Pokémon Rumble U Review: A gauntlet of toys at your disposal
Out of the different spin-offs that the Pokémon series gets, the Rumble games might be my favorite. Sure, they're mindless, and more or less button mashers, but when it comes to mixing Gauntlet with Pokémon, these games nail it. Most recently, Pokémon Rumble Blast was a perfect example of how to treat the series as an actual game, complete with storyline and a myriad of levels to explore. It's then rather strange that the first HD foray into Rumble territory feels like an incomplete, almost hollow product. That doesn't mean it's not fun, though.
Pokémon Rumble U forgoes any kind of story, save for the initial cutscene which sets up the game's premise. Our cute Pokémon toys have gotten lost from a toy shipment, and they mustto find their way back. It seems that they'd rather be a child's plaything rather than to be free. While the first Pokémon Rumble game on the Wii was lacking in the story department, it offered plenty of varied climate levels to romp through. Unfortunately, that's all gone here.
Rumble U acts like a gauntlet of challenges played out on really small levels, meaning exploration is no longer possible. Instead of choosing a single Pokémon, you'll be able to choose four, but you'll only control the first one. It's a strange design, especially given that you can't switch freely to the other Pokémon, but the help is appreciated. The AI isn't amazing by any standards, but they'll help out as much as they can.
Each level will unleash a horde of Pokémon against you, always ending in a grand battle against a larger boss Pokémon. Of course, the key to the Rumble series is expanding your menagerie of Pokémon toys, always switching to more powerful Pokémon and leaving the weaker ones behind. The formula hasn't changed. Any encountered Pokémon, even the bosses, have a chance of turning back into a Poké Ball after they're defeated, meaning they'll add to your ever growing forces.
Along with defeating and collecting Pokémon, you'll have challenges per level, such as beating Pokemon with an element that they're weak to, or collecting a certain number of Pokémon. Completing these challenges will unlock extra Coins. This currency has a special use which I'll address later.
Like with the Wii game, multiplayer is where the game shines. Trading in your 3 AI companions for real players will drastically change the way the game is played. The cooperative nature comes out in trying to beat each level while completing all objectives, while the competitive nature comes from trying to beat the most amount of Pokémon.
Rumble U also comes with a slew of NFC toys that can be purchased separately. Thankfully, unlike Skylanders and Disney Infinity, there aren't hundreds to collect, and they're absolutely optional. However, the NFC toys do add a whole new layer of gameplay and strategy. The Pokémon in the game can't ever be upgraded, so that means you'll constantly be switching out monsters for more powerful ones. The beauty of the NFC toys is that you're able to use those collected Coins and not only level up their power level, but teach them new skills as well. Honestly, if you're willing to invest some extra cash, this is one of the best aspects of the game. It's a shame then that the game doesn't amount to much more than a series of challenge stages, especially given the customizable options of the NFC figures.
Pokemon Rumble U is a downloadable title, and when you look at the price, what you're getting isn't half bad. I would have gladly paid a premium price for a more fleshed out Rumble experience, but alas, the first game isn't going to make that happen. If you enjoyed the previous Rumble games, chances are you might enjoy this one. You should just be aware that it's appeal is limited due to the complete lack of story and explorable stages.