The Pokemon series is sometimes viewed as a beginner’s RPG, but that’s not really a fair assessment. The main Pokemon series is shockingly deep, and when you go down the rabbit hole you find a really complex experience that merely has the outward appearance of being kid-friendly.
Nintendo has tried moving this same idea to different RPG genres with varying degrees of success. They’ve made several rogue-likes with the Pokemon Mystery Dungeon series and made action-RPGs with the Pokemon Ranger series. They’re all fun, but in most cases they lack the depth that keeps the original series so entertaining.
Pokemon Ranger: Guardian Signs is the third entry in their action-RPG series. Will it win new converts who don’t really like non-main-series Pokemon games, or does it keep the reputation of being frustratingly OK?
In Pokemon Ranger: Guardian Signs, you are a young Pokemon ranger who is attempting to stop the Pokemon Pinchers from capturing innocent Pokemon for evil purposes. You’re joined by your Pokemon partner, Ukulele Pichu, who, as you may have guessed, is a Pichu with a ukulele. You use your “Styler” to draw circles around Pokemon, letting them know you’re friendly. Once they’re friendly, they’ll join you on your quest for a little while, and you can have up to eight with you at a time. You’ll also come across legendary Pokemon which you can summon using the titular signs in order to help you out at various points in the game.
There are a few things to like here. First of all, the graphics are really nicely drawn, keeping up with the same high quality you would expect from the Pokemon series. The world of Guardian Signs, Oblivia, is very highly polished, almost to a sheen. There are cool ruins to explore and things to see, so that part of it is pretty cool.
The music and sounds are all exactly what you would expect from a Pokemon game. The Pokemon all make their little noises (which in some cases haven’t changed since Pokemon Red & Blue…I’m just saying), and the music is very chipper and enjoyable.
However, here are my main problems. One, will everyone just STOP TALKING. Your styler talks to you. Pichu talks to you. Everyone who has a quest wants to talk to you. That’s not normally a problem when dialogue is good. When your dialogue consists of having us talk to bland characters who tell us what we already know, then I politely ask that everyone just shut their big yapper and let me play the game.
Next up is the combat, such as it is. It’s not really combat, as you’re just trying to tell other Pokemon that you’re a nice person who they don’t need to be afraid of. I’m not complaining about that. I actually like that idea. After all, you have to admit that shoving a creature into a tiny plastic ball and then throwing that ball when you want the creature to fight is a little barbaric. However, when your combat model is so incredibly easy so as to provide no challenge whatsoever, that’s when I have a problem.
Here’s how it works: You’re supposed to draw circles around the Pokemon repeatedly. The more lines you draw in a row around the opposing Pokemon, the quicker you’ll catch them. If the Pokemon walks through the line, the circle is broken. If the Pokemon attacks the line, your styler loses hit points and the line is broken. Reach zero hit points and your game is over. Capture the Pokemon and he joins your team.
Once again, I like this system. It’s fun, and it’s a lot better than the typical menu-driven combat that you normally come across in RPGs. However, I was able to learn this system within the span of five minutes without having ever played a Pokemon Ranger game. It didn’t take me long and battles were quite literally taking me 5 seconds total from start to finish. Even the more complicated battles were taking maybe thirty seconds.
I understand that these games are made for kids, and their stubby little hands can’t move as quickly as an adult’s hands. However, these games shouldn’t have to be made solely for kids.
Pokemon is derided as a beginner’s RPG, but like we’ve stated before, it’s very, very deep. In order to be really good at it, you have to juggle hundreds of types of Pokemon, figure out how to use them and in what situation, and also play along with the other wrinkles that the game throws at you, like status effects and the like. In order to be a good Pokemon player, you effectively need to be a good manager.
The Pokemon spinoffs, however, have a tendency to lean too heavily towards the child-based side of things. They keep all the cuteness and exposition-heavy dialogue and forget that the Pokemon series does so well because it’s fun for people of all ages. Plus, there really isn’t much new in Pokemon Ranger: Guardian Signs that series devotees haven’t seen before.