Pokémon Ranger Review
In order to keep fans on their toes before the release of Diamond and Pearl, the launching titles of two different spin-off series - Pokémon Mystery Dungeon and Pokémon Ranger - were released during the wait. I was always more excited about Mystery Dungeon when the games were announced, because the concept promised that we would get to play as Pokémon for the first time and I thought Ranger seemed weird and kind of childish from the descriptions. I was not in a hurry to get Pokémon Ranger, and in fact probably wouldn't have gotten it at all if my boyfriend hadn't randomly decided to get us two copies sometime when he went to America. This was after Mystery Dungeon had proven to be a disappointment to me, but I was still not expecting to end up liking Ranger more. I did.
Pokémon Ranger is a game where you play as Lunick or Solana, a rookie Pokémon Ranger. Pokémon Rangers are basically the scouting movement of the Pokémon world, taking on tasks such as helping old women across the street. Well, you don't quite help old women across the street, because that's not Pokémon-related, but in the game you go on various "missions" to help people or Pokémon in the region of Fiore. Getting in your way is the trademark Evil Team, the Go-Rock Squad, who also cause some of the trouble you spend your missions solving.
Missions always involve using the so-called field moves of some Pokémon. Different Pokémon have different kinds of field moves (Scyther has cutting, for example, and Torchic has burning), and each type of field move comes at three different strengths (for example, Scyther's cutting is of strength level three, while Torchic's burning is of strength level one). Various obstacles in the overworld of the game require different types and strengths of field moves to get through, but inevitably (and predictably), whenever an obstacle is blocking your way, you know that somewhere around the area is a Pokémon with the right field move, and the Pokémon are all walking around in the overworld unlike in the main series where you have to search for them in random encounters, so it's never much of a challenge to actually find the Pokémon you need. In order to use a Pokémon's field move, however, you need to temporarily capture it using a device called the Capture Styler.
When you encounter a Pokémon in the overworld, you are sent to a battle screen where the Pokémon stands in the middle of it (along with any other Pokémon that might have been nearby). In the game, you use the Capture Styler by drawing loops around the Pokémon with your DS stylus. Different Pokémon need different numbers of loops; predictably, smaller Pokémon with no or weak field moves generally need fewer loops than larger ones with powerful field moves. As you drag the stylus around the screen, it forms a glowing blue "capture line", which has a limited length; when you finish a loop by touching the capture line again with the Pokémon inside the loop, a new capture line is started in the same spot and the number of loops remaining before capture is displayed on the screen. If you release the stylus while drawing a capture line, the line disappears, and if you had already completed some loops, the Pokémon is momentarily immobilized. Admittedly, this immobilization is not likely to help you very much because 1) it doesn't last long enough, 2) while it's going on you can't actually decrease your loop count, and 3) when the Pokémon breaks out of the immobilization the loop count is reset, but while the Pokémon is immobilized it is possible to flee from the battle if you want. When the loop count gets to zero, you successfully capture the Pokémon.
Now, of course this would be one boring game if that were all there was to it. While you're drawing the loops, the Pokémon will walk/run/fly around the screen, and if the Pokémon touches your capture line, it breaks, the loop count is reset and you'll have to start over. It will also use attacks (although before this happens, you will get a moment's warning because you will hear the Pokémon's cry and see an exclamation mark above its head), and if those hit your capture line, they will both break the Capture Line and damage your Capture Styler (basically Ranger's version of hit points: if it gets to zero, it's game over and you have to start over from where you last saved). As you play the game, it will more or less become an automatic reaction to lift your styler the moment you hear the Pokémon's cry and see the exclamation mark, which can get annoying when a Pokémon you're about to capture manages to startle you into unintentionally doing this. Pokémon have different rates of moving and attacking, different attacks as well as different loop counts required to capture them: some, like Scyther, will be zooming hyperactively around the screen while only needing two loops for a successful capture; others, like Ludicolo, will move reasonably slowly but attack almost constantly; others will need a ridiculous number of loops; and others will do anything in between. There's a lot of variety to the game in this respect, which is generally nice - you need to think up a slightly different strategy for more or less every Pokémon you come across.
