Review: Pokemon Ranger: Shadows of Almia
Posted 06 Dec 2008 at 22:54 by EEVILMURRAY
The Pokémon Ranger formula is a marvellous one. If you stripped it of its Pokémon veneer, it would still be as fun. The original Pokémon Ranger title was a refreshing angle to the "Gotta Catch 'Em All" motto and fun game, albeit a little short. Pokémon Ranger: Shadows of Almia sets out to build upon this, with a few tweaks of its own.
The plot mirrors the original to a fair degree: you start off as a junior Pokémon Ranger who completes missions to rise through the ranks to become a Ranger Master. [Sounds like most Pokémon games then! -Ed.] However the point where you join your character in before you even become a Ranger and you are back at Ranger School. For me this part was very, very slow starting, with hardly any freedom as you walk from tutorial cut scene to tutorial cut scene. This is made worse by your first mission - you don't liberate any Pokémon who have been brainwashed? No, you deliver the town's newspaper. Even after all the lengthy tutorials you just encountered this has no helpful value whatsoever. Instead of the Go-Rock Squad from Fiore, in Almia you have Team Dim Sun who are using the heavy Gigaremo and then the lighter Mimiremo machines to brainwash Pokémon into doing their bidding, all with the final objective of awakening Darkrai and suck the world into an alternate dimension. Naturally you're not a big fan of this so must stop it from happening.
The game is entirely controlled using the stylus on the touch screen. Hold the stylus on the screen and the Ranger will talk, tap on a person/item/Pokémon and they will talk or examine. If you wish you can use the D-pad to walk and the buttons to talk, but since you have to use the stylus to catch Pokémon you may find yourself not bothering to switch back and forth from buttons to stylus each time. The action takes place solely on the bottom screen, the top screen used for a map display, or your Pokémon friend roster, switchable with a tap of the stylus. Seemingly unneeded as both can easily fit on the screen at the same time as was effortlessly demonstrated in the first Ranger.
The graphics are vibrant, bright and colourful, the same as the original Pokémon Ranger game. The title comes complete with a whole selection of environments, from grasslands to caves, ice lands, volcanoes and the like. To compliment this, the sound effects and music are pure Pokémon and the 'mon cries are the same as they've always been. There isn't much else to say here really.
The format is the same as the original. You use the stylus to draw circles around Pokémon you engage in 'battle'. After drawing around them enough times you will 'catch' them, explained in this game as forming an emotional bond with them. This method has been altered slightly between games, the original showed you how many circles each Pokémon needed to be drawn around before it became your buddy. If the Pokémon moves into the line you're drawing or unleashes an attack to break the line, you must start again. In Shadows of Almia, each Pokémon has a "friendship meter" which fills up with each circle, so you don't actually know how many circles you need to draw. This is compensated by the meter not being reset when the line is broken, but it does decrease if you don't draw more quickly. Your Styler, as it is originally called, has an energy bar which is harmed when a Pokémon attack hits your line. When the bar is empty it's Game Over, and you start from your last save point. Your line length and bar energy bar increase as you level up.
To help you have your captured Pokémon friends. You can use them in battle, and some of them also in the field. But the catch is they can only be used once, as after they run off - so if you need another Swellow to cut a fence you'll have to go back and befriend another. With you always however is your Pokémon partner, who follows you always. Imagine Pikachu and Ash from the animé and you're on the right lines. In the first Pokémon Ranger you got either Plusle or Minun depending on your gender, both having the same effect. In Almia you have a choice of either Starly, Pachirisu or Munchlax to begin with, and the opportunity to switch for others as the game continues. I myself am using a Cranidos at the moment, with the ability to win a Pokémon's friendship by flicking gravel at them. Strange logic but.. eh, it works.
One thing which has seriously started to grate compared to the original is the exp. display after you befriend a Pokémon. Before you got a small window saying how much exp. you got. In Almia it slowly counts it up, complete with "bonuses" such as capturing in one line and the like. It makes what once was a fluid catching formula into a semi-tedious experience as you keep tapping the screen so it will disappear.
There may not be as many Pokémon to capture in comparison to the games in the normal Pokémon series', but there is still a selection and if you are a bit of a capture-maniac you will find yourself going back to previous locations to catch 'mon you didn't or even couldn't catch to use in earlier missions. The game is longer than its predecessor, clocking in at about 25-30 hours.
If you are a fan of the original Pokémon Ranger game then you'll love this. You'll be able to jump right in and use some of the tactics learnt from the mistakes you may have made before. But even if you haven't and are new to the series but think it's your thing, Shadows of Almia is definitely worth a look.
Check out our score breakdown just below...
N-Europe Final Verdict
A simple game which doesn't require much brain power, a no-nonsense fun game.
Improved catching method
Frustrating beginning... Paperboy?!
Annoyingly slow exp display
Format hasn't changed if you're expecting something new