We were willing to forgive the first Pokmeon Ranger for being overly simplistic. After all, there was still an adventure there, and even though we weren’t participating in deeper-than-you’d-guess turn-based pokemon battles, at least we were exploring the world and befriending one cuddly critter after another. The problem with Pokemon Ranger: Shadows of Almia is that two years later, the game is still the same half-baked, “where’s the rest of it?” offering we struggled through last time.
Pokemon rangers like you don’t actually capture and keep pokemon the way a trainer does. No, you’d rather just make friends with wild pokemon, whom you tame by drawing circles around them with the DS stylus. This demonstrates to the pokemon how much you love it – just go with us here, okay? – and once you’ve circled them enough times, they’ll follow you. But only for awhile; more on this later.
The befriending mechanic is one of only a few departures from the first game. Before, if a pokemon touched the edges of the circle you were drawing before you’d befriended that pokemon, you’d have to start over. Now, each completed circle feeds into a Friendship Meter. So, if they bump your line before you’re finished, the meter begins to recede, but if you hurry you can pick up where you left off instead of starting from the beginning.
After you’ve made friends with a pokemon, it will be at your command, but only until you use it. Once you’ve called in its help – say, to get past a fallen log or put out a fire with a water attack, it will leave you. The only exception to this rule is your partner pokemon, who sticks around. You can choose your partner from around 17 different pokemon (there were only two choices last time) and swap it out as you move through the game.
The disposable nature of Almia’s pokemon, combined with the fact that you can take only a handful of your friends with you at any given time, makes up the strategic portion of the game. And if you’re thinking it seems pointless and even frustrating that they leave, you’re exactly right. It leads to needless backtracking to find the one you need to pass a certain obstacle (must… catch… Mudkip) and totally dilutes the whole “catch ‘em all!” experience.
Unfortunately, the rest of the game does little to make up for this loss. The whole process of drawing circles around targets gets old fast despite the fact that different pokemon use different evasive maneuvers. And the story is super-simplistic: A team of evil folks keep setting up machines that hypnotize wild pokemon, so you go and smash them over and over. The end.
Even the bonus pokemon you can earn and transfer for keeps back to Pokemon Diamond and Pearl are redundant: One is Manaphy, which you unlocked in the first Ranger and which has been given away at Toys R Us, and the other is a slightly tweaked Riolu, already catchable in Diamond/Pearl.
Shadows of Almia is longer than the first Pokemon Ranger game, and there’s still a lot of charm here. It’s just that the game backing up that charm is too simple and too familiar for us to recommend to any but the youngest, more easily pleased of pokemaniacs.
Dec 4, 2008