of the 3DS Rumble game, Nintendo deep-sixed the two things that kept that last game fun for longer than 15-20 minutes. As bad as you may want to collect the toys, and/or have a reason to play with your Wii U, Pokemon Rumble U just isn't going to cut the mustard. Don't worry - Zelda is only a few weeks away.
Final Rating: 40%. You're better off resisting the urge to collect more toys.