The Pokémon hype just keeps on going. It all started with a completely wacko and over-energetic cartoon, later the first games came to Nintendos Gameboy (Pokémon Blue and Red). They even made it to the big screen and into magic-like card games. About those games, especially the Red and Blue versions were terrific RPG’s which could amuse young AND old. The further the series evolved, the more they aimed at their youngest players. Even today they’re still developing new additions to add to the Pokémon series. Pokémon Ranger is one of those new titles.
Pokémon Ranger is, sadly, barely comparable to the original games. Here you’re a ranger, some sort of mix between a police officer and a park ranger, and your job is to keep the peace in town and help people with all sorts of problems. For example, you’ll have to help someone move a heavy box which was parked in front of the door or remove a log that’s blocking the road into the forest. However, you’re not going to do this with manual labour, at least not by you. You let Pokémon do the dirty work.
Every job needs its specific “animal”. Moving heavy objects is done by a fighting-type Pokémon because they’re strong, extinguishing fires is done by water-types while you start a fire with, of course, fire-types. It all sounds quite simple, but there’s a catch! You only have one Pokémon that’ll stay with you throughout the entire game, the rest you’ll have to capture. However, once they performed some sort of task for you (or you released them), they’ll leave you and you’ll have to go look for new Pokémon. So, let’s say you have to burn a log blocking the road, but you have no fire-Pokémon following you. To solve this problem you’ll have to go hunting for a fire-type. Once you captured it and it did its job it’s automatically set free which leaves you with no fire Pokémon (again) meaning you can start the hunting process again a little while later when you need that fire-beast again. This catching and releasing system causes you to often have a bunch of animals following you which can in turn lead to some confusion.
Next to the adjustments to the use of the Pokémon, there have also been some adjustments to the capturing system. No more special balls to throw at the creatures, this time you’re using the stylus. To capture a Pokémon you’ll have to successfully complete a mini-game. This works like this: every Pokémon gets a number above its head and this number shows you how many circles you have to draw (in one go, without lifting the stylus from the screen) around the thing. Be mindful however, the Pokémon can attack your stylus and when that happens you lose a small portion of your health bar. This can be avoided by lifting the stylus in time, before the Pokémon launches its attack. Once this is empty you can start all over again from the last save point. To make it all a bit easier you can also use the special abilities your captured Pokémon have.
All the crazy stuff above has been put in a story which is just as boring as the repetitive gameplay. During one of your first mission you’re guiding a professor through a dangerous area. This professor is the technical director of the global ranger team and is carrying an important object on his persona, his latest invention, the Super Styler (used to capture Pokémon). If this would fall into the wrong hands it would be a great disaster for the entire world. Hmmm, I wonder what your mission could be now… Indeed, you can go find and recover that bloody Styler.
Up till now, it’s just a plain cliché story and a vague silhouette of what the series once had to offer in gameplay terms. On the other hand, the graphics have improved a lot, having nice effects and such. The sound then again is nothing more than a bunch of MIDI-like sounds pumping through your speakers.
Pokémon Ranger is everything BUT what I expected it to be. Although I’d have loved to be able to compare it to any of the older games, I found it be quite impossible. This is no Pokémon as we know it, it’s bad. Maybe the younger audience (for whom it’s intended) will like it, but it certainly is no game for young adults and older.