Oct 092010

Pokémon Ranger: Guardian Signsis the third entry in the Ranger series of games. You assume the mantle of a Pokémon Ranger who is traveling to the Oblivia region with your partner to end the evildoings of the peccant Pokémon Pinchers. Like most groups of Pokémon infamy, the Pinchers are stealing adorable pocket monsters to use for their own dastardly deeds. The story follows a predictable pattern for the most part, but makes at least a small attempt to keep the series alive with some much-needed new gameplay mechanics.

Rather than capturing Pokémon like trainers do, rangers befriend Pokémon and temporarily enlist their help to make the world a better place. This relationship is solidified by drawing circles around a Pokémon with a device called the Capture Styler. Through some PokéMagic that is never quite explained, these circles relay a ranger’s feelings of love and friendship to the targeted Pokémon. This idea may sound overly simple, but as with the core games in this franchise there is a layer of planning and strategy that more seasoned players can tap into. One such element to consider when plotting your capture strategy is the best use of PokéAssists, which have been introduced for the first time in this game.

A PokéAssist is when you chose one of your already befriended Pokémon to brutally attack your target, which obviously makes it friendlier. Type advantages come into play here, so for example an electric PokéAssist will be very effective when you are trying to befriend a water or flying type Pokémon. You may also enlist the help of your “Partner Pokémon”, Ukulele Pichu. It helps you by jumping into the foray and playing a miniature ukulele which fills Pokémon with peace and joy much faster than the Capture Styler can alone. This is a new and interesting twist on the Ranger formula, but Ukulele Pichu’s attack is almost too powerful and can soothe even enraged boss Pokémon with ease. Capturing Pokémon quickly and without taking any damage really pays off, earning you a higher rank after each battle. Earning the elusive “S” rank even nets you a Ranger Point, which can be spent to upgrade your Styler (more on this in a moment).

Left: The sky battle you participate in during the game's first scene. Right: Pichu soothing a savage Pokemon with his music.

Aside from PokéAssists, Pokémon can use their field move to burn, cut, smash, or drench obstacles you encounter. This is the only puzzle solving formula the game uses, which is somewhat unfortunate because it gets a little boring. The only challenge from these environmental puzzles comes from having to backtrack and search for the correct Pokémon to clear your path. The easiest way around this banality is to simply keep your group fresh — Pokémon needed for certain obstacles are never more than two or three screens away so if you keep your stock full of Pokémon from your current area, backtracking will be minimal. Also, rangers will eventually gain access to a few legendary Pokémon that can be summoned by drawing some arbitrary glyph, or Guardian Sign, on the touch screen. The guardians really do very little guarding, but rather serve as an elaborate mode of transportation.

As previously mentioned, you can earn a Ranger Point for an excellent capture. You also earn 20 or more points for successfully clearing a mission or quest. Once you reach a certain point in the game, you can begin redeeming those points for modifications to the Capture Styler. You can increase the length of line you can draw, the amount of energy it stores, and several other attributes of the styler. How you spend your Ranger Points will greatly affect the ease with which you can capture the Pokémon you need to progress through the story. This system really helps the game feel more like an RPG and less like a Pokémon-laden circle scribbling party.

Downloadable content was previously unheard of for most DS titles, but in this game there are multiplayer missions, which is a first for a Ranger spin-off. These missions are downloaded from the Nintendo WiFi Connection and can be played locally with friends, or with AI rangers if you are a friendless, overweight, bearded Pokémon fan who is almost 30 years old. Some of these WiFi missions will let you earn rare legendary beasts which you can then transfer to Pokémon Diamond, Pearl, Platinum, HeartGold or SoulSilver. This may be reason enough for some hardcore fanatics to play through the game.

If you’ve never played a Pokémon Ranger game before Guardian Signs, you aren’t really missing out on much, except maybe a heavily scratched DS touch screen. This title takes the few elements that were right in the previous titles, adds some new tidbits to them to make what is easily the best of the Ranger spin-off games. PokéAssists and the ability to summon some legendary “Guardians” make the tasks of befriending Pokémon and clearing obstacles seem slightly fresher than they did before. Unfortunately, tired and stale environmental puzzles and a shallow story seem to dumb down the game and make it truly a Pokémon game for a younger crowd. This is certainly not a title that will make you fall in love with Pokémon, even if it somehow managed to draw ten circles around you. It will, however, be a great diversion and excursion into the Pokémon universe for fans that are counting the hours until Black and White release in the United States.

Improved gameplay and new gameplay mechanics make this the best entry in the Ranger series, a lot more strategy and depth than in previous games, there are some very rare Pokémon that can be obtained and transferred to your regular Pokémon gamesTedious environmental puzzles detract from the overall playability of the game, storyline is even more shallow than one would expect, no real tie-ins to the main Pokémon series
VerdictA must-have for true PokéFans, but people looking to get started in Pokémon for the first time should go with Diamond, Pearl or one of the other more traditional titles.

  One Response to “Pokemon Ranger: Guardian Signs | Review (DS)”

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