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The Pokemon Ranger series appeals to a specific demographic: young kids. If you're old enough to appreciate the sophistication and depth of the main Pokemon games, Pokemon Ranger will probably bore you. Of course there are still some diehard fans who can't help but love anything and everything Pokemon-related, and if you've played the first two Ranger games you can rest assured that Guardian Signs doesn't mess with the formula.
Instead of playing as trainer who captures and battles Pokemon, you take the role of a Pokemon ranger, which is kind of like a park ranger. Your goal is to make sure that wild Pokemon can live peaceful lives undisturbed by evildoers. Armed with your capture styler, you travel around the Oblivia region befriending troubled Pokemon and thwarting the mischievous Pokemon Pinchers, a gang of humans bent on kidnapping all the Pokemon for their own terrible purposes.
As you meet Pokemon along the way, you can befriend them by entering capture mode and using the DS stylus to draw circles around the Pokemon as fast as you can. If the Pokemon's attacks hit your circles while the stylus is touching the screen, your capture styler sustains damage, so you have to watch the screen and pause to dodge attacks accordingly. Once you've drawn the requisite number of circles, the Pokemon will become your friend, and you can choose to have it accompany you on your journey (up to eight Pokemon can accompany you at any given time). It's a mechanic that's fun the first few times but gets old quickly, because there's no real strategy involved and it feels repetitive and mindless. Unless you're five years old, you're probably going to get sick of scribbling circles over and over. And over.
Once a Pokemon is your friend, it can assist you in two ways. You can summon it during capture mode to help you befriend additional Pokemon (type strengths and weaknesses come in to play here – Water-type Pokemon are good at befriending Fire-type Pokemon and so on), or you can use its field move to overcome obstacles and help you progress in the story. Ukulele Pichu is the one Pokemon who stays with you throughout your quest, and he has a powerful ukulele-playing move you can use to capture wild Pokemon quickly. He's undeniably adorable, but the problem is that his move is so powerful that it almost makes the other Pokemon's capture moves obsolete.
Capturing Pokemon and using their field moves to progress to new areas are the two main components of the gameplay, and although the Oblivia region does offer impressive variety in its locales – the quest goes everywhere from grassy meadows to erupting volcanoes, from the sea floor to high in the skies – most of the gameplay still feels too repetitive.
Like the title suggests, there's also a feature where you can draw symbols, or "signs" on the touch screen to summon legendary Pokemon that you've previously defeated in boss battles. Of course legendary Pokemon are cool, but here they act as little more than fancy field moves. For example, summoning each of the legendary beasts (Raikou, Entei and Suicune) will help you traverse obstacles by jumping over pits, walking on water, or smashing boulders to clear a path.
Pokemon Ranger: Guardian Signs just doesn't offer enough depth to appeal to most hardcore Pokemon fans. There are some elements that appeal to Pokemon sensibilities, like being able to upgrade and customize your capture styler by distributing skill points to various stats as you see fit. The bottom line though is that Guardian Signs is a great game for small children, but is too simplistic for the rest of us.
Oct 5, 2010