Pokemon Rumble Blast
If you were to ask a young child what Pokemon is all about, they'd likely explain, in that often brutally reductive way of theirs, that they're monsters that fight each other. Ambrella's sequel to its 2009 WiiWare original seems to have taken that idea straight to the hear. Put simply, it's Pokemon, without all that [sarcasm] boring [/sarcasm] RPG stuff sliced out.
So, gone are the hours of nurturing, dressing up, berry farming, stat-building, potion buying and secret finding, replaced by virtually non-stop real-time Pokemon fights. The action is viewed from above, and you control a single wind-up toy resembling a Pokemon, bashing other wind-up toys resembling Pokemon. Simplicity fans, listen in, as I know you've been overwhelmed with the sheer complexity of the 4-attack battle system attributed to each core Pokemon game. Good news for you guys, because now Pokemon only have two standard moves!
Each stage sees you head down a linear pathway to a spring which catapults you to the next area. After a handful of these, you'll face a larger toy, essentially the boss of that zone. Defeat it, and win the ability to repeat the process several dozen times over until the game is over.
But the franchise's tagline isn't "Gotta smash 'em all!" and so occasionally, a knocked out Pokemon will stay knocked down (instead of dying and disappearing), ready to be recruited into your clockwork army, which you can switch in when your toy is running low on energy. Fail to do so, and your supply of 'keys' will deplete; lose three keys and you won't be able to wind up your Poketoys. However, if you fail, there's no real negative consequence, as you get to keep all the Pokemon you picked up along the way. But because the capturing system is luck-based (you don't know which Pokemon will just disappear and which will join your team) it takes forever to capture all 717 in total. It doesn't help that you have to jump through hoops to earn the more rare ones - I've captured five Reshirams but not a single Zekrom.
Aside from the expanded Pokedex, all this will be familiar to those who played the WiiWare game, fortunately there's a little more to this game than its predecessor. As well as the returning Battle Royales (a timed arena fight), the Nintendo 3DS game has Team Battles, which give you two AI assistants to help you through a gauntlet of rooms against tougher enemies. Once you've whacked enough enemis, you can stack the three into a kind of totem pole, combining the power of their attacks. Then there are the charge battles, which see the strongest members of your monster squad spring down a walkway, smashing aside other Pokemon as they go. Your job is simply to hammer the A-button and jiggle the Circle Pad to increase their power in what is, to all intents and purposes, a quick-time event. Once you've built up enough speed, you'll face a boss, and in a single tap of the A button, they're sent flying - which admittedly looks cool with the 3D effect. However, I can't see many people wanting to replay these sections over and over.
Tying this together is a story involving a malevolent key called Dark Rust which appears to be turning good toys bad - which can explain why they're all lining up to kick your face off. A small handful of friendly 'mon live in hub areas where you can change settings or set up co-operative games - though both players will need the game to utilise this feature. Along with this, a StreetPass feature allows you to download Pokemon from anyone you encounter on your real-world travels to fight in a boss battle. It's the kind of idea that sums up Pokemon Rumble Blast in general - a time-wasting novelty at first but incredibly limited.
All that said, as you approach the endgame, things do improve. Type advantages, while of extremely little importance throughout the game, start to matter during the tougher challenges and boss battles, and you'll find yourself using a specific team of 5-10 powerful Pokebots to fight your battles rather than the whole roster. However, this means that Rumble Blast is at its best when it's actually resembling a real Pokemon game.
Filling your Pokedex - while the overarching premise of the original franchise- is in this game, a task that will likely be satisfactory to a player only with the patience of a Buddhist monk, and no less. Otherwise, Pokemon Rumble Blast feels a little too thin for a full-price release. Its snack-sized stages and limited gameplay make it a decent fit for portable play, but I'm sure we'd all rather this game serve as a headline act on the 3DSware service, not filling the same shelf-space as Mario, Link, Fox and Pit.