Platforms: Nintendo DS
Developer: HAL Labs
Rating: E (Everyone)
Players: 1 player
Pokémon Ranger truly is a breath of fresh air. We are still awaiting the local release of the main RPG games, Pearl & Diamond, but in the meantime this should do nicely to fill the gap. How would I describe this game? That’s a tough one. This is unlike any other Pokémon game you have ever played before. But that’s not to say it isn’t good; if anything this is the best Pokémon adventure yet (well until Pearl & Diamond anyway!).
You play as a titular, taciturn Pokémon Ranger who is just starting out in the land of Fiore. With the use of your special Capture Styler (i.e. your DS stylus) you are able to “catch ‘em all” in a whole new way. Enlisting the aid of any Pokémon you come across will help you to both solve the problems faced by local residents, as well as thwarting the usual grand nefarious schemes.
The adventure is broken down into several missions. These start out rather short and simple, but once you get halfway through they do get more involved. You will be doing all sorts of tasks such as rescuing a little girl’s Jigglypuff, to escorting a bug-phobic mechanic through the woods, in search of parts to fix his submarine. Once again you are able to capture any Pokémon you meet, but the difference here from past games is that you now only keep them temporarily; once they have helped you out, they run free. However you will always have a Plusle/Minum on hand as your main companion who will follow you around where ever you may go.
Each Pokémon has a type whether it is fire or wind or whatever. On the field you will encounter obstacles that impede your progress; for example a rock blocking the way, a gaping chasm, or even a sleeping Steelix. By using the Pokémon you have captured you can solve any problem thrown at you. Let’s say there is a small plant growing on the ground - by ‘watering’ it you can make it grow into a vine which you can use to climb up to the top of the hill. There is a good amount of management required as you will need to balance out your team with the Pokémon that can help you in these instances, and others who are more suited to help you out in battle.
The stylus-driven battles make up the bulk of this game, and it is all about capturing Pokémon by drawing lots and lots of circles around them. It may seem somewhat mindless initially, but you will come to realise soon enough that there is a fair bit of strategy required for success. Yes you will have to draw a lot of rings, but there are a lot of tactics involved as well. This is where the other use of the Pokémon comes in; their assist abilities. By activating them in battle, your styler gains new powers. You can charge your styler with the fighting element to double your capturing strength, you can imbue the power of fire into it to create roaring flames that can halt Pokémon movement, and you can shoot gusts of wind to temporarily stun Pokémon afloat. Each element is well represented and having a good knowledge of each type and their strengths and weaknesses is critical to success. Just like out on the field, once a Pokémon helps you it is released.
Now if you are expecting most of the 450+ Pokémon to be available here, you will be sorely disappointed. Less than half of that amount is featured, but each one is unique in its own way. When you are attempting to capture Pokémon, each one will need to be tackled using different strategies and assist abilities. There may be a clear lack of quantity, but the quality more than makes up for it.
As for the story, it is full of your typical Pokémon themes. You go about helping others and before you know it, you’re full-on into a major plan for disaster. The new baddies come in the form of the Go-Rock Squad. They do a good job of pushing the story along and it really never does let up until the end. The game moves along at a very brisk pace, and will clock in at around the 10 hour mark for most gamers. There aren’t many side quests to speak of, but when you have finished the main adventure, there are still some bonus missions to partake in which extends the game for a few more hours.
***Just like the previous games, Pokémon Ranger sports some pretty good looking 2D graphics. The game manages to successfully capture the visual essence of all the Pokémon and the world of Fiore rather well. Colours are bright, vibrant, and in the battle/capture scenes the Pokémon are well detailed and show a nice range of animations; it’s great that you can finally see all the Pokémon attacks in full!
***The sound quality is done just as well and the tracks featured within are both pleasing to the ears and memorable to the soul. The composers have done a great job building on the Pokémon style to bring us some all-new pieces to accompany our adventure. Sound effects are just like they were in the Game Boy RPGs; no big improvement here, but they get the job done.
I loved playing Pokémon Ranger. It is definitely one of the best DS releases so far, and probably will be for many years to come. It features a slick interface with good use of the dual screens and touchscreen, and the source material is followed to perfection. It can be a tad hard in places (better make good use of saving frequently everyone!), and the main game isn’t all that long. But there’s still a lot of fun to be had here, with nary a boring moment. It’s not your typical Pokémon RPG, and in my opinion this is a GOOD thing (no random battles!) Pokémon Ranger is quality while it lasts. Don’t miss this one.
P.S. Once you are done with everything, press R, X, and left simultaneously at the Ranger Net screen and pop in this password: “P8M2-9D6F-43H7”. You will unlock the final bonus mission and upon completing it, receive the Manaphy egg which can be transferred over to the Pearl & Diamond games. No doubt a very special Pokémon...
• This is an action/RPG/stylus-centric adventure. It is so many things at once, but it keeps every aspect simple and fun all the way through.
• Later battles can be really tough and require a high degree of manual dexterity.