Platform: Wii U (eShop, £13.49)
On paper, Pokemon Rumble U is not the smartest of bargains. Your paltry £13.49 unlocks what is perhaps the most simplistic brawler ever created: a selection of tiny arenas populated by tinker toy battlers with - at most - two usable abilities apiece. The Pokemon Rumble franchise has never been known for its depth or storytelling, but the Wii U's debut title is pared-back and flimsy even when compared to Pokemon Rumble Blast, removing the last vestiges of its adventure gameplay and exploration.
It's tempting to ignore Pokemon Rumble U out of hand, then, but I'm delighted to report that there are a couple of things going for it. First of all, it's the flagship title for the Wii U's NFC capabilities, allowing players to transport a range of toy tie-ins directly into the experience by simply placing them on the GamePad. Though Skylanders and Disney Infinity aren't exactly quaking in their boxes, there's clearly plenty of mileage in the Wii U's potential for supporting trans-media experiences without extra peripherals.
The second point, however, is much more important. When all's said and done, Pokemon Rumble U is... fun. Seriously, stupidly fun.
'Stupidly' being the operative word, because as mentioned, Pokemon Rumble U really is the most bare-bones brawler imaginable. After some wind-up Pokemon toys find themselves abandoned in the city suburbs, their quest to return to the toy shop translates into a series of restrictive arenas infested by waves of hostile merchandise. You and three other toys (either controlled by the AI or WiiMote-toting players) will beat them down using some basic ranged and melee attacks based on actual Pokemon moves, trawling through the masses on your way to a final boss.
With each playable Pokemon only boasting one or maximum two attacks, and each battle lasting little over 3-5 minutes, the framework is as flimsy as you could possibly hope for.
And yet the action proves to be intensely enjoyable, especially if you've got four players brawling at once. Cooperating to beat down the biggest bosses and hordes (many of which present a satisfyingly tough challenge), abusing type advantages and healing each other is fantastic fun, especially once a stage completes and the erstwhile allies turn on each other to collect as many coins as possible. Some smart features like touchscreen coin collection, smart bombs and off-TV play serve to earn the GamePad's keep, while changing power-ups and spawners serve to keep the brawling fresh for the duration. Simple, but surprisingly effective over the 6-7 hour runtime.
Though Pokemon Rumble U is visually not the most graphically capable game on the system, it's low-fi texture work and simple character models are offset by colourful stages and adorable animations. It's hard to overstate how genuinely hilarious watching a wind-up plastic Snorlax waddling around and throwing himself about like a sack of potatoes proves to be.
Speaking of my beloved wind-up Snorlax, Pokemon Rumble U's attitude to 'collecting 'em all' systems also acts as an addictive unique draw. Unlike the core Pokemon games that revolve around constantly powering up your roster, Pokemon Rumble's toys are locked to a specific power level and one or two attacks. Instead of improving them, you'll collect more as you play by finding 'Gatcha' capsules that randomly unlock one of the 600-plus critters for your use.
Though each Pokemon can only access a couple of attacks at most, the sheer variety is deeply impressive - from Samurott's Ice Beam to Weavile's Night Slash being effective against different types at different ranges. The more powerful Pokemon toys also boast more esoteric support powers, such as Snorlax' Belly Drum ability that powers up his attack at the expense of a massive chunk of health. There's depth if you're willing to look for it and a constant thrill as your roster persistently swells.
Beyond finding capsules, Pokemon Rumble U features two new ways to increase your plastic fighting force. A password function lets you add special over-levelled combatants as Nintendo gradually releases new codes (enter 87818558 to unlock a level-1000 Samurott, never say I don't treat you to nice things), while the much-vaunted NFC GamePad compatibility is put to good use here. If you buy one of the Pokemon Rumble figures - which are available from GAME, as far as I know - you can simply touch them to the icon on the bottom-left of the device and transfer a new character over in a matter of seconds. It's a shame that the quality of the figures is pretty poxy, mind. I can't imagine you'll have much fun physically playing with them.
Is Pokemon Rumble U over-simplistic and brainless? Yes. But luckily its colourful fun factor and enjoyable multiplayer makes it a decent distraction for younger franchise fans, and one that a few parents will probably find themselves enjoying just as much.
- Intensely fun and violently colourful, especially in multiplayer
- Addictive collection, whether or not you buy the figurines
- Seamless GamePad NFC support
- Excruciatingly simplistic in terms of gameplay and progression
- Only suited to short, regular bursts of play
- Ratty miniature quality
The Short Version: Pokemon Rumble U overcomes its raw simplicity and flaws simply by being fantastic throwaway fun. Don't expect a life-changing revelation or an experience for the ages, but this inexpensive download will tide over fans and youngsters until Pokemon X & Y launches in October.