I’ve always managed to dodge the bullet and avoid the addictive pull of Pokémon. Leave it to a button-mashing brawler with plastic figurine accessories to finally get me hooked. At first glance, Pokémon Rumble U isn’t much to look at. With its simplistic controls and repetitive gameplay, you might feel inclined to dismiss it as yet another cash-in of the popular Nintendo franchise. But despite its faults, there’s actually much more to Rumble U than meets the eye, making this a satisfying and fun little title for fans of the series and newcomers alike.
The gameplay is nothing to rave about. It’s incredibly basic. Using either the Gamepad or Wii Remote, you move your character around tiny arenas and attack using one of two buttons as countless hordes of Pokémon charge you head on. If you and your team of four Pokémon (human co-op or CPU controlled) survive the onslaught, then you’re left to battle the stage’s giant-sized boss Pokémon. Upon victory, you’re ranked according to the points you’ve collected and are presented with all the Pokémon that you’ve managed to catch for the round. That’s pretty much all there is to it. Rinse and repeat. There’s very little room or need to strategize a plan of attack. It really boils down to how powerful your Pokémon are and whether or not you’re lucky enough to unlock more of them.
You may have already guessed it, but most of the appeal does not derive from the monotonous gameplay. While I do admittedly enjoy a mindless brawler from time to time, the real fun in this game comes from the satisfaction of completing challenges to unlock new levels, hoarding coins to upgrade your character (if you purchase the optional figurines) and of course collecting Pokémon.
I’m not gonna lie, it really is all about the Pokémon, all 649 of them. There’s something about these odd little creatures that just makes you need to collect them. I’m sorry, but it happens. I don’t know if it’s because they’re each so uniquely designed with creative names like Leafeon and Heatran or if its because each Pokémon has different skills and power levels, but every time you find a new one, there is a slight yet noticeable release of endorphins into the bloodstream, leaving you temporarily warm and gooey inside. I imagine this sense of satisfaction is even more magnified for diehard fans of the series as they constantly dream of catching their favorite elusive Pokémon to add to their collection.
And if that wasn’t bad enough, Pokémon Rumble U introdces a new, real world element to further prey on us hapless addicts. The Near Field Communication (NFC) figurines are probably the most unique and appealing aspect of this title. Pokémon Rumble U is the first game to ever use the Wii U’s NFC scanner that comes already built in every gamepad. I honestly didn’t know it was there before this game came along. I always thought it was just some funny symbol on the bottom left of the controller for aesthetic design. When you place one of the separately sold figurines ($3.99 a pop at Gamestop) onto the gamepad, the coinciding character pops up on the screen. It’s similar to the technology used in Skylanders and, more recently, Disney Infinity. The base of the figure acts as a sort of memory card for the character, storing stats and upgrades.
The developers say you don’t need to buy these NFC figures to play the game, and while that is essentially true, without at least one of these little guys you’ll be cheating yourself out of the most rewarding experience in the game. Unlike the two previous Pokémon Rumble titles, in Rumble U the only characters that you’re able to level up are these separately purchased NFC figures. And since all upgrades are purchased in the game using the coins you collect from matches, there really is no other point to collecting them except to occasionally pay for continues. Trust me, I tried playing the game without an NFC and it just wasn’t any fun. There was no incentive to play. It felt utterly boring and unmotivated
That’s when I decided to drag myself off the couch and face the lines at Gamestop. They had the Pokéball dispenser prominently displayed at the front desk next to the gift cards. There were two dozen red and white capsules spilling from the boxes, each containing a random and unknown Pokémon just waiting to be revealed. You have no idea what Pokémon you’re getting until you buy it and open it. Nintendo is getting a lot of flak for making the pokéballs randomized, but I know it’s all part of the plan and just another addictive element to the game. I was surprised to find myself actually getting excited about this thing. Would I get a rare character with special abilities? What would it look like? The checkout guy gave me a knowing look and told me these little balls were selling like hotcakes. Feeling uncomfortable from the whole situation, I left as quickly as I could and then, just like one of those guys playing scratch offs in the gas station parking lot, I opened my pokéball and tore through the inside bag.
My Pokémon is a black fox with red hair called Zoroark. He’s not the coolest dude with the best powers on the block, but he came to me and he’s mine. And from that point on I was officially hooked. I finally had something to spend all those coins on. I was going to make Zoroark the strongest Pokémon in the world. I’d start by leveling up his HP and attack traits. I figure he’s specialized in Dark moves so maybe I’ll…Oh dear God what have I become? They got me. I’m hooked on Pokémon and I didn’t even see it coming.
Strange how much a good motivator can improve a game’s overall appeal. Suddenly the arena battles weren’t so pointless; I was working towards something. Collecting Pokémon started to matter because the more powerful ones could help me beat challenges to get more points to upgrade Zoroark. My Zoroark. My precious…
Beyond the storyline mode that can be beat in roughly six hours of playtime, there are tons of little motivators built in to keep you coming back for more and, just like the worst of addictions, the more you use it, the more this game tightens its sinister grip around you. I must warn you, if you do have an addictive personality, turn back now and save yourself from countless hours of monotonous button mashing. You’ll find yourself hunting down elusive Pokémon to add to your insane collection or trying over and over to complete challenges with ridiculous requirements. Every level has a list of challenges with specifics that’ll keep you searching for the right Pokémon or executing the correct number of moves before you can unlock bonus capsules that sometimes contain Pokémon for your collection. Some challenges ask for you to use only Pokémon with a power level below 200 or to only use Pokémon with names beginning with “O.” There are even challenges that use the Wii U’s internal clock that require you to beat the game on a Monday or in the evening before it can be unlocked. Such requirements may seem excessive and tedious but if you really care about completing the collection, you’ll do just about anything, raising the replay value to fully beating the game somewhere in the week to month range (meaning 300 to 600 hours, and that’s a safe estimate) It’s a good time, but seriously, if you are an addictive personality, consider yourself warned.
Pokémon Rumble U is a game of firsts. It’s the first Pokémon title for the Wii U, which also makes it the first one with HD graphics. It’s the first to use Wii U’s NFC, and it’s the first game to allow in game screen captures that you can post directly into the Miiverse social network for instant likes and comments. It’s a pretty cool feature – with the touch of a button you can take a picture of your game and share it with the Pokémon online community. There’s a lot of new stuff being unveiled in this title and it feels more like an introduction of things to come rather than a stand-alone game, which probably explains it’s low pricing of $17.99.
The graphics are flashy and fun to look at, but sometimes there is so much going on in the screen that it’s easy to lose track of your character. I can’t tell you how many times I had no idea what I was doing so I just kept mashing the attack buttons.
The couch play co-op is an awesome addition, but I was very disappointed that they missed the opportunity to make a VS. battle mode. I mean, what could be more fun than two friends battling their custom built Pokémon in a one-on-one battle? I think they missed the boat on that one. It’s also saddening that they didn’t provide any online capabilities for the game.
So I guess what I’m getting at is that this isn’t a super quality game, but it’s loads of fun and it’s good at what it does. Pokémon Rumble U is designed to keep you locked in and coming back for more. It’s a harmless diversion with a built in sense of accomplishment that I may not fully endorse (I’m not about to hunt down all 18 of the NFC figurines), but I certainly can appreciate the fun here. I’ll definitely continue upgrading my Zoroark. My girlfriend even got a Pikachu that she’s leveling up alongside me in co-op. Who knows, maybe someday we’ll even get around to catching all 649 Pokémon. It could happen.