For the most part, Nintendo is the reigning champion of publishers when it comes to assuring a hefty inclusion of fan service to its all-star series’s spinoff efforts, as well as gameplay simplistic and lastingly appealing enough that those essentially uninterested in the source material will develop a desire to play. Take for example the Mario Kart or even the less critically praised Mario Party franchises—titles that have, over time, shown to instantly rope in not only company loyalists, but youngsters and newcomers to the video-game universe who likely have not yet been exposed to current-gen Nintendo near-masterpieces like Super Mario Galaxy 2 or Kirby’s Epic Yarn. However, when it comes to variations on the Pokémon games, Nintendo typically doesn’t feel the need to cater to gamers both casual and veteran who could care less about the latest round of Pocket Monster-based shenanigans. This is perfectly fine, though, as any new Pokémon project is a guaranteed cash cow in some respect. From Pokémon Snap to Ambrella’s own mishandled Pokémon Dash, there was always money to be made from dedicated Pokémon Trainers of any age. Pokémon Rumble Blast, a substantially more polished version of the 2009 WiiWare-exclusive Pokémon Rumble is the first Pokémon game to appear on the 3DS, and for that fact alone it’s expected to garner some attention, if only from those foaming at the mouth for an expansion on Generation V’s Pokémon Black/White.
As with its predecessor, Rumble Blast strips away the majority of the intense, incrementally complex elements of the main series Pokémon games, embodying an intrinsically strategy-less beat ’em up/dungeon-crawler that, despite its basically juvenile format, can deliver hours of entertainment when reservations are thrown to the wind. The player progresses through enclosed area after enclosed area, pitting their collected creatures (over 600 species are in the mix this time around, the same roster present in Black/White), here in the form of downsized wind-up figurines, against hordes of opposing wild Pokémon. Instead of random encounters resulting in the pop-up of a turn-based RPG menu, battles are real-time, brawler-style affairs complete with button-mashing (A yields a regular attack while B prompts a special) and running around like a fool when things become too hectic.
Akin to regular Pokémon games, the ability to switch out your team members on the fly is available, here with a tap of the X button, as long as you possess said cavalry within your arsenal. After a set amount of increasingly populated dungeon areas have been cleared, a boss fight, with a much larger, stronger wind-up Pokémon replica is initiated. These boss battles are hardly inventive, each boss will fall once you’ve discovered their attack pattern and begin landing well-timed assaults from the appropriate angle, all the while fending off smaller Pokémon hell-bent on draining your life gauge. Rinse and repeat, then it’s back to the hub world for some HP-restoring before heading off to the next environment. Obviously this is an insanely straightforward, almost dozy formula, yet due to some bright, vivid visuals that make effective usage of the 3DS’s 3D and a fluid, responsive control scheme, much of Rumble Blast’s tediousness can be consequently swept beneath the rug.
The tireless grinding/training aspect of the Pokémon series is both one of its biggest appeals for devotees and its mentionable deterrents for non-fans. Behold, Poké naysayers: There’s no leveling-up process in Rumble Blast. Pokémon acquired mid-bout come complete with a predetermined power level. As you progress through the game, more powerful specimens are placed in your midst, and, if you intend on having any sort of chance at defeating the final few bosses, multiple playthroughs of each section’s dungeons are required to amass an optimum team. There’s a catch to the catching element of Rumble Blast though: The Pokémon you’re battling are not necessarily the ones you will ultimately recruit at the time. Post-defeat, even tinier toy versions of the monsters manifest, and a random Pokémon is attached to it. This means that even the rarest of Pokémon can be procured during generally early stages of your adventure. Whether you equate this to a positive or negative depends solely on how much of a challenge you’re yearning for.
Somewhat of an action-propelling story does exist in Rumble Blast, but it’s merely a sliver of the epic, often politically incorrect, subtext-filled allegories of the main series. Truly, this is a game that’s all about dealing mindless, cartoon carnage in single-player sessions commonly lasting a few hours at a time (ideal for intra-coast plane trips). Multiplayer is a noteworthy feature in Rumble Blast as well, taking advantage of the 3DS’s touted Street Pass capability to easily engage in side-by-side co-op competitions, trades, and specific events that can result in the earning of in-game money and, of course, many more nostalgia-inducing Pokémon.
Rumble Blast is by no means a seminal entry in the Pokémon canon. It harbors a number of downsides, namely its small scope and oddly high retail price tag (more than double the $15 it would cost you to purchase its WiiWare brethren, a very similar experience), yet I can’t help but recommend it for its pure, unsullied addictiveness. While it might not spawn any fresh Poke disciples, Rumble Blast delights often enough to appease the acquainted. Anyone who has ever played a Pokémon game knows how difficult they can be to put down, and this is no exception.