There are some franchises that make you wonder how on earth they're kept fresh. Pokémon has to be one of those franchises: the main series of games has always been able to add something new to the equation, but with those only coming around once every three or four years (in the form of a new generation, at least), something needs to fill the gap. Whether it's with a spin-off series such as Pokémon Mystery Dungeon or Pokémon Ranger or with a single title such as Pokémon Snap, Nintendo has always found something and, this time around, they've changed the game completely with Pokémon Rumble.
In Pokémon Rumble, you take control of various different Toy Pokémon. These are little wind-up toys that you can battle and collect. You start the game with one Pokémon, a weak Rattata, who wants to take part in an event called the Battle Royale. In this event, many different types of Pokémon take part with the hope of being crowned the Battle Royale champion, which can only happen by defeating all other Pokémon in the arena before time runs out. Each event can include anywhere from thirty to sixty Pokémon to defeat, usually with three (sometimes four or five) stronger Pokémon which'll take a bit more effort to defeat.
So, at the start of the game, after you meet Rattata, you start at the door to the Battle Royale. The door is slightly ajar and Rattata manages to slip through and into the event. This gives you a glimpse of what's to come before you've even started, essentially, which is a rather clever way of working things because you'll know what to expect when you come to challenge the Battle Royale for real. As it stands, though, Rattata is really rather weak and you won't last particularly long in there. Still, once you get knocked out, the game really begins.
What you'll find here is that the explanation of the story is effectively over now: strong Pokémon enter into the Battle Royale in the hope of becoming the most powerful Pokémon. That's it. You're straight into the gameplay from here. Don't make the mistake of thinking the thin storyline results in thin gameplay, though, as there is really quite a lot to do. Now that the game has properly started, you'll find yourself in a lobby, called the Terminal with "C Rank" on the floor and six circles around it. This rank is the difficulty level and the circles will soon be stages, open for you to enter at any time. There are four ranks - C, B, A and S - and these six stages appear in all four ranks, with varying Pokémon and difficulty levels.
When you start a stage, you'll start at one end of a floor. The aim is to get to the end of the floor, where you'll find a jump pad - this will take you up to the next floor. However, to get to the end of the floor, you'll have to go through the many wild Toy Pokémon. You play using the Wii Remote held on its side and can attack these Pokémon using the 2 button. Later in the game, when your Pokémon have two moves, you can use the 1 button as well. Some of these Pokémon will disappear and drop coins worth P, the currency of the game (bronze coins are worth 1P, silver coins 10P and gold coins 100P). Some, however, will fall onto their side. When this happens, you can pick it up and use it whenever you need to. This is how to collect Pokémon in the game. After a set number of floors, you'll find yourself up against the boss Pokémon - a much larger toy who'll take a fair amount more effort to defeat. After doing so, it will drop a large amount of coins and you'll have completed the stage.
The game includes 257 Pokémon - all 151 from the first generation of games and 106 (all but Arceus) from the fourth generation of games. At the start of the game, you'll only be able to collect the first 151, though the newest 106 will be available to you later on. Once you beat a stage, going up to its entrance in the Terminal will show you which Pokémon are available in there and which ones you have or haven't obtained. You can go through these stages as often as you like to try and collect all the available Pokémon, though some of the stronger ones will naturally be available more easily in the more difficult stages of the game.
The six stages in the game are present throughout - Silent Forest, Windy Prairie, Rocky Cave, Fiery Furnace, Bright Beach and Eternal Tower - which vary by the length and number of floors and the Pokémon that are available. For example, the vast majority of Water-type Pokémon are available in Bright Beach: you won't find any of them in Fiery Furnace any time soon. This way, you know for sure what Pokémon you're going to find and where you're going to find them - that said, a little more variation would have been nice. You're going to spend 90% of your time in these six stages and, whilst they are very creative, going in the same stage over and over again probably wouldn't be advised. Playing for long period of time probably isn't the best idea either - though it can be said of any game that uses the Wii Remote held sideways, constantly on the D-Pad and the 1 and 2 buttons, your thumbs will no doubt start to get a little sore.
There are easier ways to collect Pokémon, though. In the Terminal are seven buildings: the Recruit Point, where you can purchase new Pokémon from that rank's six stages; the Release Point, where you can release unwanted Pokémon in exchange for money and tickets; the Training Point, where you can buy moves for your Pokémon; the Wii Remote Pokémon stand, where you can save Pokémon to your Wii Remote to use on other peoples' games; the Multiplayer stand, where you can add or remove players from play; the Collection stand, where you can see which Pokémon you've collected; and the Information stand, with all your gameplay details. The one we're interested in here is the Release Point, because when you release a certain configuration of Pokémon, you'll get a ticket to use at the Recruit Point. Release five of any Pokémon and you'll obtain its evolution (or pre-evolution if it's the highest stage) - so if you're having trouble getting a Blastoise, release five Wartortle to get a Blastoise ticket.
The multiplayer mode is really quite simple: rather than just one person going through a stage, up to four players can tackle it at once. Not only does this make stages more fun (and somewhat easier), it might also bring out some competitiveness. At the end of each stage, the game tells you how many Pokémon you've defeated, so in multiplayer mode, it's a fight to see who can defeat the most Pokémon. It's perhaps a little better this way, rather than having any number of irrelevant multiplayer modes designed primarily to confuse the players. Players can also use the Classic Controller or GameCube Controller in multiplayer mode should they choose to. We found that connecting a Classic Controller to a Wii Remote can be quite humorous, as both can be used in multiplayer mode as separate entities. The controllers are comfier to use, too.
Now, Pokémon is one of those 'kiddy' franchises that can only be played by anyone under the age of twelve, or so you would think based on some opinions of it. Graphically, with Pokémon Rumble, that has to be the case. The game uses the same Pokémon models as My Pokémon Ranch, also on WiiWare, which can only really be described as sickeningly cute. For kids, sickeningly cute is great. Anyone else, Pokémon fan or not, might not agree. Regardless, though, it suits the game much better than any other graphical style would. The same applies to the game's soundtrack - very cutesy, though also very repetitive. Don't stay in the Terminal for too long because it will get on your nerves.
There are a lot of factors to consider before buying Pokémon Rumble, especially when you take into account that, at 1500 Wii Points, it's up there with the most expensive WiiWare games currently available. This is definitely geared at kids and younger teenagers, though there's no reason you won't be able to enjoy it if you don't fall into this age group. Its main issues are the repetitiveness and the distinct lack of second- and third-generation Pokémon, though as long as you don't mind a bit of repetitiveness in the gameplay and the fact that there are still a good 247 Pokémon available, you should still enjoy this game. For the price, this has more to offer than the majority of full-price retail games out there, so it's definitely worth your money.