Pokemon Ranger: Shadows of Almia

As Pokemon spin-offs go, Pokemon Ranger was one of the better ones. It introduced a novel way to catch ’em all (whirl the stylus – aka a Capture Styler – in circles on the touch screen), posed some Pokemon-themed environmental puzzles (‘USE Charizard TO MELT ice’ – that sort of thing), and dispensed with the turn-based battling that sometimes makes the main RPGs a bit of a chore.

Clearly pleased with how the game was received, the developers have stuck to the old adage ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t ruin your chances of a hefty Christmas bonus by tinkering with your company’s guaranteed money-spinner’. Bar the new subtitle in the name, the differences between the original and this sequel are barely visible to the naked eye, but a quick peek under the Expando-Scope reveals a few changes.

Almia is a previously unexplored region of the Pokeworld, featuring deserts, seas and other terrains. And making their Ranger debut are monsters from Pokemon Diamond and Pearl. Also, rather than starting with a choice of two Pokemon, there are now 17 from which you can pick your ‘partner’. Harnessing the power of the ’Mon you capture, you can get them to carry you across ravines or have them transport you across water as you use the ‘surf’ ability.

The Japanese version of Shadows of Almia (known as Pokemon Ranger Batonnage), has been out since March, and Pokegamers in Japan have been able to download a handful of extra missions via Wi-Fi for limited periods. There’s been no word yet on whether these ‘special events’ will journey to the West when the game appears here, but you can be sure that Pokecompletists will be up in arms if they’re not.

The general ethos of the game remains unchanged – you have to “protect nature, rescue people and help Pokemon in need” – but the story now concerns your rise through the ranks from humble Student Ranger to a Top Ranger. There’s more to do this time around (partly thanks to the larger world), and there are optional side quests, separate from your climb up the Ranger career ladder.

Basically, then, this is more of the same but bigger, so we can only presume that we’ll, you know, quite like this sequel too. There’s nothing radically different here to get excited about, but we can hope for a solid performance.

Sep 11, 2008