Of course, to make this all a little bit less likely to turn your hair gray overnight, you do get some help to rely on beyond your stylus-looping skills. This help comes in the form of Poké Assists, the other thing after field moves that capturing Pokémon is good for in this game. Every Pokémon in Ranger has one type (not two) and can generally use that type's Poké Assist in battle, although a few types have no Poké Assist at all and a few normally dual-type Pokémon are classified as one type but have another Poké Assist. The time that a Poké Assist's effect lasts depends on how powerful the Assisting Pokémon is and how effective the Poké Assist's type is against the wild Pokémon's type, using the regular type matchups from the game. When you've captured a Pokémon, it will follow you around and you will be able to call upon its Poké Assist at any time in battle; however, there is a catch: you automatically release the Pokémon to the wild and never see it again as soon as it has used the Poké Assist. The exception to this is the Plusle or Minun that is your partner from the beginning of the game and will always follow you around, but it has a special Partner Gauge that fills over time and determines the power of its Poké Assist (basically it jumps to the middle of the battle screen and discharges a number of straight bolts of electricity depending on how full the Partner Gauge is, the Partner Gauge is emptied, and if any of the Pokémon on the screen touch the bolts they are temporarily paralyzed). Poké Assists generally serve to immobilize Pokémon temporarily by one means or another - the exceptions are the Dark-type Poké Assist, which sacrifices some of your styler's energy to double the maximum length of the Capture Line temporarily, the Fighting-type Poké Assist, which causes one loop around a Pokémon to count as two (probably the most useful Poké Assist in the game), and the Electric-type Poké Assist (not the same as your partner Plusle/Minun's which is called Discharge) which recharges your Capture Styler in battle ("heals" you). Admittedly you don't gain the ability to use certain Poké Assists until you've reached a certain rank in Rangerdom (i.e. completed a number of missions).
Now, this is meant to be a review, not a detailed description of the mechanics of Ranger, so I'll just conclude this section by saying that Ranger is a lot harder than it sounds, and you'll be scratching pretty furiously at the screen with your stylus when this game is through with you. It's insanely annoying, but you always have this deep-rooted feeling that you're supposed to be able to do this, that it just can't be as impossible as it's been for you so far, and you'll end up obsessively playing through the entire game as soon as you've gotten past the earlier, easier parts just so you can prove to yourself that this is not too difficult for you and generally get it over with. Whether you want to count this as a plus or minus for the gameplay aspect is up to you.
The world of Ranger isn't very big and the story of the game isn't particularly long. Fiore has four towns - Ringtown, Summerland, Wintown and Fall City - and then a few routes and areas in between them. The storyline does get a few bonuses for being spiced with some humour and entertaining dialogue. The characters are goofily colorful, obviously no breathtaking depth to them but they're fun enough. Ranger, by the way, solves the ending plot hole problem that Colosseum had (allowing you to battle the leader of the evil team infinitely even though he's already been captured) by having a guy with a couple of Drowzee that will hypnotize you in order to let you experience "Nostalgic Battles", which basically gives you the entire climax of the game again for you to relive as often as you like. It's an amusing and interesting way to solve it, which at least prevents it from turning into a plot hole.
Ranger largely stands out for its graphics, actually; the pixel work is really very pretty-looking, and the sprites are very noticeably more animated than in the previous Pokémon games. It's above all clear that the developers took care to grant the character sprites some life by animating their laughing, blinking, sweatdropping, clumsiness or whatever, and in general it's all just pretty pleasant to look at and most of the Pokémon look nice. Of course, this makes the fact that there is no such thing as going behind objects all the more painful and reminiscent of the Red/Blue/Yellow days. The game has a straightforward control interface, allowing you to use either buttons or the stylus to move around and navigate through menus, although capturing always requires using the stylus; no complaints there. The music in the game is kind of so-so: I don't personally much like any of it and some of the tunes are just annoying, but others are all right and it does end up getting stuck in your head.
Overall, Ranger is an entertaining enough game and while it gets extremely annoying at times, you never really start hating it. The plot is pretty fun to play through. But when you've finished the game and played the Manaphy mission, you don't really want to pick it up again. It's the sort of game you play through once (and enjoy a lot in the process, at least in my case) and then leave to collect dust somewhere - it's a bit too frustrating for casual entertainment, and there's not really any goal to strive towards once you've beaten the game. But it's fun while it lasts and very pretty to look at all the same.
Oh, and during the credits you can stir the creators' names with the stylus. It's so silly it's awesome.
Page last modified November 17 2009 at 15:46 GMT