Pokémon Ranger Guardian SignsESRB:
Platform: Nintendo DS , DSI
Category: Action Games
Developer: Creatures Inc
Publisher: Nintendo of America
1 player or 1-4 limited content play
While a yearly instalment of the Pokémon franchise is pretty much an accepted part of gaming culture at this point, it's a bit more surprising to find that a new spin-off of the popular creature-catching series is seeing regular instalments as well. It seems to be every two years by my account. What began as a clever way to make use of the Nintendo DS's touch screen in 2006 with Pokémon Ranger was continued in 2008 with Pokémon Ranger: Shadows of Almia. The sequel improved upon the basic concept in almost every way, creating a truly inspired accompaniment to the main series. Now another two years have passed by, and the Ranger series continues with its third game, Pokémon Ranger: Guardian Signs.
There are a few things to like here. First of all, the graphics are really nicely drawn, keeping up with the same high quality you would expect from any of Pokémon games. The world of Guardian Signs is very highly polished, almost to a distraction. I found myself looking at the visuals more often than not, sometimes at the risk getting beat up. The surroundings are all well displayed and textured, with very little in the way of clipping and or frame rate issues. Unfortunately the graphics upscale terribly; the tiny pixilated images do not blow up well and most gamers will notice. Other than that gripe the game looks pretty nice. I also liked the way the Pokémon animate - very smoothly and somewhat lifelike.
Pokémon Ranger Guardians’ music is exactly what you would expect from a Pokémon game. All the Pokémon make their little noises, in the beep or boop form, and there is no voice work to mention. I must say that most of the sounds are recycled from older games, which keeps the game’s lineage intact but it adds nothing new to the adventure.
The music is very chipper and enjoyable, but over time it will become a bit grating and perhaps annoying. The music depicts the mood of the story very well and Pichu’s ukulele song manages not to become annoying even after the hundredth time you’ve heard it. The production value in the game is of high quality but, you have to take it for what it is.
The Pokémon series is sometimes viewed as a beginner's RPG or perhaps a child’s game, but that's not really a fair assessment. The main Pokémon series is shockingly deep as I found after some game play. The further I travelled down the rabbit hole I found a really complex experience that merely has the outward appearance of being kid-friendly. That being said, the subject matter is most definitely for the younger gamers.
Pokémon Ranger: Guardian Signs is the third entry in the action-RPG series; you are a young Pokémon ranger who is attempting to stop the Pokémon Pinchers from capturing innocent Pokémon for evil purposes. You're joined by your Pokémon partner Ukulele Pichu, who as you may have guessed is a Pichu with a ukulele. You use your "Styler" to draw circles around Pokémon letting them know you're friendly. Once they trust you they will end up joining you on your quest for a little while. You can have up to eight with you at a time, which can be a good thing as they help you in certain areas. You'll also come across legendary Pokémon that you can summon using the titular signs in order to help you out at various points in the game. Sometimes, the sheer volume of them can be a bit confusing. Your styler talks to you, Pichu talks to you and pretty much everyone who has a quest wants to talk to you. That's not normally a problem when dialogue is good, but when they all have the same thing to talk about it becomes a bit annoying. It’s a minor gripe but it is a real one.
The combat, such as it is, couldn’t really be called combat. You go around and convince the Pokémon that you're a nice person who they don't need to be afraid of. I suppose getting innocent Pokémon to do your dirty work by capturing them in plastic balls, and unleashing them to fight your battles is a bit barbaric. When your combat model is so incredibly easy so as to provide no challenge whatsoever, it seems a little lost on me.
How it works is you are supposed to draw circles around the Pokémon repeatedly. The more lines you draw in a row around the opposing Pokémon, the quicker you'll catch them. If the Pokémon walks through or attacks the line, your styler loses hit points. Reach zero hit points and your game is obviously over. If you manage to capture the Pokémon he will join your team. I like this system, it can be fun and it flows a lot better than some of the typical menu-driven combat that you normally come across in RPGs. The downside is I was able to learn this system within the span of five minutes without having ever played a Pokémon Ranger game. Battles were quite literally taking me 5-10 seconds from start to finish, while the more complicated battles were taking maybe thirty seconds. This system gets boring real fast, with very little thinking going on. I can appreciate that kids will love the system, but older gamers will probably balk at its simple nature.
In order to be really good at the game, you have to juggle hundreds of types of Pokémon. Figure out how and when to use certain Pokémon and you should do fine. In effect, be a good manager and the game will unfold to your liking. Unfortunately Pokémon Ranger Guardian is really not different than the older titles. Most Pokémon fans will soon figure out the game plays almost identically to its predecessor Shadow of Alma. As an adult, you probably won't have much fun beyond seeing your kids enjoy their time with it.
One new feature added is the co-operative multiplayer. Up to four of your friends can join in multiplayer missions using the local wireless connection. The quests are still connected to the story, but take place in the past so it's a neat way to continue the narrative even after you've finished the main campaign. While in this mode you have access to several different Pokémon that unlock as you complete missions. Your stats are wiped at the beginning of each mission, but that shouldn’t matter overall as the missions are fairly simple. You start out with a couple of objectives (i.e. capture four Pidgeys) and once you complete those you face off against a boss. I played with one other person and we were flying through the levels, so with three others the missions should be a piece of cake. This also is especially important for gaining access to rare Pokémon like Deoxys and Manaphy. Being able to port these highly treasured creatures over to Diamond/Pearl or HeartGold/SoulSilver is a huge deal for the Pokémon faithful.
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