When I initially booted up Pokemon Ranger: Guardian Signs, I was surprised it didn’t involve five multiracial teens on a quest to save the world by being able to morph into different Pokemon. I did however find a somewhat enjoyable Pokemon side-story that serves as a nice appetizer for the inevitable Black and White versions heading stateside next year.
Guardian Signs stars a silent, yellow scarf- and red goggle-wearing protagonist (boy or girl) and a ukulele-strumming Pichu on a quest to save the world of Oblivia from the humorously named, Pokemon Pinchers, and their evil plans involving legendary Pokemon. It isn’t your standard gotta-catch-’em-all affair like you’re used to, and I found the narrative to be a nice change of pace from the badge and Pokemon collecting that prevails in the main games.
Pokemon Ranger, you are more akin to a park ranger, making sure the monsters and their surroundings are kept safe and aren’t misused for evil. Instead of catching the critters in Pokeballs, your goal is to tame them and have them aid you in different situations. Since you can actually see Pokemon wandering around, random encounters are out of the question.
For battle, your character comes equipped with the aptly named Styler (clever, right?), which is unleashed by using your stylus on the touchscreen. You then rigorously draw complete circles around the monsters, trying to make sure their attacks don’t ever touch your circles, and ultimately befriend them, or release them from the Pinchers captivity. To make taming easier and faster, the Styler can level up, and be upgraded by spending points gained from finishing missions.
You’re also able to recruit up to seven Pokemon to walk around with you, and use them in battle to help tame other Pokemon, as well as take care of different hazards, such as fires, or blocked pathways. The catch is that each can only be used once, and when the task is complete, it scurries off into the wild, ensuring that you always have different Pokemon at your disposal.
The constant requirement of frantically drawing circles around the moving Pokemon on screen gets quite old, quite fast. You will either learn to power through the carpal tunnel and draw circles like a pro, or loathe the frequent appearance of enemy Pokemon.
The big draw to Guardian Signs is the ability to learn signs; stylus drawings that call forth legendary Pokemon. Unlike the standard games, where they are extremely rare to come across, these legends are actually tied to the story.
To break up the constant circle drawing, certain segments of the game play out like mini-games. You can harness the abilities of your Pokemon to fly from island to island or take a dive into the ocean depths while dodging attacks from irked sea Pokemon.
The visuals of Guardian Signs actually surprised me. The tamed Pokemon will follow you around, and both the characters and the world of Oblivia contain more details than the main Pokemon games. If anything, this game had me wishing for a standard Pokemon game that uses the graphics engine of the Ranger series.
If you can’t wait to get your hands on the next installment of the gotta-catch-’em-all franchise, Pokemon Ranger: Guardian Signs might just be the right kind of diversion, though you might want to get that wrist brace handy for drawing circles on the touchscreen.