Pokémon Ranger - Reader Review  

Hiyo Minun, away!
by omegabyte

Medium to Hard
10 to 15 hours


Rating definitions 

   I have to admit, much to my own chagrin, that Pokémon Ranger is the first Pokémon game I have played since Pokémon Silver over six years ago. However, whether you're a fan of the series or just picking it up for the first time, or even getting reacquainted with the cute and cuddly, and occasionally not so cute and cuddly, creatures known Pokémon, Ranger is a great game to do it with. Combining unique, addictive, and surprisingly deep game play with excellent visuals and a charming, though exceedingly simple, story, Pokémon Ranger will give you hours of fast-paced scribbling fun.

   Taking place in the Fiore region of the Pokémon world, you take on the role of an up-and-coming Pokémon Ranger, a job which entails maintaining the balance of nature in the region, and getting your Pokémon friends to help. However, a seedy group a wannabe rock stars in matching spandex jumpsuits have a notion to make trouble for you and your fellow Rangers, and it's up to you to draw lots of circles around their Pokémon so that they might learn their place. You will travel through four different towns, exploring an impressive variety of dungeon areas, including a jungle, an ancient temple, a frozen cave, and even a mountain, among others, as you go on missions for the Rangers and the townspeople.

Drawing circles has never been this much fun! Drawing circles has never been this much fun!

   As a Pokémon Ranger, you're given a "styler", which is what Rangers use to capture and calm Pokémon they meet during their travels. Using the Nintendo DS stylus, you draw quick, often messy, circles around your target Pokémon until their hit points are reduced to zero. If the Pokémon touches the circle, called a "capture line", at any time during your capture attempt, it will break free and you'll have to try again, and if it lands an attack on your capture line, your styler will take damage. When your styler breaks, the game is over.

   Thankfully, you don't always have to work alone when trying to capture powerful Pokémon - other Pokémon you've captured earlier will travel with you, and can be called upon to improve your chances. Every Pokémon type from previous games in the series are present and accounted for, and they all have their own special techniques, called "Pokéassists", to help you out in a battle, though only once. Each different type of Pokéassist has a different effect, all of which help ease the capturing process. All Pokémon also have their standard type-strengths and weaknesses, and using the wrong Pokéassists can result in wasting a Pokémon.

   Unfortunately, since the duties of a Pokémon Ranger are to protect the natural order of things, you're forbidden from taking any Pokémon you capture out of their natural environment, which means that after a mission is over you'll have to say goodbye to your new-found friends. There is one exception to this rule, however, and that is your partner Pokémon - a Minun or a Plusle, depending on your gender - who has his own special attack that you can call upon. Minun/Plusle fills the capture screen with lightning bolts, stunning all Pokémon who touch it and allowing you to capture them far more easily. You can't, of course, go using this ability willy-nilly, as your Partner Pokémon only have so much energy. Whenever they use an attack, their energy drops to almost nothing, and you can't use them again until you've drawn a few more successful loops around various Pokémon. Because your partner is essentially an unlimited-use Pokéassist, you will rarely find yourself in a situation where a battle is simply impossible to win, though it may certainly be more challenging.

Pokémon you capture can help you clear obstacles from your path. Pokémon you capture can help you clear obstacles from your path.

   Each Pokémon you capture awards you with experience points for your styler, eventually increasing your level, as experience points are wont to do. Each level grants you a bonus to your styler's health, as well as an increase to the length of your capture line, allowing you to draw bigger and bigger circles as the game progresses. Every mission you complete will increase your Ranger rank, which is separate from your styler level, and grants you bonuses of its own. Every few ranks you will be given the ability to keep one more Pokémon with you, and your partner Pokémon's maximum energy will increase as well, improving the range and duration of its attack.

   The final use of your captured Pokémon lies in their abilities outside of battle. Pokémon have abilities called "field moves", which function very much like the HMs of previous games, letting you clear obstacles out of your path. Most of the puzzles in the various dungeons involve finding the right Pokémon to remove a barrier from your path, and then proceeding on. All Pokémon are visible on the dungeon map and touching one of them starts a battle, so this it's rare that the proper Pokémon is too difficult to find. While this might sound repetitive, the superb level design and the fact that there are just so many different Pokémon to find and capture keeps it from getting stale.

   One of the few problems with the game overall is the inability to skip through cut scenes. There are a number of boss fights with long cut scenes right before, and should you lose the battle, you'll find yourself watching the same scene over and over. While it's rarely a problem, it can get frustrating, particularly if there's one boss you just can't seem to beat.

   The game makes great use of the DS's graphical capabilities, utilizing high-detail sprites for all the different Pokémon, all of which have a wide variety of attack and movement animations. The second screen is also used very well, displaying a sort of Pokémon radar while you're exploring, and the time-remaining on your Pokéassists while you're battling. The music and sound are both decent, but there really isn't anything particularly note-worthy about it, other than the wicked cool guitar solo one of the villains plays repeatedly throughout the story.

   Sadly, the game is not very long, taking between 10 and 15 hours to complete the main quest. However, there are quite a few additional missions you can take on, and of course a gigantic Pokédex to fill up, so the completionist player could probably spend 30 or more hours just running around trying to find the missing Pokémon. The game is also surprisingly challenging, with many fights pitting you against three or more Pokémon at once, or Pokémon requiring 20 or more loops to catch. All in all, Pokémon Ranger is a surprisingly good game, addictively fun, and a must-have for Pokémon fans everywhere.

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